What God Drives on the Weekend
2014 Jaguar F-Type S Review
It’s been 50 years since Jaguar has produced a proper, purpose-built sports car, in the form of the classic E-Type, one of the most beautiful cars ever made. It was, perhaps, the most beautiful thing ever made. Since then, Jaguar has been more about luxury than sport. Sure, Jaguar makes fast luxury cars, and there was the XK, of course, which was amusing, and in the R-spec version, very fast. But it didn’t quite press all the right sports-car buttons, especially in convertible form. The convertible was basically an XK coupe with the top sawzalled off, which meant loss of torsional rigidity and scuttle shake. Since the E-Type, Jags have always been fast, fun, and luxurious, but not truly sporting machines.
Now, Jag has released the successor to the beloved E-Type, the new F-Type. The F-Type was designed from the ground up as a roadster sports car. For instance, instead of a steel frame, it boasts a stiff aluminum monocoque chassis—with no welds—that weighs less than 600 pounds and keeps the car sorted at speed in the way most convertibles aren’t. In the F-Type, the sporting intent is there in full.
How it looks
It looks fast and muscular from any angle. It isn’t a ground-breaking and utterly new design like the E-Type was half-century ago. Instead, it’s merely a great implementation of 21st-century vehicle aesthetics, and, as such, it’s still quite beautiful. The long nose and short back deck are the proper proportions for a roadster. Seen from dead on in front, the F-type seems to be angrily shouting at you, while from the rear, the thin, hooded taillights seem to be giving you a threatening scowl. It’s a serious-looking car that gives the impression of wanting to be about its business.
The inside of the F-Type is everything a Jaguar is supposed to be. Harsh, hard plastic has been properly banished to the nether regions, and replaced by buttery-soft leather and blued aluminum. It goes without saying that it has every technological feature you’d expect in a luxury car. Even the fully-adjustable and telescoping steering wheel is electrically powered. The one odd exception is the paddle shifters behind the wheel, which are made of plastic. They should be aluminum. It’s an odd place to save money in a car that costs 85 grand. Although, having said that, aluminum shifters are available as an option, which seems like a good place to add a little more profit.
One interesting feature is that the traditional gearshift has been ditched for a simple R-N-D joystick. In Drive, pushing the joystick sideways engages “Sport” mode, giving you control over the 8-speed transmission with the paddle shifters on the steering wheel.
It’s comfortable and surprisingly roomy inside, even for taller people, with the roof up. When you put the roof down, which you can do at any speed less than 30 MPH, it folds nicely flat into itself, flush with the back deck. A mesh wind screen between the headrests keeps wind in the cockpit to a minimum.
I could go on and on about this or that feature, but, really, it’s just a wonderful place to be inside there. It has everything you want.
How it drives
The newest Jag comes in three different specification levels. The base and S-spec roadster are powered by supercharged V-6 powerplants, with the $69,000 base version delivering 340 HP, and the $81,000 S-spec putting out 380 HP. The top of the line V-8 S model delivers 495 HP for $92,000.
With a reasonable list of added options, the V-6 S will run you about $85,000, while the V-8 S will be in the vicinity of $105,000. And you will, by the way, pay at least those prices. Some dealers are already adding premiums to the sticker price. For those dealers that are simply offering the MSRP, don’t expect any haggling over price with them. They don’t have to. The first 6 months of production have already been sold. They don’t need to entice you.
I tested the middle-tier V-6 S, and in my opinion, that’s the sweet spot in the F-type line-up. I’m not sure the V-8 version offers substantially more usable horsepower on public streets, and if it does, you’d really only find it at license-losing levels, anyway. So, unless you’re looking for a nice car to replace your Porsche 911, I’m not sure the $20,000 price premium—and ongoing fuel thirstiness—of the V-8 S is worth it.
The V-6 S is definitely worth it, though, because this thing stomps. There’s loads of torque everywhere, as the sub-5-second 0-60 time tells you. The exhaust howls as you blast out of corners, and crackles like gunfire as you brake into them. The 8-speed transmission shifts quickly and smoothly when you tap the shifters, and with the relatively low 6,500 RPM, always keeps you in the meat of the power band.
