Driven: 2014 Jaguar F-Type
By Tom Martin
July 26, 2013
In one sense, the new Jaguar F-Type is a simple car to discuss. It is dynamically very good, though it has a particular character, like any well-done car. It looks beautiful, which you can probably glean from photos, and this fortunately turns out to be a judgment that holds up upon seeing the car in the aluminum and leather. It is comfortable and usable in daily driving, although it has rather strict cargo limitations. And it is expensive, although there is a reasoned argument that the F-Type is priced below its likely competitors.
At the same time, there is a lot of room for confusion around the F-Type. And those areas of confusion are sufficiently complex that they may trouble you, no end. Let’s start with the latter issues because you have to have some idea what the F-Type “is” and “isn’t” to be able to process our evaluation of the car’s behavior and character.
Let’s start by saying that Jaguar clearly intends the F-Type to be a sports car and a logical successor to the vaunted E-Type of the 1960s. This is troubling because Jaguar hasn’t made a sports car for 40 years, and as a result one’s mind has Jaguar solidly positioned as a luxury car maker, even if we tend to think of the company as a maker of luxury cars with a bit of sporting character (XK-R or XF-R or XJ-R anyone?). This parallels the problem Porsche had when they made a big sedan. Being a sports car maker, many assumed Porsch would make a sports sedan in the mold of the M5. Instead, the Panamera is a luxury sedan with some sporting character and not the sports sedan many imagined. Similary violating preconceptions, the F-Type is a sports car with some luxury refinements, not the grand tourer you expect.
To explain the ways in which the F-Type is a sports car, we could start with its form. It is a smallish, drop-top two-seater. But, given cars like the BMW Z4 and Mercedes-Benz SLK, it is pretty clear that form isn’t enough. The F-Type, fortunately, skips the dynamic compromises of those cars. The F-Type is tautly sprung, responsive to the helm, and punchy even under part-throttle acceleration. The F-Type also provides quick shifting, well-weighted steering, and a general sense of connection to the driver -- like a sports car.
This helps clear up another point of confusion for some observers. They ask “Hey, wait a second Jaguar, you already have an expensive sports car, the XK, don’t you?” Jaguar answers, and we concur, that the answer is “no.” A back-to-back drive of the F-Type and the XK makes it clear the XK is a GT in the mold of the Mercedes-Benz SL: a touch on the big side, slightly damped in its responses, and a bit dull even if fast. If you want to put it positively, the XK and similar cars are “relaxed.” This is not what the F-Type is trying to do as its primary mission, although progress and brand DNA being what they are, the F-Type isn’t much less refined than the XK while being a whole lot more dynamically entertaining.
Perhaps an additional area of confusion revolves around the question of what the F-Type competes against. There aren’t that many $70,000 to $100,000 sports cars, so we can quickly look at a list of candidates. There is the Corvette, which has a similar layout, but is somewhat cheaper if you insist on similar power levels. Despite this logic, the stylistic and brand differences make it tough for us to imagine a lot of C7/F-Type cross-shopping. There is the Nissan GT-R, which is priced with the V-8 version of the F-Type, but is a coupe and anyway wants to be an entry level supercar, not a sports car. And there are the Porsches—Boxster and Carrera Cabriolet. We think these latter cars are perhaps the most logical competitors because they are premium-brand cars with dynamically desirable behavior. But still, Porsche is the more established sports car brand, and both Boxster and 911 offer drivetrain layouts that in the modern era are traditionally associated with “pure” sports cars. The same could be said for the Audi R8, though it is in a price category above the F-Type, as is the Aston-Martin Vantage.
We might conclude that, in fact, the F-Type is pretty well positioned in the sense that it offers a new alternative that the market doesn’t really have. If you like the Boxster, but want something more exclusive and fresher stylistically, the F-Type is a logical alternative. Or if you’d like a 911 or R8 Spyder or Vantage, but can’t get comfortable with their price tags, which tend to land well past $100,000, then Jaguar would be happy to talk to you about similar performance with lower payments.
The confusing part here is that there isn’t a simple F-150 vs. Silverado vs. Ram vs. Tundra head-to-head comparison. Really, though, consumers should take that as a good thing. Genuine choice is nice to have.
Unfortunately, as we catalog the confusing elements of the F-Type, the lack of a choice of transmissions makes it confusing for some to see the F-Type as a sports car. What we’re talking about is that Jaguar only offers an automatic torque-converter-based gearbox on the F-Type. Sure, it can be manually shifted via paddles or a console stalk, but for some the lack of clutches—and for others the additional lack of an H-pattern interface—removes a signature element of “sports car.” We think this omission is shortsighted, because the F-Type would almost certainly be even more involving and more charming and a more desirable car with a six-speed on the tunnel.
