Stunning, sleek and stylish with an enviable command of the road, the British marque has still got it, says Y’s Alvin Thomas.
The British have always been pioneers in building two-door sports cars. That is until the late 1980s at least, when British Leyland knocked out brilliant lightweight sports cars that could kick dust on flamboyant Italian supercars and even power-packed German sedans.
The MG MGB, Lotus Elan, Jaguar E-Type, Austin-Healey Sprite and the Triumph Spitfire all typify the golden era of the British motor industry.
They were so good on the road (and track) that people didn’t really know why they hadn’t even invested in anything more than a roadster. That is, obviously, until it broke down in the middle of the road in a cloud of its own smoke.
Reliability was a luxury unknown to many British roadster owners, and soon – and rather inevitably – they all switched to more reliable and steadfast roadsters from Japan.
The Mazda MX-5, the Nissan 240SX and the Toyota MR2 are all examples of what the British roadster should always have been – a reliable machine with loads of charisma.
Today, the British roadster is limited to just a few astronomically priced TVRs, Aston Martins, Morgans and Eagles. But wait: we have another contender and you know what? It may be just what the doctor ordered.
It’s the Jaguar F-Type. And it’s affordable, small, quick, nimble and above all, very (very!) handsome. It has all the makings of the perfect roadster, then.
From the outside, there’s no telling that the F-Type is actually even moderately related to the now defunct XK. The latter could be classified as a pretty-looking muscle car at best and, therefore, didn’t quite ring the bells of true fans of the British roadster.
But you see, the F-Type is then Britain’s only answer to the Japanese and the Germans. Little wonder then that it has since become the UK’s standard bearer.
Don’t get me wrong: The F-Type isn’t in any way entering the battlefield as an underdog and that is evident from the moment you set eyes on the car.
My tester F-Type V6 convertible may have been finished only in white but it is still the most dramatic-looking machine that I have seen in an awfully long time. The blacked-out vents, slotted intakes in the bumper and the almost-oval shaped grille give the car its character.
Apart from that, the swooping headlamps resemble (metaphorically) the neatly drawn eyes of a supermodel. Move to the rear and I assure you that your jaw will drop.
The sharp tail lights swoop over more than it should (all for the better) and there is a set of “active” dual-exhausts in the middle. There’s also a retractable rear spoiler that will activate itself depending on the speed at which you are driving.
The Jaguar E-Type (1961-75) touches are evident on the newcomer. Even the bonnet opens outwards from the windscreen (like the E-Type did), as opposed to what you would find on a regular car.
The F-Type’s interior is unlike that of the Jags of old, although all new cars from the stable do come with this interior now.
It is a driver-centric cabin, as is clear when you actually spot the large handle on the passenger side of the centre console – possibly to keep him or her planted while you’re busy scaring the living lights out of him or her.
There’s a lot of leather inside, and everything feels well put together. Much of the interior is covered in soft-touch materials, and you will only spot hard plastics in places where you don’t touch during conventional driving. The dashboard, on the other hand, is a mixture of leather, aluminium and stitched leatherette that extend all the way on the center console and the doors.
There’s adequate space for two adults, and there’s much more space inside than even Porsche’s Boxster.
Sadly, storage spots are scarce, and you will be limited to keeping large objects in the passenger side foot well. Of course, that’s a negligible niggle.
As expected, the boot is a tad small, as it is primarily a storage compartment for that soft-top roof. It should be good enough to store a couple of backpacks but nothing else unless you actually remove the spare wheel from the boot.
The seats are heavily bolstered but are still apt for long journeys. It is also easily adjustable, and comes with memory function should you lend your car to friends.
The F-Type incorporates Jaguar’s infotainment screen, which provides you with most functions, including that of your air conditioner’s blower and ventilation. The system is easy to use but it isn’t the slickest of touchscreens that I have experienced. Still, there are large knobs for the AC and audio system functions.
Another added treat is the central AC vents that electrically pop up from the dash on start-up. Gimmick? Yes. But, it really is cool.
Now let us move on to the more interesting bits: the powertrain, the drive and above all, whether or not this is really a British sports car.
Well, for starters, the F-Type houses, underneath its large hood, a 3.0-litre supercharged V6 engine, which can pump out a hefty 335hp and 450Nm of torque. Furthermore, the engine is mated to a fantastic eight-speed “ZF” gearbox that puts down power to the rear wheels.
The power and torque delivery is instant if you have the car set in “Dynamic” or if you take control of the shifts using the steering-mounted paddles.
There is also none of that annoying lag affiliated to turbocharging so you can easily hit the 100kph mark in under six seconds. I could consistently hit the mark in 5.5 seconds but I assume it would do better in the cooler months, as engines tend to work more efficiently then.
The gearbox is snappy and the shifts are almost instantaneous. True, the Germans will claim that it is no dual-clutch set-up but I say that it still has to be the best single-clutch automatic currently in the business.
The F-Type’s signature, however, is its exhaust note. Push the throttle and you will be treated to the most glorious natural six-cylinder engine note. The tuned exhaust also crackles and pops when you lift off from the throttle to let the cars around you know that you’re in town.
It’s so loud that I am surprised that the car is considered street legal. Oh, and before I forget: you can also push the “exhaust” button on the side to open up valves and make the exhaust even louder!
My F-Type tester came fitted with large 50cm alloys wrapped in 275/35 rear tyres. These tyres can keep the car planted on the road but I would be lying if I said that the car is not happy on its tail.
The F-Type can run rings around its competition all day long. Oversteer will be your companion during your drives and you will find yourself driving sliding ever so slightly into corners even if you’re not a particularly skilled driver.
The electronic stability programme (ESP) isn’t too intrusive, which is probably why the car is so much fun to drive. Understeer exists in moderate levels, too but only if you push the car into a corner way too quick.
All of this, however, means that you also have to be a bit cautious while pushing the car beyond a certain limit. In true Jaguar fashion, you can devour corners on the track while smoking your rear tyres but I wouldn’t advise you to tip the throttle while taking a corner on the highway.
But, if you do, you will find that the brakes are more than adequate to counter your drift. They are easily some of the most powerful brakes fitted to a sports car. All four are ventilated discs, and provide exceptional stopping power.
The thick-rimmed steering is very well-weighted – perfect almost – and is one of the sharpest steerings ever fitted to a sports car. The car changes direction swiftly and without any delay whatsoever. Granted, Jaguar could have provided a little more feel from the steering wheel. But with competitors such as Porsche adopting electric-steering setups, I can hardly complain about the F-Type. As a matter of fact, the British have definitely upped the game when it comes to driver involvement.
And now that brings me to ask the question: is the Jaguar F-Type worthy of being crowned the best British sports car? Yes! And I wouldn’t mind saying that it could very well be one of the finest British sports cars to enter the market since the departure of the Leyland-built roadsters.
This really is a case of “big things come in small packages”. And in this case, you’re getting a cool car that looks like a hornet and sounds like an AK-47.