A tour de force of eager power, engaging dynamics and head-turning looks, the 2014 Jaguar F-Type roadster is Jaguar's first pure sports car in decades.
Not to take anything away from the longtime Cars.com favorite XK, but that model — despite its excellent athleticism — is still more of a touring vehicle, and one with four seats. The F-Type is a rear-wheel-drive, soft-top roadster — at least until a coupe comes along in the undetermined future. And the F-Type is no touring car.
A supercharged V-6 powers the base and S trim levels, and a supercharged V-8 propels the F-Type V8 S. I drove S trim versions of both engines, on a track as well as the roads around Seattle. See all three versions side by side here.
Exterior & Styling
The car carries the name F-Type because it's the spiritual successor to the classic E-Type. The F-Type's styling isn't in the E-Type's ballpark … or county, yet it catches the eye among humdrum modern vehicles, and even within Jaguar's own lineup. To me it merely resembles a Jaguar, partly because of its more vertically oriented headlights and thin-slit taillights. Point of interest: A Jaguar designer says the headlight cluster was inspired by Darth Vader's TIE fighter. (I'm not sure I see it, but if you think about it, the Empire's higher ranks were thick with British accents.)
From the outside, the V-6 and V-8 versions look practically identical. Look for two large-bore, centered tailpipes on the V-6 and two outboard pairs with the V-8. Each trim level adds more standard gloss-black accents, but optional Black Packs can make the lower trim levels as glossy as the higher ones.
How It Drives
Practically from a stop, the supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 has ample torque, and the F-Type S sprints to 60 mph in an estimated 4.8 seconds — 0.3 second faster than the base trim level — aided by a shorter final-drive ratio and a 40-horsepower increase for a total of 380 hp. (Unfortunately, the base model and its 340 hp weren't available for testing, but the specs suggest the S trim's added power is enjoyed mainly at the top end.) Torque jumps only 7 pounds-feet to 339 in the S, arriving at 3,500 rpm and extending flat to 5,000 rpm.
If you can get past the revolting absence of a manual transmission, you'll find the F-Type's drivetrains among its many high points. Though it's a conventional design, the eight-speed automatic transmission performs well, trading the instantaneous shifting of dual-clutch technology for smooth engagement when the traffic signal turns green. A Sport transmission mode can be activated to raise the shift points and lower the threshold for downshifts. (A configurable Dynamic mode in the S trim level activates this mode, too.) You can also shift manually with steering-wheel paddles or the gear-selector lever. The rubber-coated plastic shift paddles are a tactile blunder.
Dual-clutch automatics are proliferating in the market, but I don't think you're losing much, if anything, here. The transmission upshifts and downshifts quickly, jumping multiple gears when called upon without the annoying behavior of stepping through each gear on the way. But as I've said of other eight-speeds, once a transmission exceeds six gears, manual shifting becomes a bit tedious.
As expected, the 495-hp, supercharged V-8 does more than hasten the zero-to-60 time to roughly 4.2 seconds. It transforms the driving experience. You feel the power and 460 pounds-feet of torque at any speed. Even in this heaviest version, extensive use of aluminum and composites keeps the curb weight to 3,671 pounds.
Unfortunately, you feel a transformation in the curves, too: Jaguar says the F-Type's front/rear weight distribution is 50/50, but it clearly shifts forward in the V-8 version, which understeers in aggressive cornering. An electronically controlled limited-slip differential helps rein in the V-8's prodigious grunt; a passive mechanical LSD suffices in the F-Type S.
Overall, the dynamics and roadholding are excellent, but I'm mixed on the steering, despite Jaguar's best intentions of employing conventional hydraulic power assist. Compared with the XK, the F-Type incorporates a stiffer front end, a shorter wheelbase and a quicker steering ratio. I suspect two out of the three might have been a better approach. The steering is exceptionally direct and precise, and the sharp, immediate turn-in was impressive, but it also felt twitchy. It seemed I was doing more correcting than I should have on highways just to track straight, and I noticed a hypersensitivity to steering inputs on the track. Might I have adapted over time? Possibly, but the F-Type definitely doesn't reward a new driver with the effortlessness of a Porsche 911, which is arguably its main competitor. See these two models, plus the Mercedes-Benz SL-Class hardtop roadster, compared side by side here.
Even with the steering's directness, somehow feedback was lacking. The S trim's Dynamic mode allows you to vary the steering assist, but experimentation didn't alter my impressions.