Jaguar has its reasons for using a traditional automatic transmission. They would remind you that Ferrari doesn’t offer a conventional H-pattern gearbox on any of its cars. We would remind Jaguar that Ferraris are, for the most part, in supercar territory—a space that operates by different rules. That, and we’d say that copying a mistake by a brand that can get away with mistakes isn’t exactly a genius move for a brand trying to move up in the world.
Jaguar would also argue that the percentage of people buying traditional manuals on Porsches and BMWs is rather low. No one wants to use numbers, but perhaps only 20 percent of Porsche buyers avoid PDK to get a "real" manual. If Jaguar sells about 10,000 F-Types annually, they might sell 1000 manuals, assuming Jag buyers are less committed to rowing themselves down the road. Apparently, it is hard to justify the regulatory certifications and design costs for so few cars. That’s practical, but Porsche didn’t get to be Porsche by making decisions that way. And, the likelihood is that manual buyers would pay more, which means some of those costs could be offset.
Fortunately, the F-Type works perfectly well with the transmission it has. That transmission is excellent and should make open-minded people quite happy. And since most of you would end up buying it with an automated gearbox no matter what Jaguar had on the option sheet, an evaluation of the car with the autobox is the relevant one.
All these points of confusion, which we hope to have clarified, add up to the F-Type not being exactly like any car we know. In turn, its driving dynamics don’t obviously fit a pattern either.
A few characterizations are in order to explain this. We drove two of the three F-Type models, the V6 S with 380 horsepower and the V8 S with 495 horsepower (Jaguar didn’t have any of the base 340-horsepower V-6 models for us to drive). We’ll characterize the V-6S because it is more affordable and in a lot of ways does the best job of delivering what we think Jaguar is trying to do. We can then explain how the V-8 differs.
Like the Porsches, the F-Type V6 S has strong acceleration, but acceleration that isn’t scary fast if you’re behind the wheel. We think this level of power is what most people in their right minds would want. Fast enough that part-throttle acceleration is brisk. Faster if you really want to open it up for passing or on a track day. But slow enough that you aren’t immediately at a speed that is dangerous. And slow enough that at usable street pace you can develop a flowing rhythm on winding roads. The wide torque band of the supercharged motor enhances this element of usability because you don’t have to be above some magical rpm level lest you be left with a boggy mess when you roll on the power.
The active exhaust on the S models enhances the allure of the power on tap. Jaguar offers two modes for the operation of the F-Type: Normal and Dynamic. In normal the exhaust is muted but noticeable with the top down. About what the Germans would give you in sport mode. But when set to Dynamic, the exhaust is half of the way to loud, which we would judge to be just about right with the top lowered, although we would ideally up the level a smidge if the top is raised. The V-6 sound is gritty and alert, with a high-revving sonority that we quite liked. It doesn’t sound gimmicky or artificial, although the “bwap” you get between shifts does make you think that someone programmed it into the ECU (they did). We loved it anyway.
The transmission is also a willing partner as you traverse the back country (we drove it through the Cascades near Seattle). We would highly recommend shifting the car manually at all times except in commuter traffic. Shifts are crisp and immediate, and the paddles feel good with an ergonomically satifying location. In town, where steering angles tend to be more severe, you can use the console shifter. Or you might wish to use the console mechanism all the time. If you are worried about this being a torque converter system, not a dual-clutch affair, we would suggest a test drive first. The Jaguar torque converter locks up in all gears, so the immediacy of mid-gear acceleration is the same as what you’d have with PDK or DCT. The difference we noted, which is pretty minor, is that upshifts and downshifts don’t feel as “hard” because there is a moment post-shift before the converter locks. You can take that as a good thing or a bad thing, depending. We’d slightly prefer a dual-clutch system, as much for its crispness off the line in town as anything.
When it comes to handling, Jaguar has done a lot right. As we’ve pointed out in many reviews, the trick in modern cars is to combine an accurate, responsive chassis with some sense of feedback and fluidity. Make a car too stiff and it feels inert seven tenths of the way to the limit. Make a car too quick to respond and it can feel darty and become tiring.
A comparison with the Boxster will illustrate two valid but different approaches. In a nutshell, where the Boxster is sharp, the F-Type carves. Where the Boxster is crisp, the F-Type is flowing. Where the Boxster is tight, the F-Type dances. The two cars are not radically different in cornering composure, but the feel is different. The Boxster is probably the better handler, but it can feel more clinical. The F-Type gives up some of the data that the Boxster offers, but has a more organic feel, and well below the limit can be more involving because it demands more participation. It is interesting to note that the F-Type handles somewhat more like the 911 with base suspension and less like the 911 with PASM, PDCC, and torque vectoring. We approve of the F-Type's approach, if the street is your primary milieu.
