PAMPLONA, Spain – In July 1961, one of this city’s most famous admirers ended his life after spending many a night wandering its cobbled streets, supporting the local watering holes and watching from his hotel balcony as the Iberian fighting bulls ran amok on their way to the ring.
The same month Ernest Hemingway died, Jaguar gave birth to a legend. Its iconic E-Type went on sale in the domestic market, and Enzo Ferrari soon called it “the most beautiful car ever made.” Three generations of the E-Type remained in the market until 1974, cementing its place in automotive history. More than 70,000 were sold.
So imagine the excitement – and perhaps the sheer terror – that surged through the product-development halls in the British Midlands a few years ago when the F-Type, the spiritual successor to the E-Type, got the green light for production. Could any car be good enough to run with the E-Type?
Yes. After spending a few days soaking in the ambience of the F-Type, testing its mettle at the track and winding our way top-down through the Pyrenees mountains, it is easy to declare the F-Type a styling masterpiece that is plenty fast, nimble and dynamically sound.
What makes the F-Type compelling, besides the intoxicating exhaust note and big power from all three supercharged V-6 and V-8 engine options, is its singular ability to fill the niche between the German entry-level roadsters (Z4, Audi TT, Mercedes SLK and Porsche Boxster) and the premium convertibles from Deutschland, namely the Mercedes SL 550 and Porsche 911.
Jaguar does not consider the Z4, TT or SLK to be direct competitors. Instead, the Brits have placed a bullseye on the benchmark among premium European sports cars: the 911.
If upholding the E-Type’s legacy didn’t cause cold sweats for Jaguar designers and engineers, then catching the 911 should have. It’s the car every auto maker covets, and struggles to emulate.
Of the three direct-injected engines available in the F-Type, it’s difficult to pick a favorite. For brute strength, go with the 5.0L supercharged V-8, delivering 495 hp and 460 lb.-ft. (625 Nm) of torque at a low 2,500 rpm, which combine for a 0-60 mph (97 km/h) time of 4.2 seconds.
The more expensive 911 Carrera S, with its 400-hp 3.8L 6-cyl. naturally aspirated boxer, makes the sprint in 4.1 seconds paired to the PDK dual-clutch transmission and 4.3 seconds with the manual gearbox.
Jaguar’s all-aluminum 6-cyl. offering, sharing its bloodline with the V-8, is the new 3.0L supercharged V-6 that debuted last year on the XF and XJ sedans.
The V-6 comes in two states of tune, with the base engine rated at 340 hp and 332 lb.-ft. (450 Nm) of torque. Moving up to the S trim earns another 40 hp and 7 lb.-ft. (9 Nm) of torque from the same engine.
The base powerplant sprints to 60 mph in 5.1 seconds, while the S-trim variant can manage it in 4.8 seconds. Head-to-head, the base 911 Carrera, with its 350-hp 3.4L 6-cyl. boxer, is faster, dashing to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds with the PDK. The Porsche also can take more abuse, with a 7,400-rpm redline compared with 6,600 rpm for the F-Type.
When the car goes on sale in the U.S. later this month, Jaguar expects about half of buyers to pick the V-8, and eventually the mix should settle in at 40% V-8 and 30% for each V-6. Globally, the auto maker predicts an even distribution of the three engines.
Jaguar aficionados might consider either V-6 a step down from the V-8, but it’s not, at least tonally. The V-6s sound ferocious, especially with the available active exhaust system that uses electronically controlled bypass valves to turn up the volume.
Under hard acceleration, the free-flowing arrangement allows the dual exhaust pipes to sound like the blaring trumpets they resemble.
During our test drive here through the Pyrenees, regardless of engine selection, the car channels loads of torque to the pavement, and the serenity of a peaceful morning in sleepy medieval villages along the way is broken by a gaggle of journalists speeding into the hills. The sound is intoxicating.
Power delivery is smooth, and the 8-speed automatic transmission incorporates Jaguar’s new “QuickShift” control strategy to detect whether the car is simply cruising or pushing the limit. By monitoring such conditions as acceleration and braking, cornering forces and throttle and brake pedal activity, gear changes come more rapidly and shift points are delayed.
To keep the car’s balance during a downshift, Jaguar says the transmission will instruct the engine-management system to automatically blip the throttle to match engine revs, enabling very rapid downshifts during hard braking.
