Jag, the giant killer

It is not every day – or every decade, for that matter – that an entirely new sports car debuts, particularly one that picks up where a very famous forefather left off nearly 40 years before. For Jaguar, the British motor industry and fans of the marque all over the world, the F-type is a genuine cause for celebration.

Development of the F-type – an automobile that enters a segment of the market that accounts for a mere 0.6% of new car sales globally – was an impressive, even audacious flex of muscle for Jaguar’s parent company, India’s Tata Group, and its then-chairman, the charismatic and car-mad Ratan Tata. As a sports car, the F-type is no toe-in-the-water exercise; Jaguar has executed an artful swan dive into a shark tank containing such meat-eaters as the Porsche 911 Carrera and the Aston Martin V8 Vantage.

Vital Stats

2014 Jaguar F-type V8 S

  • Base price: $92,895, inclusive of $895 destination charge
  • Price as tested: $107,375
  • EPA fuel economy: 16mpg city, 23mpg highway
  • Powertrain: Supercharged 5-litre 495hp V8 gasoline engine; eight-speed automatic transmission with manual shift mode
  • Standard features: 20in Cyclone Wheels in Silver Finish, Active Sport Exhaust with outboard mounted quad exhaust pipes, Jaguar Super Performance Braking System, Electronic Active Differential, Dual-zone automatic climate control with air filtration, Leather Sport seats with 14-way electric seat adjustment, Rear parking sensors with Touch-screen visual aids, Auto-dimming exterior mirrors
  • Major options: Italian Racing Red metallic paint, $1,500; 20in Blade wheels, $2,500; Premium Pack, $800; Vision Pack,  $2,100; Performance Pack, $2,950; Extended Leather Pack, $1,925; Meridian 770-watt Surround Sound audio system with 12 speakers, $1,200; flat-bottom heated leather steering wheel with Ignis paddles, $600; heated windshield with timer, $350; HD radio and Sirius Satellite Radio, $450

The roadster arrives in three states of ferocity, all supercharged: the base model, with a 340hp V6; the hardcore V6 S, with 380hp; and the bat-out-of-hell V8 S, with a version of Jaguar/Land Rover’s 5-litre V8 producing a snarling 495hp. The F-type seems quite petite in the metal – BMW Z4-sized, perhaps – but it is actually wider than a 911 and just three-quarters of an inch shorter bumper to bumper. The base model starts at a not-unreasonable $69,000, but the car-shopper who hunts down a $68,000 F-type deserves a lollipop. The V6 S starts at $81,000 and the V8 S starts at $92,000. The tested examples, both well-optioned, demonstrated the F-type’s lofty reach: the V6 S model crested $96,000 and the V8 S topped $107,000.

The car is, in most aspects, a styling and technological tour de force. A coupe, previewed by Jaguar’s luscious C-X16 concept from 2011, is forthcoming, as are even racier variants that punch past the 500hp mark. For now, however, the F-type is suitably alluring and swift enough to make adults squeal like tweens. The F-type is, in fact, one of the rare modern sports cars that goes faster than it looks – and it looks very fast indeed. Led by Jaguar design chief Ian Callum, the F-type’s stylists have created a shape that is lovely from every angle (if not quite as heart-stopping as the Mark 1 E-type from which it draws inspiration) and possessed of myriad delightful details – bits like gleaming exhaust tips, tail lamps that riff on the E-type’s and dash-top air vents that evoke the gaping intakes on a Eurofighter Typhoon jet.

The company is eager to tout the F-type as the spiritual successor to the E-type, but even after accounting for the yawning half-century gulf between them, the E-type and F-type are dramatically different cars. Whereas the E prioritised style over speed, the F does the opposite. The E-type was a swift but relaxed grand tourer, an eye-widening phallic statue of a car that, with its archaic Moss gearbox and decidedly iffy braking, was more about looking the part. The F-type, particularly the top-spec V8 S model, is a fire-breathing dragon that happens to be quite pretty. It is, all told, more rightly the spiritual successor to the racing D-type than the road-going E-type. And that’s no bad thing.

The F-type makes use of a bonded and riveted aluminium structure that is lightweight and, particularly for an open-top car, remarkably stiff. Suspension pieces are aluminium as well, which helps keep curb weight well between 3,521lbs and 3,751lbs. Six- and eight-cylinder engines meet an eight-speed automatic transmission; for now, no traditional manual is available. But contain your hissing, purists: Jag’s eight-speed is a genuinely hardcore gearbox, with lightning reflexes and lockup in all gears for a direct connection to the drive wheels. The V8 S will sprint from zero to 60mph in 4.2 seconds and push on to a governed top speed of 186mph. The V6 S, hardly a slouch, runs to 60mph in 4.8 seconds on its way to 171mph, and the base model manages 5.1 seconds to 60 and a top speed of 161mph.

There is one packaging gaffe that stymies the F-type experience  and may, in fact, give a fair number of buyers pause in the showroom. The cavity within that sensuously tapered rear end – call it a trunk if you must – is comically puny. In fact, unless you jettison the standard full-size spare for the $380 space-saver wheel, it is all but nonexistent. Loading up for a weekend getaway for two will be a major challenge for all but nudists, and even mundane feats like, oh, accommodating a grocery bag, are certain to give owners fits. And unlike the Porsche 911, the F-type has no vestigial back seat for stowing miscellany – and there is always miscellany. A post-drive dinner-table suggestion that Jaguar devise an XK120-style decklid luggage rack for the F-type – in titanium and carbon fibre, perhaps – prompted a good laugh from journalists and company reps alike. But really, Jaguar, that wasn’t a joke.

And yet, all is forgiven as the transmission drops from fifth to fourth to third on a wide-open back road, and the V8 barks and pops and yowls. An informal poll of a dozen or so motoring journalists reveals the V6 S to be the favoured model, but what do journalists know? Yes, the six-cylinder car is lighter, better balanced and less expensive, but there is absolutely no question that the eight-cylinder car is more fun. Hysterical fun. Obscene fun. Jaguar considers itself as much in the business of entertainment as automobiles, and in the F-type V8 S – more than any mother model – it shows.

There is something that is so much less serious about the way this F-type goes about its business than the way, say, a 911 does. That is not to suggest the F-type is not a seriously fast car. But while the Porsche makes its driver squint and sneer and strive for surgical precision though every turn, the F-type prompts its pilot to cackle, hoot and chirp four-letter words as the world blurs by, goading him to go wide, brake late, cut in hard and hang out the tail in a noisy, squirrelly, smoky mess.

The F-type V8 S is that kind of hooligan. To quote Top Gear’s Dan Reid, “It feels hefty and slightly over-endowed, and has the ingredients of something more... American.”

Hear, hear.