- Intake snort
- Exhaust trumpet
- Supercharged engines
- Intelligent all-wheel drive
- Torque vectoring
- InControl app
The Jaguar F-Type: What's not to love? Beneath that sensuous styling lies real handling talent and superb engines. For the '16 model year, which counts as right now to buyers popping into Jaguar dealerships, the F-Type sees a few changes.
It hears a few, too. Not only is the previously optional Meridian 770-watt, 12-speaker, high-end surround audio system now made standard, but V-8-powered versions have a devilishly delicious exhaust note. Actually, a repertoire of notes. And it's not just an add-on. The source of such rich noises starts at the crankshaft. It's a cruciform, or cross-plane crank. Look at one of these end-on and it makes the shape of an X. A flat-plane crank, on the other hand, is exactly that. The latter has more of a bark; this may be auto-suggestion (pardon the pun), but it even sounds slightly flatter, kind of more two-dimensional. Still spine-tingling, though.
The former has that burble on the exhaust pulses that we all grew to love and associate with old-school V-8 engines. Further along the combustion trail, Jaguar programmed the ECU to squirt in a little extra gas to get those thrilling pops and cracks on overruns and downshifts. After that comes the actual piping where switchable valves can stay closed for a society-conscious rumble, or open up for the full fanfare, augmented by the whoosh of the supercharger. It all helps make the F-Type a feast for many senses.
When we get to touch, there's a new sensation for 2016: a manual transmission in V-6-powered rear-drive versions. This is a ZF six-speeder (the eight-speed automatics are also ZF, no bad thing). Customers in the United States have been asking for a manual gearbox in the F-Type, which is to be applauded. It's high time that lazy stereotype of the obese, slushbox-craving American driver was challenged. So is it wrong to say the automatic version might be the better choice?
It's a great idea: British sports car, with styling that looks modern yet acknowledges the marque's rich heritage (a tough thing to pull off). Then add dynamics that could tempt someone to drive past the Porsche showroom and head for that big, shiny cat sign down the street. A manual transmission could be an integral piece in an enthusiast's jigsaw puzzle. Why not get some wire wheels, stringback gloves, put the roof down, and wear a pair of goggles at the same time, then pretend we're at Goodwood? It's undoubtedly romantic. And Jaguar has even gone to the trouble of making sure the three pedals are perfectly placed to facilitate heel-toe escapades.
Since we're talking gearboxes here, the only troublesome linkage is that connection between romance and reality. Quite apart from the small fraction of drivers who really do heel-and-toe, there isn't much to recommend the stick shift. The lever is located in such a way that engaging odd-numbered gears brings the chance of inadvertently touching the infotainment or heating controls in the center console.
Admittedly, our test car was brand spanking new and after a few thousand miles and many more shifts, the action might feel a little freer. But it's not the snick, slick, short-throw driving highlight that makes something like the Honda S2000 (yes, this is european car magazine, but credit where it's due) such a blast. On a stretch of interesting road, the automatic still has paddle shifters to get the driver involved; in crappy traffic, it's one less thing to be stressed about. Sorry, but the automatic is so good that it just feels like the modern way to do things.
It probably didn't escape anyone's notice that rear-drive versions were mentioned earlier. That's because the F-Type now comes with the option of all-wheel drive. Or, indeed, as standard in the gloriously crazy 550hp R model. It's essentially the same system found in the XF executive sedan and, in normal circumstances, it pushes 100 percent of the torque to the rear axle. But when all those yaw, steering angle, and tire slip sensors decide that more traction help is needed, up to 50 percent is delivered to the front within milliseconds.
There's also a function known as torque vectoring by braking. Hit a bend with a bit of heat and a quick computer-controlled bite of individual brake discs will help keep everything in shape. Jaguar says torque-vectoring means the perfect line going into a corner, all-wheel drive means the perfect line powering out of it. And that's exactly what happens. It's possible to hit apexes precisely and enjoy every moment with a confidence that comes from a system that flatters rather than demands innate driver talent.
Which brings us neatly to the all-new electric power steering system that replaces the previous hydraulic setup. Stay with me.
Whenever a carmaker installs electric steering, a magical petrolhead elf dies. Or so it seems. The usual sneering litany is a lack of feel and feedback, over-assistance, and it's only enabling the robots to eventually gain control. Like automatic transmissions, though, electric steering is the modern way. The robots thing we'll have to wait and see. The other stuff—no worries.
Surprise, relief, delight. Just three emotions experienced in the '16 F-Type's driver seat. In a comparatively light, aluminum-bodied two-seater, even the "basic" 340hp V-6 has enough push to exploit this superb chassis. Drive it and the notion of whining about electric steering won't even arise.
The '16 F-Type is the first Jaguar to be so equipped, and this is the bar that all other similar systems will need to reach or try to surpass. Whatever the front tires are up to is transmitted to the hands, nervous system, and brain. But there's also sufficient weight and damping to keep corrections to a minimum.
There's no need to raise one's voice to speak when the convertible's roof is down, but a shout-out is in order to Jaguar's suspension engineers who managed to integrate stiffer bushings and springs yet still keep the ride comfortable. It's a sports car, certainly, but not a bone-shaker. And so we come to a halt. Although the standard braking systems are absolutely fine, the optional carbon ceramic matrix (CCM) setup with six-piston monobloc front calipers and four-piston rears is full of feel with a consistently reassuring initial bite. It seals the high-performance envelope perfectly. But it can cost up to $14,450 (yikes), although that does include a set of 20-inch forged alloys.
Permutations are numerous, but every engine choice can be had in either coupe or convertible form. All-wheel drive can also come with the most powerful V-6 version, the S. The F-Type is one of those great cars. Someday, we'll be reminiscing about it to our robot chauffeur. Although, let's hope that future is still far off.
- Ride quality
- Agile suspension
- Carbon-fiber roof option for coupe
- Manual transmission better in theory than practice
- Expensive carbon ceramic brake option