ESTORIL, Portugal — The 2016 Jaguar F-Type’s beef with the Porsche 911 now extends to trying to match the German’s mesmerizing number of body, engine, and driveline permutations. It never will, of course, but the addition of all-wheel drive and a manual gearbox has doubled to a dozen the ways you can build the 2016 Jaguar F-Type.
There are now three engine options, all supercharged: a 340-hp V-6 (base model), a 380-hp V-6 (S), and 550-hp V-8 (R). The old 495-hp V-8 for the convertible dies; instead the R Coupe’s engine now appears in the drop-top too. So you can now order every engine in either body style. You can also have all-wheel drive or a manual gearbox, but not together. The R is now all-wheel-drive-only in the U.S., so, no manual. The S offers all-wheel drive and manual, but like we said, not together. The base model remains rear-drive only, and thus can be manual or auto. Maybe a diagram would work better than words at this point.
The update also includes a new infotainment system and electric power assistance for the steering, both of which also appear on the 2017 Jaguar XE and the rest of the blizzard of new Jags that are about to hit. Jaguar says it was waiting for electric power steering to be good enough before it adopted it, but the prime motivation here is the 2 to 3 percent improvement in gas mileage and emissions.
The visual changes are limited. The hood rises about a half-inch higher on the all-wheel-drive cars to accommodate the extra driveshafts. But underneath, this model-year update brings a substantial engineering revision. In manual cars, the engine calibration and the driveline aft of the new transmission have been revised to give a more direct, mechanical feel.
In AWD cars, the front spring rates are 10 percent stiffer to compensate for the extra 150 pounds over the nose. Power goes to the front wheels via a computer-controlled electronic clutch, which relies on a suite of sensors to read both your inputs and the car’s actual behavior. The system can also call upon stability control and the optional electronic active rear differential to keep you moving in the direction you intended. In most situations, 100 percent of the engine’s power goes to the rear wheels for the benefit of handling and efficiency. Even in extreme “events,” seldom more than 30 percent of the power goes to the fronts.
Jaguar’s aim with all this is to a) permit progress on snow and ice and b) prevent the weird-feeling intrusion of stability control on those few occasions when retiree owners use more than half-throttle in the wet while c) preventing motoring journalists from bleating that the F-Type has been ruined.
Based on our first experience with preproduction cars, it seems like Jaguar has succeeded on all fronts. A full-bore launch on a streaming-wet surface in an all-wheel-drive car is mightily impressive and produces little discernible slip. Hoofing the throttle as we exit a corner, the rear end starts to drift before the torque reaches forward and literally pulls us out of it. The fact that you can feel it happen doesn’t mean that it’s slow; the system just preserves that rear-drive feel before getting on with the business of going down the road, the transition happening quite naturally. Get on the power earlier, and you won’t notice the latency.
That’s in low-grip mode. In Dynamic mode on a dry track at the Estoril circuit, the thresholds are plainly higher, but the net result is much the same: a generous amount of throttle adjustability before a natural transition to greater traction and faster, more efficient progress. The rear end no longer feels like an angry pit bull being restrained by a worryingly thin leash. As rear-drivers, both the F-Type V8 S and R felt surprisingly edgy: pleasingly so for many, but perhaps not entirely “Jaguar.” For most customers, this is better.
The switch from hydraulic to electric power steering likewise hasn’t ruined the fun. On-center feel is lacking, but turn-in is still hyper-alert, and under load there’s weight, precision, and as much feedback as we can expect. Any net loss compared with the old hydraulic system is marginal. If the F-Type had been launched with the electric setup, we’d still have loved it.
Finally available with a stick
The biggest market for manual-transmission cars will be the United States, where Jaguar expects some 30 percent of V-6 models to be specified with a stick. Jaguar insists that a manual was in the product plan from the start, but from the way the lever is situated too far back to sit naturally in your grasp yet still too close to the switchgear in odd-numbered gears, you wonder if it was a more recent, reactive decision. It’s not a wrist-snap change anyway. As configured here, the ZF six-speed has a relatively short throw but won’t be rushed. It feels better suited to a sports sedan than a sports car, and the paddle-shift auto always felt pretty well suited to the F-Type. But kudos to Jaguar for offering it anyway, and offering it for a slight discount to boot.
Kudos also for rejecting any assistance — that is to say, cheating — in matching revs on downshifts. The engine management will help slur your upshifts, but for downshifts you’re on your own. With the manual you notice how quick the throttle response is from the supercharged V-6, so you’ll need to be deliberate with your blips. Fortunately, the three pedals are nicely spaced for heel-and-toe shifting — assuming those trading out of an automatic-transmission F-Type still remember how.
The 2016 Jaguar F-Type still feels fun. That’s the important bit. Online-commenting driving superheroes might bemoan the loss of the super-driftable rear-drive V-8 models, but nobody actually drives that way. Meanwhile, the significant changes should make the 2016 Jaguar F-Type accessible and desirable to more buyers.
2016 Jaguar F-Type Specifications
- On Sale: Spring
- Price: $65,000 (manual transmission, est)
- Engine: 3.0L supercharged DOHC 24-valve V-6, 340 hp @ 6,500 rpm, 332 lb-ft @ 3,500-5,000 rpm; 3.0L supercharged DOHC 24-valve V-6, 380 hp @ 6,500 rpm, 339 lb-ft @ 3,500-5,000 rpm; 5.0L supercharged DOHC 32-valve V-8, 550 hp @ 6,500 rpm, 502 lb-ft @ 3,500 rpm
- Transmissions: 6-speed manual (V-6 only), 8-speed automatic
- Layout: 2-door, 2-passenger, front-engine, RWD/ AWD coupe or convertible
- EPA Mileage: N/A
- L x W x H: 176.0 x 75.7 x 51.5-51.7 in
- Wheelbase: 103.2 in
- Weight: 3,477-3,847 lb