Climb behind the wheel of the F-Type, and there's definitely an immediate sense that you're in a different sort of Jaguar. You sit nearly an inch lower than in Jaguar's previous sportiest car, the XKR-S coupe. The cabin is modern and luxurious but not affected, with a row of substantial rocker switches and big twist dials for climate control, a nicely stitched grab handle that delineates the driver's space from the passenger's, a chunky gearshift lever that is the antithesis of the fussy old Jaguar J-gate shifter, and a small and simple steering wheel (three versions of the steering wheel are available, including a flat-bottomed one and one with Alcantara). In S models, the Dynamic Mode button, the shift paddles, and the start button are accented in orange. Fit and finish are very good. A set of vents at the top of the center stack rises when the climate control system dictates they are needed and otherwise disappear into the dash. Jaguar always concocts at least one parlor trick for its cabins these days, it seems.
Our test cars were fitted with optional fully power-adjustable seats, but base seats have manual fore-and-aft movement to save weight. Jaguar considered something akin to Mercedes-Benz's Airscarf to blow warm air on your neck but rejected it due to packaging concerns. This is not a particularly big cabin. People over 6'2" or 6'3" might find legroom lacking. You're on intimate terms with your passenger, but there's still a substantial amount of instrument panel between you and the windshield. The F-Type feels good from the passenger's seat. You feel like you're part of the car even though you don't have the steering wheel in your hands, and the door handle and grab bar are ideal for bracing yourself for g-forces.
The fabric top goes down in only 12 seconds at speeds of up to 30 mph and folds neatly behind the seats. The trunk is shallow, oddly shaped, and small, with only 7.0 cubic feet of space. It's not for golf clubs, but if you're a golfer, Jaguar will point you to the XK.
Within the first few miles, you'll notice the F-Type's stiff body structure, for sure, as there's virtually no cowl shake or undue bending or flexing. You'll also realize that this is still a relatively heavy car. Curb weights range from 3521 lb for the V6 to 3671 lb for the V8 S, so you understand why Jaguar engineers were obliged to provide a lot of power under the hood.
Even the base V6 is more than sufficient thanks in part to the Quickshift transmission, which disconnects the torque converter once you're in second gear to create a direct mechanical connection between the engine and the rear wheels. To shift manually, either nudge the gearshift lever into its left gate and pull it back for upshifts and shove it forward for downshifts. Or, our preference, use the shift paddles. Hit the Dynamic Mode switch on the center console, confirmed by a checkered flag in the driver's display cluster, and the transmission will hold on to gears at redline and automatically blip the throttle during downshifts.
You'll want to blip the throttle yourself nonstop to take full advantage of the Active Exhaust system (optional on V6, standard on V6 S and V8 S), which opens bypass valves in the exhaust under hard acceleration. The sweet mechanical music that follows, especially the crackle and pop when you lift off the gas, are worthy of an Italian supercar. V6 models have twin center exhaust outlets, in a nod to the E-Type, while the V8 has quad outlets, two at each corner.
The F-Type's steering is relatively light yet very precise, with good feel, even if it's not as hyper-communicative as, say, the Porsche Boxster's. At the Circuito de Navarra, a racetrack set into stunning landscape in the foothills south of Pamplona, it was easy to direct an F-Type S into tight corners, and the brakes, with excellent pedal modulation and pressure, were ready for track duty. The gearbox responded quickly to slaps of the shift paddles, especially when multiple downshifts were required. Stability control wasn't overly intrusive during a few brief laps of the circuit with a British driving instructor named Chris riding shotgun. Chris did not offer to let us drive with stability turned off, but the F-Type feels like it would willingly rotate if he had.
The diameters of both the wheels and the brake rotors ascend as you move up through the F-Type model hierarchy. The F-Type gets 18-inch wheels and 14-inch front rotors; the F-Type S gets 19-inch wheels and 15-inch front rotors; and the F-Type V8 S has 20-inch wheels and 15-inch front, 14.8-inch rear rotors, the largest set of brakes Jaguar has ever fitted as standard to a production car. Both of the V6 models can be spec'd up with bigger footwear with the usual portfolio of attractive Jaguar wheels.
As composed and fun as the two V6 models are, it's the V8 S that has the visceral nature that gives real credence to Jaguar's "sports car" claim. It's a different beast altogether, with far more character and personality and verve, and Jaguar expects it to comprise half of all U.S. sales. On the second day of the media program, we drove it on a loop northeast of Pamplona through fantastically scenic mountain roads snaking along a series of rivers bursting with spring snow melt, top down despite the 38-degree morning chill, and the F-Type had all the right moves and made all the right sounds. Grip, even in tight corners on wet roads, was excellent, and the car was flat and composed without ride harshness. It was pretty great.
Our initial drives of the 2014 Jaguar F-Type make us think that the storied British marque has entered a new era and that this is the Jaguar that will finally pry some people out of their German cars. CLICK HERE to see how the F-Type V8 S fares against two of its most accomplished German rivals.
2014 Jaguar F-Type
|Engine:||Supercharged 3.0-liter DOHC 24-valve V-6; supercharged 5.0-liter DOHC 32-valve V-8|
|Horsepower:||340/380 hp @ 6500 rpm; 495 hp @ 6500 rpm|
|Torque:||332/339 lb-ft @ 3500 rpm; 460 lb-ft @ 2500 rpm|
|Front/rear track:||62.4/64.1 in|
|L x W x H:||176.0 x 75.7 x 51.0 in|
|Fuel tank capacity:||19.0 gal|
|Cargo Capacity:||15.9 cu ft|
|Curb Weight:||3521-3671 lb|
|EPA Rating (city/highway):||F-Type: 20/28 mpg, F-Type S: 19/27 mpg, F-Type V8 S: 16/23 mpg|