Set the car in Dynamic mode and the transmission will not upshift automatically at the engine’s redline. Dynamic mode can be tailored if, for instance, the driver wants only steering weight and throttle response to be sharpened, leaving settings unchanged for the all-aluminum double-wishbone front and rear suspensions.
Although the transmission works well in automatic mode, using the paddle shifters immediately raises the fun quotient, enabling gear changes that are nearly dual-clutch fast. A 3-pedal manual is not available, nor is a DCT.
Test drives include several laps in an F-Type S at Circuito de Navarra, a popular regional track near here that packs hairpins, juicy straightaways and some tricky elevation changes into a treacherous 2.4-mile (3.8 km) web.
Feeling the benefits of this aluminum-intensive body, clipping apexes with only slight body roll and listening to this 380-hp V-6 howl at wide-open throttle, the F-Type S holds the track unlike any Jaguar in my lifetime.
The car represents Jag’s fourth-generation aluminum architecture, incorporating the frame, chassis and doors, all of them bonded and riveted. There’s not a weld to be found. Lightweight composite material is used for the front and rear fascia, rocker panels, decklid and spoiler.
For now, the F-Type comes only as a roadster with a soft top that stows in a mere 12 seconds. A retractable hardtop was considered but deemed unnecessary because the body was plenty stiff without it. Plus, the soft top makes for a lower center of gravity and sleeker profile.
The F-Type and Porsche 911 match up well dimensionally: The 911 is less than 1 in. (2.5 cm) longer overall, but the F-Type is more than 4 ins. (10 cm) wider and its wheelbase is nearly 7 ins. (18 cm) longer.
Hence, the Jag weighs in 479 lbs. (217 kg) chunkier than a comparable 911. The heft does not go unnoticed.
But the F-Type makes up for it with dashing good looks, and E-Type styling cues are apparent, especially as the muscular haunches taper neatly to a no-nonsense back end with elegantly thin taillamps. A wraparound chrome bumper would make this a full-on E-tribute.
The front is much more contemporary, lacking the E-Type’s disproportionately long snout and upright windshield. But subtle design aspects pay homage, such as the growling Jaguar face positioned in the center of the fish-mouth-shaped air inlet below the hood.
Inside, the F-Type is all business. Jaguar wants this sports car to be perceived as serious, and the interior reflects it.
The cockpit is designed to envelop the driver; controls are within easy reach; and knobs and switches are clearly labeled and soft to the touch. Whether trimmed in black, bone or brown leather, the F-Type interior is purposeful and straightforward.
Clearly, the design team understands the buyer of a car like this does not seek opulence, although it’s appealing enough to clinch the sale.
Jaguar prices the U.S. F-Type slightly higher than the German roadsters and lower than the 911. A base car starts at $69,000; the S trim begins at $81,000; and a V-8 F-Type S starts at $92,000.
Jaguar is building the car on the same assembly line in Castle Bromwich, U.K., as the XK. Some 48% of global sales are expected to come from the U.S., where many dealers have sold out their allotment already.
The last time Jaguar unleashed a fleet-footed creature like the F-Type – in 1961 – Winston Churchill was smoking up to 10 cigars a day, James Bond hadn’t reached the silver screen and the Rolling Stones didn’t even exist.
So expecting the F-Type to eat into the 911’s market share after such a long absence seems a stretch. Still, the new roadster represents the brand’s storied past and bright, bullish future.
Jaguar remembers, the sun also rises.
|Vehicle type||2-door, rear-wheel-drive, 2-passenger luxury roadster|
|Engine||3.0L DOHC supercharged DI all-aluminum V-6|
|Power (SAE net)||380 hp @ 6,500 rpm|
|Torque||339 lb.-ft. (460 Nm) @ 3,500-5,000 rpm|
|Bore x stroke (mm)||84.5 x 89|
|Transmission||8-speed Quickshift auto|
|Wheelbase||103.2 ins. (262 cm)|
|Overall length||176 ins. (447 cm)|
|Overall width||75.7 ins. (192 cm)|
|Overall height||51 ins. (130 cm)|
|Curb weight||3,558 lbs. (1,614kg)|
|Fuel economy||31 mpg (9.1 L/100 km) combined|
|Competition||Porsche 911 and Boxster S, Audi R8, Mercedes SL 550,Z4|
|Three engines, all good||911 cross-shopping in question|
|Exterior styling spot-on||Interior could use some drama|
|Hemingway would love it||Could go on a diet|