I love how the driver can configure the Dynamic mode, a capability also available in BMW's M cars but new to Jaguar. (The capability comes in the Performance Pack S option package, along with other upgrades.) Using the touch-screen, you can choose whether you want regular or more aggressive settings separately for the steering assist, adaptive suspension, transmission shift schedules and throttle response. (I especially like the separation between the transmission and throttle, which many cars combine.)
With all these settings predetermined, all you need to do is flick the toggle switch on the center console and get everything exactly as you want it for sportier driving.
I'm impressed by the brakes, which do their job consistently, hot or cold. Each trim level has brake rotors sized appropriately for the car's power and capability.
For me, the cars' sound was a disappointment. The F-Type earned a reputation as a spectacular multisensory experience long before I pushed the start button. I was unmoved. With the Active Exhaust, standard on S models, the exhaust note sounds appropriately muted, even when the top's down. A feature found on other cars, the Active Exhaust's bypass valves open under spirited acceleration (or when you press a button that keeps them open), giving the cars more to say.
Porsche does a nice job with its horizontally opposed six-cylinder, but V-6 exhaust never sounds as good to me. The F-Type's exhaust tuning doesn't help much; the cart just sounds like it's trying too hard to impress.
Somehow the V-8 puts up a similar front. I always love performance-car exhausts that burble and pop on lift-throttle, but with this car, the pops have escalated to cracks — and surprisingly loud ones. With the top up they aren't terribly intrusive, but a few miles with the top down exposes what everyone on the outside is hearing, and let's just say it lacks the subtlety of which Jaguar has proved uncommonly capable.
The growl of other Jags, such as the XK, is intoxicating. It doesn't happen by accident; engineers obsess over this kind of thing. The beauty is that it seems incidental. In the F-Type, there's something too deliberate about the car's sound — like an athlete who talks a lot of trash. Is the blather compensation for inadequacies? Or is this a world-class jock who could let its performance speak for itself, yet insists on mouthing off?
Like most roadsters, the F-Type's cabin is actually quite accommodating for adults. I'm 6 feet tall, and though I wouldn't have minded a little more legroom, it was more than workable. The headroom is impressive thanks in part to generous up-and-down seat-height adjustment. With the cushion at its lowest point, I had about 3 inches of space between my head and the raised top. Shorter occupants needn't worry, though: I was able to raise the seat far enough for my noggin to create a molehill in the top.
The top itself is a high point. Fully automatic, it lowers, raises and latches at the touch of a single switch, and does so in about 11 seconds — faster than any retractable hardtop and operable at up to 30 mph. It's also admirably quiet with the top up, unlike the Mercedes-Benz SL500, whose hard top fails to isolate noise as well.
The F-Type has the visibility pros and cons typical of soft-top convertibles. The C-pillar formed by the cloth top is wide and blocks some of the driver's view to the rear. Usually a roadster's rear window is close enough to the driver to mitigate the issue, but the F-Type has a mesh wind blocker between the roll bars that's coarse enough to diminish clarity. Shorter drivers might find that the rear spoiler, which raises automatically at higher speeds, steals a little more of the view. The optional blind spot monitor can help when in motion; for parking purposes I recommend the optional front and rear parking sensors with backup camera.
Both of the F-Type cars I drove had optional full leather upholstery and the Performance Pack S, which replaces the standard "sport seats" with "performance seats." Both seat types have prominent side bolsters and high backs with fixed (not adjustable) head restraints, but the performance seats are more sculpted and have a wing-back shape. Both the driver and passenger seats can have memory for 14-way power adjustment including lumbar and side bolsters. The controls are high on the door panels where they're easily seen and operated … but not very elegant looking.
Controls & Electronics
I've long appreciated how Jaguar has stuck with simple touch-screens and judiciously chosen mechanical buttons rather than multifunction controller knobs and touch-sensitive panels. The F-Type continues the tradition. Key buttons flanking the touch-screen provide direct access to high-level menus like Home, Phone, Audio-Video and Nav, along with a couple for the parking sensors and audio source.
Mechanical switches and three rotary knobs also operate the most-used climate controls. The outboard knobs adjust the temperature for either occupant, as well as the heated seats. Once pressed, the knob's integrated display replaces the digital temperature readout with a seat symbol, and an animated icon's moving arrow shows the user how to set the heat level. Very neat.
Less cool, ironically, is the panel atop the dashboard that motors upward to open the center vents only when needed. Motorized elements are the rage nowadays for gee-whiz factor, and I think this is one of the most gratuitous (just like the vents that rotate open on other Jaguar models). These vents don't block one's view when raised, so it's all gimmick. You can program the car to leave them up.