You can hoon around in this thing like nobody’s business. The suspension is stiff enough to severely minimize any body roll in the corners, but the ride quality is pure Jag—never harsh or unpleasant. There is a hint of understeer, but not enough to worry about, and, besides, understeer is the default design position of automakers, nowadays. Brake a bit harder going into the corner.
Speaking of which, the brakes are fantastic as well. And thank goodness for that, since, at around 3,700 pounds, the F-Type is relatively porky, weight-wise. This means you can’t dive as deep into a corner at the limit, and need those brakes to haul your speed down. This would surely show in track times against a Boxster S. On the street, not so much, and you’ll never—or, at least, should never—approach the limits of what the F-Type can do on public roads.
Also, on public roads, there’s no need to take the traction control off. Simply set the tranny in sport mode, and turn on the dynamic suspension mode. Trust me, that’s quite enough. The traction control on the F-Type, unlike many other cars, is your friend, and here’s why: While the steering on the F-Type is wonderfully precise, it’s numb. That’s becoming a regular complaint with modern power-steering systems, and the F-Type shares it. So, there’s nothing the steering wheel can tell you about being at the edge of grip. The seat of your pants will tell you, and probably too late to do anything useful about it, other than to watch intently as the trees on the side of the road approach you all too quickly.
When the Jag loses grip, all four tires tend to go, which means it’s going to need an inconvenient amount of room to get it back under control. Sadly, on public roads, much of that room will be taken up by buildings, trees, other cars, and the edges of mountain cliffs. The traction control is not intrusive or annoying even in quite spirited street driving, so just leave it alone unless you’re spending the day at Willow Springs. The other cars, trees, and mountains will thank you, and you won’t be unexpectedly reunited with Grandpa and Grandma.
At normal traffic speeds, the F-Type is perfectly docile, comfortable, and driving it makes you happy. At elevated speed, the F-Type shrieks and pops, corners like it’s on rails, and driving it makes you happy.
It’s a driver’s car. So much so that the passenger is intentionally a bit isolated. Basically, the passenger has easy access only to the glove box. The design of the center console makes it a bit inconvenient for the passenger to fiddle with any of the controls on it. Clearly, the passenger is supposed to be only a passive observer rather than any sort of participant in the driving experience. It could only be more obvious if the passenger was required to don shackles.
Of course, the Boxster S—another purpose-built roadster—is a driver’s car, too. But the Boxster S is all about Germanic precision, controllability, and soulless machinery. The F-Type is all about character, which makes it, though a bit slower on the track, about 1,000 times better to drive on the street.
What’s good about it
The suspension, handling, and ride are simply fantastic. The brakes are great. The fit and finish are also wonderful, with an immediate impression of luxury and quality. The seats are comfy and well-bolstered for active driving. The exhaust sounds great, and there’s a little button on the console that frees up the exhaust, which then sounds even better. In fact, much of the exhaust’s character is more like that of a V-8 than any V-6 I’ve ever driven. Everything about the F-Type is dramatic, but in a good way.
What’s bad about it
Honestly, the trunk is a joke, as most of it is about 6 inches deep, except for a small, deeper area in the middle that might fit an overnight bag. Jaguar says you can get a bag of golf clubs in there, though for any other purpose, the tiny trunk makes the F-Type lack a fair amount of practicality. The steering, while precise and well-weighted, is numb. The car goes where you point it, but you can’t feelanything through the wheel. I suspect that, in the modern age, that’s something we’re just going to have to get used to. Still, VW got it better with the Golf R, as did Kia with the little Rio5, so Jaguar should be able to do better, too.
Driving a car is really just a subjective experience. The spec sheet says what it says about performance, but it’s how you feel about the driving experience that matters. That’s why a old ‘87 Alfa Romeo Spider feels wonderful to drive, even though it’s slow, the steering wheel is 10 feet away from you, the pedals are 6 inches away, the scuttle shake rattles your bones, and the gearshift sticks horizontally out of the center console. It’s an ergonomic nightmare, but you just don’t care.
So, I can imagine a 911 owner preferring the Porsche, even though I think that’s utter madness. I can’t imagine a car I’d want to drive every day more than the F-Type, because it makes me happy. There’s not much I wouldn’t do to have one. I mean, I wouldn’t shoot my mother for one.
But I’d certainly slap her around a little bit.