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Jaguar F-Type review: first impressions from Autocar

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We’ve been talking about the F-type for years. Now, finally, we can sample it. Steve Cropley rides with Jaguar's chassis guru Mike Cross in Wales

For two decades we’ve been hearing about ‘Jaguar’s new E-type’; finally, here we are, ready to ride in the much talked about Jaguar F-type alongside the firm’s chassis guru Mike Cross.

Jaguar has brought a V6S prototype, the 375bhp supercharged 3.0-litre version that puts its distinctly healthy 339lb ft of torque through the eight-speed ‘Quickshift’ auto with paddles that Jaguar has developed with ZF, the ideal transmission for a car of this size, weight and potential.

The F-type door opens conveniently wide, but because this is a convertible you have to lift your right foot a little higher than usual over the bulky, strength-giving aluminium sill as you get in. The footwell is long and deep, and your hip point is just about level with the top of the sill, which means that you sit snug and low in the car. The main bulk of the fascia curves extravagantly away from you to the base of the screen.

Video: Riding in the Jaguar F-type

There’s a large central binnacle, containing two air vents, that powers out of the top of the dashboard to provide extra heating or cooling when needed. Below that is a prominent touchscreen; lower down sit a row of three circular switches to control the climate, and below those a smart-looking row of modern-design toggle switches. The main driver’s instruments are a pair of big digital dials located under a glare-proof eyebrow. It’s all neat and leaves a pervading aura of quality, but there are no real surprises.

You sit low and the fascia is quite high, but you still plainly see the power bulge that runs down the central bonnet, and there’s a satisfying view of a muscular front wing to either side. The screen pillars are as thick as in any modern car, but their extreme rake and considerable distance from you means that they don’t intrude. The passenger experience is made better by the presence on the left of the high central console of a ‘holy cow' handle, which gives the passenger area a snug, tub-like feel.

There’s a handsome gearstick in the centre of the console, which selects your direction of travel and can be used as a rocking gear selector, but the reality is that you only use it to get off the mark. The steering column paddles best control the gearbox’s action and – given the power and torque – the car is lively in any of its modes.

Jaguar’s figures give the V6S a 0-60mph sprint time of 4.8sec and a 171mph top speed (with a CO2 output of 213g/km and a combined fuel economy of 31mpg thrown in) and nothing about my day with Cross induced me to disagree.

This V6 has a higher specific power than previous Jaguar engines, and a ‘modern’ engine note to go with it. It’s mechanically quiet, not least because there’s a big, sound-absorbing noise protector right across the top of the engine bay, but the exhaust has a prominent, surprisingly edgy rasp that curls up to your ears over the rear deck.

Toe the accelerator lightly (says Cross) and the car eases away with the aplomb of a limo. Do it more dramatically and you’re forced instantly, although never roughly, back into the upholstery.

Video: See and hear the Jaguar F-type on the road

Rear suspension squat is hardly a factor, even though your backside is only a couple of feet ahead of the rear contact patch. You can select a Dynamic mode for auto-shifting, which uses more revs, or actuate the paddles yourself but, according to Cross, most drivers opt mainly for the auto-shifting, using the paddles strictly when they feel like it.

As you’d expect from a smooth, supercharged engine, the V6 delivers easy torque right from the ground floor of its rev range, and could probably live its whole life below 3500rpm. On the other hand, the red line is at 6700rpm; this is a proper sports car and the power grows all the way to the rev-limiter.

I’m only the passenger here but I can see, just by watching Cross’s hands, that the transmission is silky and downchanges are beautifully smooth. There’s no question of the delays that used to affect set-ups like this.

Then there’s the chassis. Even on lumpy, rutted, unpredictable surfaces, taken quickly, its excellence impresses. The F-type makes a constant virtue of its near-perfect weight distribution by avoiding pitching completely. According to Cross, Jaguar’s suspension experts have also managed to configure the car so that it turns as if you, the occupant, are the centre of the movement, an ability that usually eludes even the best mid-engined car.

Tamed in all driving conditions by its adaptive dampers, the F-type V6’s ride is always firm, but the rigidity of its all-aluminium chassis and the surprising quietness about its suspension even over bumps (which the V6S ‘reads’ through standard 19-inch Pirelli P-Zeros) make this feel a tautly damped, flat-riding machine.

The F-type has the soul of a responsive, agile sports car. The surprise is how well it copes with the most untidy, aggressive bumps and never, ever running out of suspension travel.

The steering is the highest-geared system ever put in a Jaguar, and I can only read its characteristics through Cross’s hand actions, which is like trying to decide whether a scalpel is any good when wielded by the country’s best heart surgeon. But he says it hits new heights, and I’m taking that on trust (while busting to try it myself).

Autocar’s next F-type episode will be a proper test drive so stand by for stories and video tests in mid-April – at which stage I’ll be as interested as anyone to discover whether my hugely favourably initial impressions of Jaguar’s new sports car can move faithfully from one bucket seat to the other.

The full story of Steve Cropley’s F-type ride, plus Martin Brundle’s view from the driving seat, and a review of what F-Type alternatives are available on the used market, and at any budget, is available in this Wednesday’s Autocar magazine.
I encourage all to support Autocar and purchase the F-Type issue this week.

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Thanks and already a subscriber to Autocar through Zinio on my computer and iPad, love the mag every week!
3 Feb, 2013 (All day) Jack Rix

We get an exclusive ride in the stunning new Jaguar F-Type, ahead of its arrival in showrooms in April
“Roof up or roof down?” asks Mike Cross, Jaguar’s chief test engineer, as we peer out at the icy-cold January weather. “Down. Definitely down,” we reply, and prepare our ears for the onslaught.

