Jaguar introduced the F-Type sports car this year, a homage to and rekindling of the spirit of of the iconic E-Type sports car introduced when John Kennedy was president and Winston Churchill was still smoking cigars.
"The F-Type is simply the most significant model Jaguar has launched in 50 years," says Ian Callum, head of design at Jaguar. "Jaguar must have a true sports car to help define and lift the rest of the brand and be the star of the showroom."
When one thinks of Jaguar cars, the notion of sleek, sexy, expressive vehicles should come to mind. Also, the images of rich, walnut- and leather-laden interiors should wash over the brain.
So, it is with some surprise that I report that the British carmaker -- these days owned and run by Indian automaker Tata -- is launching the F-Type without a speck of wood in the cabin. There is, however, rich leather and a convertible top that retracts in about twelve seconds.
Jaguar in 2012 sold only about 9,000 cars in the U.S., and that is half the world volume, which is concentrated in the U.K. and Germany, with smatterings of sales elsewhere. Jag executives forecast that it will sell around 5,000 F-Types in the U.S., and around 10,000 worldwide -- which seems like a stretch.
Let's have a look at the F-Type to see if it can carry on from the E-Type, one of the most beloved sports car designs of all time, and grab greater attention for Jaguar in the States.
MSRP: $69,895 - $92,895
Engines: 3.0 liter V6 with 340 horsepower, a supercharged V6 with 380 horsepower, and a V8 engine with 495 horsepower
Transmission: 8-Speed automatic with manual mode option
Performance: 0-60 times from 5.1 seconds to 4.2 seconds for the V8
Fuel Economy: 20 mpg City, 28 mpg Highway for the V6; 19/27 for the supercharged model; 16/23 for the V8
Seating: 2 people
Cargo: Seven cubic feet -- very small trunk space. Overnight satchels at best.
One of the things that made the E-Type so iconic and beloved was the sexy long hood. That's not possible today. Various safety regulations and standards dictate a shorter front end. But Chief Designer Ian Callum's team has created a thoroughly modern two-seater.
Jaguar has been a pioneer in aluminum body structure, which saves lots of weight. The car consists of 141 aluminum pressings, and one executive quipped that it takes about 20,000 drink cans to make an F-Type. One of the things we notice were the crisp lines of the car, especially on the trunk lid, which rolls over the top of the car in one piece. The company innovated a process to create those sharp lines to give it a tailored look. Other aluminum bodies tend to have much softer, rounded lines due to the challenges of pressing aluminum.
Like most convertibles, the car just looks better and sexier with the top down, which retracts in an impressive 12 seconds. The rear deck has a low, tapered line that helps create the Jaguarness of the car. At 60 mph, a spoiler pops up to help keep the car firmly planted as the speedometer climbs.
What, no wood? No wood at all? Callum said the E-Type had no wood in its interior and the issue of whether or not to offer wood even as an option was a very short conversation. "I said, No, and that was pretty much it," Callum said.
Be prepared to sit a bit lower in the F-Type than you would in, say, the Jag XK touring coupe. While there is a part of me that wants an over-sized burled walnut steering wheel, it's not happening unless I buy this car and take it to a customizer. The interior has a goodly number of rocker switches to control climate, media and ride adjustments. A pleasant gear shifter fits nicely in my hand as I fool around with both the automatic gearing and the manual mode.
In the S models, a Dynamic Driving Mode button, the stop-start button and shift paddles have orange accents to set them apart and tie the sporty driving controls together. In a nod to German fussiness, the climate contra vents rise out of the top of the center dash only when they are needed. When they are unemployed, they stay in their bunker.
What is perhaps most impressive about the F-Type is that the base model is a real car. The 3.0 liter V6 was no dog. As we drove around the hills and highways of the Navarra region of Spain, the entry-level F handled hills, downshifting and acceleration with fine-tuned respectability. The wide track of the car made it feel stuck to the pavement like glue with little worry of flipping even if taking a switchback turn at foolish speeds.
The V6 S model, which gave us 40 additional horses for a premium of about $12,000, was the source of much debate among testers. Was it worth it? But then we realized we are not so much the market for this car. The typical buyer for the F-Type is going to have this as a third or fourth car, and be able to afford whatever they want in all likelihood. To that fat-wallet brigade, the base model of anything isn't going to appeal much. That model is for the buyer who is truly reaching up to $70,000, and is buying this as their second car.
The real dilemma for buyers will be whether to go all the way up to the thirstier, growlier, incredibly fast V8 S, and its accompanying 495 ponies. Compared with the 3.0 liter V7, the V8 S felt as if the previous cars we had driven had stuck emergency brakes. That's probably not fair to the very nicer and perfectly adequate V6. But it is no surprise to us that pre-orders for the V8 are running very brisk.
It's worth noting that Jaguar stuck with a hydraulic steering system rather than go with the more common (these days) electronic steering. We have been driving so many electronic steering systems, I almost forgot what its like to be really tuned in with the road one is driving on. The V-8 is equipped with an electric limited-slip differential, understandably larger brakes than on the V6's and 20-inch wheels.