Steering on the F-Type is good, though like most modern electric systems, not amazingly feelful. The ratio is about perfect—not too fast, not too slow, though it does have the fastest rack of any Jag. The turning weight is also good. Overall, it immediately had a sense of rightness to us that allowed us to forget it and get on with enjoying the drive.
We thought the F-Type was solid fun. It is small enough and likes to turn enough that it works on real twisties. It is stable enough and fast enough to work on more meandering roads. It has the reserve torque and intake system to feel right at moderate altitudes. And other than the standard convertible blind spot, its size, sightlines and ground clearance worked well in town.
We did get to do a few track laps and autocross runs with the car (at Ridge Motorsports Park—a nice new facility by the way). We can confirm that it works just fine in a track environment. The balance is good, reflecting Jaguar’s work to get the chassis dialed in around a 50/50 weight distribution. We really felt able to place the car precisely and the bushings and steering transmitted enough information about tire slip angles to inspire confidence. The F-Type tends to a little understeer (which is what you want, we’d vote), but proper use of brakes and throttle will keep the car going where you want it. We pass that on more as an indication that Jaguar, like BMW, has done some solid engineering here and that the F-Type isn’t just another nice car that wilts under the pressure of the track. Still, we probably wouldn’t pick a soft-top car if we wanted to do a lot of track work.
This is probably an appropriate point to insert a few thoughts about the V8 S. The argument for the V-8 is twofold. First, acceleration gets to the neck-snapping level (literally, we can attest), which is something the V-6 really can’t do. We have explained above, that, just as some don’t want their sex to be over in a few seconds, there are reasons to doubt the value of the V-8. But, if you want the beast, you want the beast. Fair enough. Also, the V-8's exhaust note is different and you might prefer it. At times it is louder and times quieter, but it has a different tonal character. It sounds like a Jag V-8, not an American one, and it is set up to backfire rapidly when off throttle in a charming way if that’s your thing.
We should add that the V-8 chassis doesn’t feel quite as responsive. The V-6 is a tad more wired to your brain, the V-8 takes an extra femtosecond to do your bidding. The difference isn’t huge, but you notice it immediately. All in all, if you are torn between the two, we’d save our cash unless the lease rates are effectively identical.
We won’t bore you with a list of features on the car, which you can look up on the Jaguar site anyway. We will mention just a few qualitative things that stood out. First, we thought the seats were unusually comfortable. We did about 250 miles in the car our first morning and felt fine upon arrival at our lunch stop, which is an accomplishment. Ride quality is excellent in our book, but we like a firm ride. Some of our journalist companions felt that a comfort setting on the suspension would have been nice. We’re not sure why, because on broken pavement (which Seattle has blissfully little of) the car seemed quite smooth. You do sit near the rear axle on the F-Type, which increases your sense of pitch, so a ride evaluation on your roads, with your body, is in order. We would add that Jaguar has seen fit to allow almost all the Dynamic mode settings (engine map, steering weight, damper stiffness, exhaust note, shifting) to be adjusted one by one. But the F-Type is not a Lexus no matter how hard you twist the knobs. Thank God.
The one element of flavoring in the F-Type that we think everyone would agree on is that space is limited. The car is relatively wide (four inches wider and one inch shorter than the 911) so the cabin feels nice, but the trunk is small and there is no storage space behind the seats. A coupe, which you would have to guess is in the works, may address this. And, there is fitted luggage on offer.
So, we return to our opening summary. Jaguar has built a sports car that is simple: fast, agile, attractive, comfortable. It is expensive, though competitively priced. Most of all, Jaguar has built a Jaguar sports car, meaning one that is fluid and organic feeling, not raw or aggressive or edgy. In achieving that Jaguar feel, the company hasn’t just compromised by making the car dull and as a result the F-Type is quite fun to drive. What you give up is just a bit of sharpness to get a bit more relaxed feel. That may or may not be what you want, but if it is, and if you want an automated gearbox, there should be a new car on your short list. The car is that good.
2014 Jaguar F-Type V6 S
Engine: Supercharged V-6, 3.0 liters, 24v
Output: 380 hp/339 lb-ft
0-60 MPH: 4.8 sec
Top Speed: 171 mph
Weight: 3558 lb
Fuel Economy, City/Hwy: 19/27 mpg
Base Price: $81,000
2014 Jaguar F-Type V8 S
Engine: Supercharged V-8, 5.0 liters, 32v
Output: 495 hp/460 lb-ft
0-60 MPH: 4.2 sec
Top Speed: 186 mph
Weight: 3671 lb
Fuel Economy, City/Hwy: 16/23 mpg
Base Price: $92,000