November 13, 2013

News & Features

Auto review: New Jaguar a cat that's ready to rumble

New York Times News Service

w-AUTOS_JAGUAR_F_TYPE_3.jpg

The 2014 Jaguar F-Type starts at $92,895. (Jaguar)


Firesand Orange is what Jaguar calls the paint that flashed from the F-Type sports car that I recently drove. The crowd-pleasing shade recalled such things as a pumpkin, a traffic cone and a hunter's vest.

What it didn't remind people of was a Jaguar, with several New Yorkers professing love for the car but surprise at its British nameplate. Their reaction was understandable: the 2014 F-Type is Jaguar's first pure two-seat sports car in 40 years.

Also, like every new Jaguar, the F-Type looks and sounds nothing like the genteel coaches that have come to characterize the brand, especially after it moved away from racing and sports cars like the E-Type, the F-Type's classic predecessor of 1961-74.

But if the people on the street couldn't always identify the badge at first glance, it didn't stop bystanders from drooling and draping themselves over the Jag, sometimes literally: I cringed when I found a group of teenagers engaged in a curbside photo shoot, taking turns posing atop the front fender for maximum Flickr effect.

The car has flaws, including a relatively steep price, flabby curb weight, mildly uncommunicative steering and the lack, for now, of a manual-transmission option. But for an initial salvo against the Porsche 911 Cabriolet, and to a lesser extent the Porsche Boxster and Corvette Stingray, the F-Type made a crater-size impression.

And this British-built roadster reminded me that when a sports car nails the sex, sound and speed equation, it's easy to forgive the little things.

In a bit of reverse colonialism, in 2008 Tata Motors of India plucked the Jaguar and Land Rover brands from Ford for $2.3 billion, partly to wedge its way into China's luxury car market. Of the two marques, Land Rover has long carried more than its weight. But critically praised new models are finally giving Jaguar a lift, with U.S. sales up 36 percent this year and global sales rising 38 percent.

Befitting its brand name, the Jaguar F-Type is a snarling, clawing animal — especially in the guise of the supercharged 495-horsepower F-Type V-8 S, starting at $92,895. That's 40 more horses than the new Stingray, 95 more than the 911 Carerra S Cabrio.

A dash from standstill to 60 mph takes just over 4 seconds, with a peak speed of 186 mph. But just as important is how the F-Type gets there and how it returns to a stop: with a such a fusillade of popping, backfiring exhaust noise that civilians might dive for cover.

The rumble is faintly ridiculous, yes, but also inspired and incendiary. It is simply one of the best V-8 engine sounds in the business, aided by a driver-adjustable adaptive exhaust (on V-8 and V-6 S models) and four artillery-size exhaust outlets.

I didn't drive the V-6 S, but I have heard it. That car's 380-horsepower, 3-liter supercharged engine has its own sonic charms along with a lower base price of $81,895. Drivers who prize roadster style and fun over sheer velocity can dip down to $69,985 for the basic F-Type V6, with a 340-horse version of the supercharged V-6.

But there's no getting around it: even that 340-horse "starter" F-Type costs $13,000 more than the 455-horsepower Stingray convertible and nearly $7,000 more than the Boxster S.

The six-cylinder Jaguars are still quick, with zero-to-60 times of 5.1 seconds for the base V-6 and 4.8 seconds for the V-6 S. All three versions share a well-insulated fabric top, which I repeatedly popped open while driving around New York City and points north — it operates at speeds up to 30 mph — during a recent period of spectacular fall weather.

The roof tucks away without stealing space from the petite 7.1-cubic-foot trunk. My large wheeled carry-on just fit, with side room to spare. But you can load two carry-ons in the Corvette convertible's roomier hatch and three in the 911, with its front trunk and bonus rear-seat storage.

But people who love the Jag's English flair won't be taking a tape measure to the trunk. The car's classic oval grille, flared hips and beautifully drawn rear deck — reminiscent of the exotic BMW Z8 — push all the right buttons for sports-car fans. Like its modern stablemates, this Jaguar looks fast, desirable and just a bit dangerous. (A coupe version of the F-Type, to be unveiled Nov. 19 at the Los Angeles Auto Show, goes on sale in the spring.)

Hidden door handles extend automatically when you unlock the car, a nice technical touch. An interior button deploys the rear spoiler at a cocky angle.

The cabin doesn't fool around, aiding the driver with simple rotary climate knobs, handsome toggles and well-assembled, starkly luxurious materials: dark aluminum, glossy piano-black trim and nary a slice of old-timey woodgrain in sight. A central touch screen for navigation, audio and settings is only intermittently cumbersome, a huge step up from the digital abominations in some recent Jaguars.

First-rate sport seats, including power-adjustable bolsters, are borrowed from the mighty XKR-S. But the leather is a letdown in texture and quality.

The F-Type eschews the rotary-dial transmission controller found in other Jags. Instead there is a console shifter shaped like a ray gun, which falls smoothly to hand but resists smooth operation from a stop, requiring you to pull a trigger as you select Reverse or Drive. As in BMWs, the electronic shifter tends to get hung up in neutral, leaving you revving the engine, red-faced and going nowhere fast.

On the prowl, that shifter forges a fast, satisfying connection to an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission. Hit the toggle switch for Dynamic mode and the gauges glow red around a bull's-eye that displays an animated numeral of the selected gear. Dynamic mode punches up parameters including the steering, engine, transmission, exhaust and three levels of stability control; drivers can also configure individual settings. Steering-wheel paddle shifters are plastic, not metal, but they work well.

This is the fourth generation of Jaguar's aluminum-intensive architecture, but despite the structure's weight-saving properties the car is mystifyingly heavy, about 3,700 pounds with the V-8. That's some 700 pounds more than a Boxster S and 350 more than the Stingray convertible.

Though Jaguar has stuck with hydraulic steering, as opposed to the electrically assisted units on the Porsches and the Corvette, there's little payoff in road feel. Yet the F-Type is still an exuberant partner on road and track alike, with deft balance that spurs a driver to push harder. That grip and confidence are bolstered by an adaptive suspension, electronic rear differential and optional 20-inch wheels and tires.

Track workouts aside, this car lives for public roads and the public eye. And if there were such a thing as the public ear, the F-Type's gas-fired soundtrack might top the charts.

Advertising

Partner video

Advertising