Jaguar’s new F-Type has arrived with perhaps a greater weight of expectation than just about any car in living memory.
It extends a heritage that includes not just its celebrated predecessor, the classic E-Type Jag, but also the magnificent D-Type and C-Type that helped build that legacy.
But even that does not fully illustrate the intensity of the spotlight on this machine.
You see, as well as re-imagining the “old” Jaguar and the romance of those models past, this car also embodies everything the “new” Jaguar hopes to be in the future.
No pressure at all, really. Fortunately, the people charged with this formidable task have broad shoulders.
Does the F-Type match the hype? Mostly, yes. It most definitely adds another exquisite layer to the ever-growing, ever-more-impressive stable that sits beneath the modern Jaguar marque.
It’s like a boiled-down version of everything we like about the current crop of Jags – with the added spice of being a true, ground-up performance machine.
Sadly I’ve never driven its E-Type predecessor – so can’t make a valid comparison about how the F-Type measures up to history.
But it’s fair to say that DNA remains strong. And even though it’s been half a century since the grand old British brand last trotted out a true sports car, this one has been worth the wait.
It’s very much to Jaguar’s credit that, during the company’s extended period of down-at-heel years, they didn’t try to use the E-Type legend as a means of climbing from the abyss.
Instead, they’ve waited until the brand is enjoying a healthy resurgence to reinvent what remains perhaps their most cherished and marketable model.
The man charged with this task was Jaguar’s head of design Ian Callum, the Scot who almost single-handedly has penned the new face of Jaguar, and in the process turning it from a stuffy, old-fashioned collection of retro-styled models into the maker of many of the world’s most beautiful cars.
“It’s a project I’ve looked forward to from the moment I joined Jaguar,” says Callum, whose previous progeny include most members of the current Aston Martin stable.
But even with cars like Jaguar’s elegant new XJ limo, the gorgeous XK coupe and volume-selling XF sedan under his belt, Callum must have felt the pressure when penning the new F-Type.
If the feedback we received during our week behind the wheel is any indication, it is mission accomplished.
I can’t recall a car that’s earned quite so many admiring glances, thumbs-up and even comments from fellow traffic-battlers as this fetching little roadster.
The 66 experts who make up the World Car of the Year jury agreed – giving the F-Type its 2013 gong for best design.
But the F-Type is much more than just a pretty face. It will be offered with three basic engine options – the entry-level V6, mid-range V6 S and the flagship V8 version.
We tested the supercharged V6S – not quite as potent as its higher-priced, eight-cylinder sibling but still quite a weapon with its 280 kilowatt powerplant.
A 0-100km/h sprint time of 4.9 seconds doesn’t really tell the story of the V6S – as impressive as that might be.
It’s in the mid-range that this car really excels – with the combination of its light, all-aluminium construction and brilliant throttle and transmission response delivering an intoxicating, exhilarating ability to jump at the slightest prod on the accelerator.
That instant acceleration is matched by a raspy bark from the twin exhausts – which on the V6 peek out from the centre of the rear diffuser – while the V8 model can be identified by its twin exhausts on either side of the rear skirt.
The F-Type’s lively performance is matched by a beautifully balanced chassis that, as well as prodigious grip, delivers a surprisingly compliant ride.
The cockpit is snug and thoughtfully laid out – with all switches and dials focused on the driver – as you might expect. Controls are arranged in groups by function – a feature that Jaguar says mimics the cockpits of fighter aeroplanes.
Unlike all of its modern Jag siblings, the F-Type does away with the signature rotary gearshift dial in favour of a stubby, electronic-style shifter and paddles mounted on the wheel.
It still delivers the same “theatrical” start-up routine as other Jags, though – the central air vents rise slowly from the dashboard as soon as you depress the pulsating start button and retreat when you turn the car, or the air-conditioning, off.
