Monday 4th February 2013


(NOT) DRIVEN: JAGUAR F-TYPE

PH shamelessly joins the pre-launch hype by signing up to a passenger ride in the new Jag F-Type


No, I didn't drive it. But who's going to turn down a shotgun ride in potentially THE car of 2013? Time with Mike Cross was to come. First a ride beside vehicle engineering manager for Jaguar sports cars Erol Mustafa on Jaguar's familiar test route west from Welshpool.

This is where Jag shakes its cars down...
This is where Jag shakes its cars down...
With the minimum of fuss and fluff Jaguar keeps it real too. White toast and cereal for breakfast, two cups of coffee and out into the tiny hotel car park to see three F-Types sitting in context for the first time. No fanfare, no motor show glitz. And you know what? It is a handsome-looking thing.

The rear's sharp undercut is striking and the chubbily curvaceous rear arches are purposeful. The nose is long, the new Jag grille works well and a blend of long wheelbase, short overhangs and steeply raked windscreen combines with intelligently profiled lines to give it a properly modern look. It hints at E-Type, yes, but it's no pastiche.

Also good is the interior, which again looks modern and, unlike the XK, finished. The glow from the switches is attractive, the detailing will delight owners and, again, make XK drivers miserable. It's also more special and easier to use than a 911.

To messing about - F-Types and great roads
To messing about - F-Types and great roads
Mustafa starts up and the V8's quad exhausts bark. Loudly. Far more fruitly than I expected. Following another V8, admiring the LED light graphic, me wondering how I'll tell you anything interesting about the F-Type from sitting on the wrong side.

But, hey, I am sitting next to the chief engineer and there will be no PR intrusion because, well, it's a two-seater. So, I fire questions. His answers include, "It's stiffer torsionally than the XK, but much stiffer laterally. This is key to the car's immediacy of response." And then, "We want to beat the 911, the Aston V8, the Audi R8, but at less cost."

The Mike Cross approach to flow is also evident. "All controls, interactions and reactions should be coherent and in harmony with one another. One of my jobs is to make sure the step-on of the brakes complements the initial reaction of the steering, and the throttle, and the damping."

British car developed on British roads
British car developed on British roads
The F-Type is stiff too. "As you know, it's derived from the XK, which was developed in open-top guise first. This too is obviously developed in base guise as a roadster." It has the fastest steering of any Jaguar ever, which Mustafa admits is heavier than today's models. It "flatters drivers as it's so precise", a tricky balance as too-precise steering is nervy. It also has near-perfect weight distribution, the washer bottle in the boot compartment to "shift a few tenths of a per cent rearwards" evidence of this focus.

Grabbing the sweeping handle on the centre console immediately I feel more - inputs, resonances sensations. Try this in your own car - you won't believe just how much modern seats isolate you from stuff the driver gets for free through the steering wheel.

The F-Type has spent a lot of time here already
The F-Type has spent a lot of time here already
Dynamics? OK, apparent is the Jaguar-like ability of breathing across road surfaces, keeping harshness at bay and, more importantly, remaining in contact with the road no matter how aggressive the undulations.

I sense centralized weight, from the way it rotates into corners with minimal phase lag. I sense loads of confidence-inspiring mechanical grip, from the way Mustafa piles on the power in the dry, tyres nibbling at the road surface but never losing purchase, never waking ESC. I sense a car that's naturally well balanced, one more energised than even an XKR-S but also one that isn't a handful.

"We've been let off the leash with this one, to build not a sports GT but a proper sports car," says Mustafa. Which is encouraging.

OK, enough teasing, now we want a go
OK, enough teasing, now we want a go
I step up and get out of the V8, and drop down into a V6. Mike Cross piloting. The noise again takes centre stage: it's notably different to the V8, much higher-pitched and turbine-like, without the social smoker timbre of the V8. I prefer it. I also prefer its peakier power delivery, and the clear howl it makes at high revs. Seems to suit the nature of the F-Type better and gives Cross more work to do with the eight-speed auto.

Cross wants the F-Type to be a "credible alternative to a 911, but not the same as one." The V6S is his favourite as the peakier torque profile means you can use the revs fully. "The V8 is so quick you tend to ride the torque more - the V6S feels more intense."

Of course, it's all finger in the air. We won't know for sure until the first drives are underway in April. The impressions here are just that. I could be completely wrong. But I doubt it. Too much about the F-Type feels right for it to be a flop. Roll on April so we can finally see if Jaguar has a British 911-beater on its hands.


Some footage of the F-Type in action here.





   

 

 

 

 

 

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