Twelve seconds later, roof stowed, we pull out of the lay-by and Cross wastes no time in showing us what he’s been working on. Throttle pinned, the F-Type explodes up the road, leaving a crisp metallic bark behind us punctuated with pops on every upshift and blips on every downshift. Arriving at the first corner, he tucks the nose in neatly and drifts the car at a perfect 45 degree angle to our direction of travel. Suddenly we understand why there’s a grab handle sticking out from the centre console.

We’re not here to get behind the wheel of the F-Type – that comes in April – but to be driven by the test team responsible for its development. And we’re on the exact Welsh B-roads where its handling and performance have been fine-tuned. Passenger rides can often be a frustrating, but when the car is the most important new Jaguar since the 1961 E-Type, it’s an opportunity not to be missed.

“We’ve done more work on-track developing the F-Type, at places such as Rockingham and the Nurburgring, than any other model,” Cross reveals. “But these roads are its home. If it works here, it will work anywhere.”

We can see what he means. Inconsistent surfaces, narrow sections, blind crests and high hedges are only some of the obstacles the F-Type has to tackle, but not once does it feel out of place. It’s a mere 1.1cm broader than the Porsche 911 Cabriolet (a car Jaguar used as a benchmark despite the F-Type costing £21,447 less) but it never feels unnecessarily wide – even with lorries steaming past in the other direction.

We’re sitting 20mm lower than in the XKR-S, so the sensation is more like skimming the surface than riding above it. More obvious is how much tighter the body control is than with the bigger XK. The F-Type uses a development of that car’s aluminium chassis – stiffened, 130mm removed from the wheelbase, plus shorter overhangs help to concentrate the mass between the wheels. Front-to-back weight distribution is a near-perfect 50:50 in the V6.

Over crests and dips we can feel the car moving vertically on its suspension (both the V6 S and V8 S get adaptive dampers, while the base V6 has fixed-rate springs). However, it refuses to nose-dive, even when hard on the brakes, while body roll is not an issue. The price to pay is a bumpy ride as we cruise through villages, but the harder the car is driven, the more fluid it feels.

The test team’s consensus is that the V6, offered with 335bhp, or 375bhp in the S, is for the more accomplished driver, while the 488bhp V8 S is for those who prefer their fun in straight lines. “We tried to set up both to feel as similar as possible, but personally I prefer the V6 – it just feels nicely balanced,” Cross reveals. After riding in both, we’d have to agree.

The main differences are clear within the first few miles. The way the V8 punches out of corners, or in any gear at any time, squeezes the air from our lungs. Meanwhile, the V6 S builds speed less immediately, with a crescendo as you reach high revs. But with less weight in the nose (the V8 weighs 54kg more), the V6 tucks into corners a little quicker.

You can tell the models apart from their exhaust notes, too: the V8 emits a deep rumble overlaid with fluttering valves, while the V6 makes a metallic blare with crackles on the overrun. An active exhaust, which opens a set of valves above 3,000rpm (or permanently if you push a button), is standard on both S versions.

A Dynamic mode sharpens throttle response, adds steering weight, firms up the suspension and speeds up shifts on the remarkable new eight-speed box. Prefer a sharper throttle response but not added steering weight or harder dampers? Each parameter is individually configurable, too.

Some may argue that Jaguar should have used a twin-clutch gearbox, but we’d disagree. This ZF-developed transmission offers the best of both worlds, with seamless low-speed changes and barely any interruption in the torque on upshifts. Jaguar has even engineered in a little kick from the transmission on full-throttle upshifts in Dynamic mode, to make it feel more alive.

Frustratingly, Cross’s favourite part of the car is something we can’t try at this stage. “I’m most proud of the steering,” he tells us. “With a sports car it’s the most important element, and I’m confident we’ve got it just right.”

Unlike the new 911, which uses an electric system, the F-Type sticks with a proven hydraulic set-up. It has the quickest ratio of any Jaguar road car to date. “As you turn the wheel the ratio gets even quicker,” Cross explains. “My job is to make you are unaware of that change, so it feels entirely linear and natural.”

While our evaluation of the steering will have to wait a few months, there’s plenty to admire from the passenger seat. You often hear makers describe cabins as “driver focused” or “cockpit-like”, but the F-Type bring new meaning to both phrases. While the passenger is presented with a bare dashboard, glovebox and two grab handles, the driver has an array of buttons and switches at their disposal.

The joystick-like gear selector and rocker switch to select Dynamic are based on a fighter-jet theme, while all the knobs and dials work with a satisfying mechanical click and feel high-quality to the touch. And this is a pre-production prototype, don’t forget, so things are likely to further improve. Those who like the drama of the XF, XJ and XK’s rising dial won’t be disappointed, either – when the car senses it’s too cold or too warm, two vents appear almost magically from the top of the dash.

As for the styling, you’ve probably already formed your own opinions – but just wait until you watch an F-Type drive past. It’s not an especially radical design, but it’s one that’s impossibly elegant from just about all angles.

Key specs

3.0 V6 3.0 V6 S 5.0 V8 S
Price £58,500 £67,500 £79,950
Engine 3.0-litre V6 s/c 3.0-litre V6 s/c 5.0-litre V8 s/c
Power 335bhp 375bhp 488bhp
0-62mph 5.3 seconds 4.9 seconds 4.3 seconds
CO2 209g/km 213g/km 259g/km
On sale 19-Apr 19-Apr 19-Apr

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