Seats are smart and supportive and electrically adjustable in just about any direction, with buttons sensibly located on the door panels. The driver can customise the driving experience by selecting Dynamic mode with a switch on the centre console – and there are also buttons to raise or lower the rear spoiler (which automatically deploys at highways speeds anyway) and another to open the exhaust baffles to their full glory (highly recommended).
The spoiler, by the way, is adorned by a Jaguar logo and the famous “leaper” – that can be seen through the rear-view mirror when the foil is deployed.
A colour centre screen displays sat-nav, audio settings and other functions including something called “stealth mode” which, I’d suggest, is rather out of character for this car.
You’ll go very few places without being noticed. It’s not perfect – I found the instrument panel, while functional, a little underwhelming for a car of this pedigree, with the dials in particular a bit pedestrian. Likewise the chunky steering wheel looks a touch cheap for a machine nudging the $200,000 mark.
It’s also a little surprising that a drop-top with a European badge doesn’t offer heated seats – a godsend when driving in colder months with the roof peeled back.
And you’ll want the roof off as often as possible in this car – a task, incidentally, that can be achieved at speeds up to 50km/h.
The F-Type’s boot, too, is barely worth the effort. For the Australian market they’ve included a space-saver spare which soaks up almost all of the precious few litres of space on offer.
You can take the spare out and rely on the repair kit – which I’d recommend. Even so it’s barely enough space for a week’s worth of groceries, let alone a set of golf clubs which will have to ride in the passenger seat if you want to show your F-Type off to the lads at the club.
Still, they’re fairly mild criticisms of a car that otherwise puts a compelling case. The V6S retails for just north of $171,000 – although our test machine was rapidly approaching the $200k mark with options including 20-inch “Blade” alloys (with carbon fibre inlays) for $6800; a 770W Meridian surround sound system ($6900); “special” paint ($5620) and that switchable exhaust (a bargain at $260).
Yes, it’s not cheap – you’ll pay substantially more for this car than a similarly-equipped Mercedes SLK55 AMG – and it’s way more expensive than the flagship version of BMW’s Z4, which packs almost as much punch if not the same romantic appeal.
Perhaps most glaring of all is the price difference between the Jag and the leader in this class – Porsche’s Boxster S/Cayman S combo which can be had for roughly $20-grand less than our test machine. Still, Jaguar doesn’t seem to be having much trouble attracting buyers – with a lengthy and growing waiting list for those lucky enough to be able to afford the new F-Type.
The impending arrival of the F-Type hardtop coupe might help shorten the queue.
A golfing buddy of mine is among those on the waiting list – having chosen this car ahead of an Audi R8 as his retirement gift to himself – and he’s been waiting for several months.
Still, considering we’ve been waiting five decades for this car to arrive, a few more months doesn’t make all that much difference.
JAGUAR F-TYPE V6S
DETAILS: Two-door, two-seat sports roadster with supercharged V6 engine and eight-speed automatic transmission.
TECH STUFF: 3-litre, supercharged V6 produces 280kW, 460Nm (250kW in entry-level model); eight-speed automatic transmission with wheel-mounted shift paddles and sport mode; front-engined, rear-wheel-drive.
FEATURES: Jaguar high-performance braking system, sports suspension with adaptive dynamics, active exhaust system, hydraulically-operated rear spoiler; leather sports seats with leather finishes throughout cabin; electric folding roof, satellite navigation; premium audio system with Bluetooth connectivity and audio streaming; limited slip differential.
PERFORMANCE: 0-100km/h in 4.9 seconds; top speed 275km/h.
VERDICT: A modern classic.
BOTTOM LINE: From $171,045 plus onroad costs; as tested $196,750 (including Valet mode $330; lockable interior stowage $590; 770W Meridian sound system $6900; tyre pressure monitoring $750; 20-inch “blade” wheels $6800; air quality sensor $100; stainless steel pedal covers $590; switchable active sports exhaust $260; special paint $5620; seat memory pack $2040; parking pack $1725.