First drive: Ferocious 2014 Jaguar F-Type

New cat drops its top and roars

Published: November 25, 2013 10:00 AM

When Jaguar launched its new high-end F-Type roadster last spring, the PR buzz promised that the company would restore its old glory by offering a real high-performance sports car once again. Jaguar may have succeeded on the performance front, but the F-Type is a way different machine, in styling and execution, from any other Jaguar past or present.

The base F-Type starts at $69,000, and it is powered by a 340-hp, 3.0-liter V6. The range tops out with a 495-hp supercharged V8 and a $92,000 sticker. After spending a few days with one of those top-cat V8 S versions rented from Jaguar, we can say that it’s fast and sure-footed and sings a sweet eight-cylinder song—loudly. For now, it comes only as a soft-top convertible; a coupe will be introduced at the 2013 LA Auto Show.

First impressions: Unlike other Jaguars, even the R-series lineup, the F’s 5.0-liter V8 has a rumbling bark that could almost drown out a Chevrolet Corvette Stingray or Maserati GranTurismo. There’s plenty of lightning to go with that thunder, though, and the F brings some athletic credentials. With that kind of exhaust snarl, the relatively civilized ride and the well-insulated fabric top become irrelevant, even if you try to subdue the purring through changing driving modes. Yet some of my colleagues flipped the exhaust switch to full obnoxious mode every time they drove and let the cat roar.

With 495-hp, there is clearly no shortage of thrust and the eight-speed automatic transmission cooperates beautifully. If so inclined, you can simulate manual shifts with paddle shifters on the wheel. A prominent in-dash indicator helps you keep track of your gear options.

On the track, the Jaguar was more than willing to play and proved capable and forgiving, with a talent for rotating itself around bends without raising fright levels too high. Bucking the trend, Jaguar has eschewed electric power steering, sticking instead to a traditional hydraulic set-up, which feels linear and communicates feedback nicely.

The F-Type has been compared to a Porsche Boxster or a 911, but this feline is considerably bigger and heftier, and, to my hands, doesn’t feel as sharp, lithe, and light on its feet.

Commendably, the solid body stays largely free of the twist and shake found with some convertibles, and wind buffeting is minor when the top is down. You can supposedly mute the exhaust somewhat with a button on the console, but all it does is convert the output from an explosive staccato to a fierce growl. Even at its tamest, your neighbors will know you’re coming home long before you get there. And when you get there, you’re likely to be exhausted (no pun intended) from aural overload. Evidently, the sound engineers went a little gangbusters. Some of us loved it, others didn’t.

Surprise-and-delight features begin with flush-set door handles that pop out as soon as you unlock the car. Slipping in or hoisting one’s self out of the low-slung cabin requires some flexibility. Once situated, the seats provide good support and the driver is struck by how the cockpit is festooned with rich materials. The dash vents provide another bit of showmanship, rising from the center dash when you hit the ignition button. The electronic shifter proved too fussy, though, with an unclear button on the lever to select Park. (I once almost walked away from the car when it was still in Reverse!)

Just to prove Jaguar hasn’t lost its eccentricity, the small trunk is deeply asymmetrical, and resembles a form-fitting carrying case for some bizarre musical instrument.

While this newfangled Jaguar was created to chase Porsches and Corvettes, we can’t help wondering if its outrageous, bad-boy brashness will chase away well-heeled customers expecting the charm, grace, and mystique of a typical Jaguar. If that’s the case, a proper salesperson can direct them to an XK.

Whether you’ve heard enough already or want us to go ahead and buy an F-Type to test for you, let us know. Some of my co-workers are already saying, "BUY!"

Gabe Shenhar

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