Combining modern technology with age-old exhaust plumbing, Jaguar's British engineers have developed a way to propel spent combustion gases into the atmosphere in a manner that elevates the complete driving experience. At idle, it purrs. Under acceleration, it roars. During cruise, it soothes. Perhaps most compellingly, during deceleration, it titillates.
Thankfully, the newest two-place convertible from Jaguar isn't only defined by its mesmerizing soundtrack – the F-Type would be an impressive sports car even if the world went silent.
Jaguar introduced the F-Type at the 2012 Paris Motor Show. The all-new two-seater, the automaker's first in 50 years, debuted in three trim levels (F-Type, F-Type S and F-Type V8 S) with a trio of supercharged powerplants (two 3.0-liter V6 models in different states of tune and a 5.0-liter V8). All arrived with a ZF-sourced eight-speed paddleshift automatic transmission and traditional rear-wheel drive.
Unlike the larger XK, a model that has been forced to play the role of both GT and sports car since 1997, the F-Type is smaller, lighter, quicker and more agile - it is, by all definitions, a proper sports car. Of course, that categorization at its launch immediately invited an onslaught of comparisons to other two-seat convertibles in this established segment, cars like the Chevrolet Corvette and Porsche 911 Cabriolet, which bracket its pricing. The new Jaguar nearly mirrors the exterior dimensions of the American and German (it is slightly wider), but its curb weight comes up more than 400 pounds heavier.
It is, by all definitions, a proper sports car.
That weight perplexes when you consider how hard Jaguar, known for its extensive use of aluminum in other models, worked to keep its F-Type lean. The car uses a compact all-aluminum monocoque chassis, an architecture based on the larger XK platform, but has smaller overhangs and a lower driving position to improve stability. The two-door's body panels are aluminum, and Jaguar has used more composite componentry than it ever has in the past. Bolted to the alloy is an all-aluminum double-wishbone suspension, front and rear, and there are forged 20-inch alloy wheels at each corner.
So where does the mass come from? Blame the equipment.
In addition to a big V8 in the nose and oversized iron brakes at each corner (the largest rotors ever fitted as standard equipment on a production Jaguar), the F-Type boasts a sophisticated Adaptive Dynamics suspension system that adjusts damper rates up to 500 times per second and an active exhaust setup that allows the driver to tailor the vehicle's sound. There are electric motors in the seats, on the dashboard (motorized vents) on the rear decklid (active spoiler) and even in the retractable door handles. The appointments add beneficial technology and luxury, but with their arrival comes heaviness - lots of it.
Yet the weight penalty, with regards to acceleration, is offset in dramatic manner by the Jaguar's powerful engine. To be more specific, the F-Type V8 S is fitted with a version of the automaker's supercharged 5.0-liter V8 that is rated at 495 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque. While most in the segment have ditched traditional automatic transmissions in favor of dual-clutch units, the conventional eight-speed transmission doesn't seem to slow the two-seater's forward progress. Thanks to launch control and an active electronic differential that can fully lock the rear end to aid hookup, Jaguar conservatively claims that the 0-60 sprint happens in just 4.2 seconds, but this test car felt quicker (some publications have seen numbers in the mid-three second range). The V8 S is very, very quick.
Jaguar conservatively claims that the 0-60 sprint happens in just 4.2 seconds.
As mentioned, Jaguar is peddling several variants of the F-Type, starting with the standard $69,000 V6 model. This test car, a range-topping V8 S Convertible, arrived with a base MSRP of $92,000 (plus $895 destination fee). In addition to a long list of standard equipment, including high-grade leather upholstery and a 380-watt audio package, it arrived with nearly a dozen options. The most expensive included a Performance Package ($2,950), 20-inch forged wheels with carbon-fiber accents ($2,500), Vision Package ($2,100), Extended Leather ($1,900) and the Premium Meridian Audio sound system ($1,200). The bottom line for the loaded, range-topping model was $105,620.
The cockpit of the Jaguar is best described as intimate. While it fit my six-foot, two-inch frame comfortably with the leather bucket in its furthest aft position, the seating position felt awkwardly low, and I didn't have much wiggle room once strapped in place. Owners will have to learn to pack lightly, too, as the F-Type's trunk is short and shallow. During my week with the vehicle, I went on two overnight trips. My stowed luggage was limited to a smallish 20-inch roller bag, a compact ballistic nylon camera bag and a racing helmet bag – that was about all that fit in the boot. Before anyone suggests that minimal luggage capacity is par for this segment, remember that a Porsche 911 has a deep trunk up front, plus its cabin provides rear fold-down seats with a sizable cargo area.
Thankfully, any suggestion of claustrophobia is extinguished when the power-operated top is peeled away. The soft folding roof takes just 12 seconds to vanish from sight at speeds up to 30 mph. Top down with the small wind blocker in place is the best way to enjoy the F-Type, anyway.
The F-Type won't be winning any awards for interior ergonomics.