Jaguar might redeem itself with another motorized creature feature in the form of the gear selector. Rather than a conventional lever with separate PRND settings, it's a springy toggle-style electronic lever, which I don't care for, but it solves a problem most vehicles haven't: Once in Drive, you activate the Sport/manual transmission mode by popping the lever to the left into a separate gate. When you come to a stop and push the Park button, the lever moves automatically into the default position and you're done. Most cars with this layout just beep at you and make you move it yourself. It's pretty cool, and it serves a real purpose.
I found the touch-screen menus pretty easy to use, though the system suffers the delayed response I've noted on other Jags and Land Rovers. It seems like this unit just needs a faster processor. Frustrating stuff. The navigation maps are pretty good but a bit stingy with street names, which sadly is the norm. It was pretty easy to pair my Android phone through Bluetooth, but I'll need more time with the car to know how faithfully it reconnects on successive attempts — an obstacle for some cars.
Cargo & Storage
Cargo and cabin storage space aren't the F-Type's strong suit. The glove compartment and storage bin underneath the center armrest are modest, and though another covered cubby between the backrests has decent volume, it's an awkward shape and location. These limitations aren't uncommon among roadsters, but the F-Type's trunk is disappointing even in its class.
Look strictly at the cargo volume figures, and the F-Type's 7.0-cubic-foot trunk seems adequate versus the Porsche 911 Cabriolet's 4.8 cubic feet and Mercedes-Benz SL550's 8.5 cubic feet. The problem is one of shape. While the 911 Cabriolet's front trunk is smaller by the numbers, it proves a highly accommodating tall shape. (There's also a little extra space available in the area behind the seats when the top is up.) The F-Type's trunk has a nice, wide mouth, but it's quite shallow. A depression just off center in the trunk floor technically increases volume and can help corral grocery bags, but it doesn't help with stuff like luggage. Even an overstuffed roll-aboard suitcase sticks up enough to frustrate closing the lid.
On the upside, none of the F-Type's trunk is sacrificed when the top is down, as it is in the SL550, but here's the rub: The Benz's 8.5 cubic feet is with its hard top lowered. When the top's up, the volume is a generous 13.5 cubic feet. For the record, the 911 Cabriolet is technically a "2+2" because of its tiny backseat. Porsche's true two-seat roadster, the Boxster, offers 9.9 cubic feet of cargo volume.
Unfortunately, neither the F-Type nor its stated competitors have been crash-tested — a common occurrence with low-volume models.
In the absence of a fixed roof and conventional curtain airbags, Jaguar says, standard side-impact airbags in the seats extend upward to protect occupants in a side collision.
A backup camera option comes in the Vision Pack, which also includes front and rear sonar sensors — well worth it for a low-slung car like this one. The bundle also adds blind spot warning and adaptive headlights that angle toward a turn and have automatic high beams. The package costs $2,400 in the lower trim levels and $2,100 in the F-Type V8 S.
See all the safety features listed here.
With a starting price of $69,895 for the base model, the F-Type is $27,255 more affordable than the base 911 Cabriolet (all prices include destination charges). Even the top, F-Type V8 S trim costs $4,255 less than the base 911 convertible, $18,855 less than the most powerful 911 S Cabriolet and $14,730 below the SL550. In this regard, the F-Type represents value. Loaded with every possible functional and cosmetic option, a V8 tops out at $113,400. That sounds high, but upcharges are common among European luxury brands. I had already exceeded $145,000 when I stopped adding options to the 911 Cabriolet, and there were many left to choose.
Key missing features include adaptive cruise control, and though it's available as an option, HomeLink isn't standard on any F-Type trim, as it is on its two competitors. But value comparisons among luxury brands are tough. Much of the value is in the name and reputation, and everyone has a different idea of how much value each brand name has.
To save some money on an F-Type, I think the V-6 S is the way to go. For an additional $12,000, it has more power and a limited-slip differential that the base model lacks, as well as an adjustable adaptive suspension that combines with the car's excellent top-up noise isolation to provide day-to-day livability. It sacrifices only 1 mpg, for a rated 19/27/22 mpg city/highway/combined. The base V-6 gets a predicted 23 mpg combined. The 911 Cabriolet is rated 23 mpg and the 911 S Cabriolet 22 mpg. Both this and the SL550's 20 mpg beat the F-Type V8 S' 18 mpg.
Jaguar's been out of this game for too long. It's good to have it back.
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