The F-Type won't be winning any awards for interior ergonomics, as the cockpit is a flustering mix of dials, switches, buttons and toggles with a variety of surface textures - everything appears upscale, but to my eyes, it just doesn't look cohesive or intuitive. Small storage nooks litter the cockpit, but all except the console cupholders won't hold anything larger than a smartphone. Complaints aside, the meaty three-spoke steering wheel (with orange paddles mounted on its backside) felt great, and I liked the very legible analog speedometer and tachometer in the primary cluster and the orange start/stop button located just forward of the console-mounted shifter.
Compared to its V6-powered siblings, the range-topping F-Type V8 S is almost overshadowed by its bullish engine. The supercharged eight-cylinder comes across as angry and hellbent on displaying its power output, temperament and personality. Tire-shredding burnouts require only about three-quarters of the accelerator pedal's travel in its first couple gears, and even less if the road lacks grip. The V8's throttle response is nothing short of now, and it takes due restraint to keep the rear tires moving at the same rate as the asphalt beneath them. Of course, that also means the F-Type is illegal levels of fun.
Under deceleration, it cackles, pops and booms as if two adversaries are engaged in a cannon battle deep within the muffler.
Accompanying the power is an exhaust note that will have passengers spewing commending profanities once they regain consciousness following this Jaguar's dizzying acceleration. With the Active Exhaust button pressed, a simple finger tap just aft of the shift lever, the sound under full throttle is throaty, raw and fierce. Under deceleration, it cackles, pops and booms as if two adversaries are engaged in a cannon battle deep within the muffler. Even though there is some trickery involved with electronically controlled bypass valves and late fuel delivery, the thunderous sound is undeniably glorious - it is one of the most impressive factory exhaust systems I have ever heard, and I never grew weary of its snarl.
Thankfully, the rest of the F-Type is nearly every bit as engaging.
Few will complain about its stiff ride after throwing the baby Jag into its first corner.
Nobody will question the Jaguar's athletic motives. The ride is firm, and it appears Jag's British engineers chose sport over sumptuousness when it came time to tune its dampers. Add in the 20-inch wheels, and the ride is hardened on all but the smoothest surfaces, even when the suspension is configured in its softest setting. Still, I wouldn't go so far as to call it harsh, as it didn't feel uncomfortable, bothersome or annoying. Even after a couple of three-hour stints behind the wheel, I never emerged cursing the damping or wishing there were a softer setting. I imagine that something more yielding would break the sport car's character.
I suspect few will complain about its stiff ride after throwing the baby Jag into its first corner - under those conditions, the F-Type hunkers down and sticks like a thirsty leech on warm, wet skin. The Pirelli PZero tires on my test car deserve some of the credit, but the stiff chassis and suspension tuning earn the real praise. This car is surprisingly balanced at the limit, especially considering how big the engine is. While there was a hint of understeer at the edge of the envelope, I found that oversteer with the rear tires breaking free was a greater worry if I wasn't careful with the throttle.
Paddle shifters commanding a traditional automatic transmission usually frustrate, as they often react with a lazy response, but that wasn't the case with this Jaguar. Pulling back on the anodized orange paddles delivered shifts that were firm and quick – unexpectedly so, actually. When left in automatic mode and driven with restraint, the gearbox's shifts were nearly imperceptible. This eight-speed is well-suited to the F-Type, and with this particular powerplant, a manual gearbox won't be missed by most drivers who are willing to give it a chance.
A manual gearbox won't be missed by most drivers who are willing to give it a chance.
The steering is very sharp, with quick reactions that give the two-seater a slot-car feel when the road becomes twisty. At first, I was concerned that its eagerness to change directions would make it a chore on the open road, but those worries were warrantless, as it was very stable at highway velocities. I didn't have a chance to test its impressive 186-mph top speed, but it felt docile during some bursts in the desert, and its robust brakes gave me plenty of confidence in its ability to stop.
If asked to lodge a complaint or two, I'd finger the low driving position first. While it kept the wind buffeting to a minimum during my frequent top-down excursions, I never felt at ease with the corners of the car because my eyes were so low. As a result, I noticed that I was needlessly leaving a wide buffer between the curb and the car in tight sections. The F-Type's weight was also an issue. Even though the supercharger seemed to negate the mass under acceleration, cornering and braking were unquestionably affected by its excessive poundage – the words "light" and "tossable" never came to mind. (I'm genuinely looking forward to driving the slightly lighter F-Type Coupe, which will debut next week at the LA Auto Show.)
Today's F-Type V8 S Convertible is bloody fast in a straight line, very competent in the corners and has razor-sharp turn-in, but on some level, I couldn't help but feel it was lacking the decades of refinement that show through in cars like the C7 Corvette and seventh-generation 911 – both seem to offer a more balanced performance envelope and a more seamless transition between touring and sports car. Jaguar as a company has an impressive history, but this first-generation two-seater still has a bit of maturing left to do.
Character is one thing this Jaguar is brimming with.
But it's emotion that sells cars at this end of the market, and character is one thing this Jaguar is brimming with – it is genuinely enjoyable to drive. As automakers continue to release vehicles that do everything but inspire, this boisterous and powerful F-Type V8 S excites. This smallest cat not only roars like the king of the jungle, it's equally as compelling to drive.