Grinning like a Jaguar cat

DAVE MOORE
Last updated 07:25 07/06/2014

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Jaguar's new F-type is not a flashy car. There are no styling flourishes, no unnatural scoops and splitters. It all has function.

AT A GLANCE
Drivetrains: Front-mounted RWD supercharged, 4V per cylinder quad-cam 5000cc V8 and 2996cc V6 engines with eight-speed automatic paddle shift transmissions.
Outputs:
V6
- 259 kW at 6500rpm, 450Nm at 3500-5000 rpm, max 260 kmh, 0-100 kmh 5.3 sec, 9.0L/100km, 209g/km.
V6 S - 280 kW at 6500 rpm, 460 Nm at 3500 - 5000 rpm, max 275 kmh, 0-100 kmh 4.9 sec, 9.1L/100km, 213 g/km.
V8 S - 364 kW at 6500 rpm, 625 Nm at 2500 -5000rpm, max 300 kmh, 0-100 kmh 4.3 sec, 11.1L/100 kmh, 259g/km.
Chassis: Adjustable double-wishbone front and rear suspension with adaptive dampers on S models. Power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering. Ten choices of alloy wheel of 18in, 19in and 20in diameter.
Safety: Front and side airbags, dynamic staility control, ABS, electronic braking assist, pedestrian contact sensing.
Connectivity: Quick, easily linked phone and sound system streaming; intuitive Sat Nav.
Dimensions: L 4470mm, H 1308mm, W 1923mm, W/base 2622mm, F/track 1585-1597mm, R/track 1627-1649mm, weight 1597-1665kg, fuel 70L.
Pricing:
F-type V6
from $140,000,
V6 S from $155,000,
V8 S $180,000.
Hot: Entry point car offers more than you'll ever really need; six-cylinder engine more than capable; hard ride for earthquake cities; great handling and road-holding.
Not: No entry-point manual fours (yet); cheaper coupe can't come soon enough as we don't all insist on rag-tops.
Verdict: Even this range-starter is quicker than any previous road-going two-seater Jaguar and it offers two engines to make it go even more quickly.
All it has is a 21st century representation of the wasp-waisted traditional Jaguar silhouette originating from the 50s and 60s and pulled elegantly into modern automotive currency.

Like its most obvious forebears, the E-type, and the XKSS, D-type and C-type that preceded it, it's merely beautiful and Jaguar has quite correctly refrained from gilding its delicious lily, though the so-called S-versions have chrome, red and green "S" badges on their noses and tails that frankly would look more at home on a Star Trek uniform.

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Fortunately, my test car had no such excrescences to divert an appreciative eye from the simple musculature of the F-type's shape. That's because it's the simplest, lowest-powered and yes, the cheapest F-type of all, though to many $140k is a pretty solid spend.

There will be cheaper F-types available in due time, with manuals, turbocharged fours and a fixed roof coupe design to follow the V6 and V8 eight-speed automatic roadsters we already have. When that occurs, the Jaguar sports car line-up will more directly compete with models like the Boxster and Cayman from Porsche - probably the most obvious of competitors - as well as the Benz SLK in six-cylinder form, though BMW's Z4 is no longer in the game here as we can't buy a six-cylinder version in New Zealand any more. Shame.

While the F-type's 3.0-litre engine is 1.2-litres smaller than the last six used by the E-type, with the aid of supercharging, it is more powerful than any engine ever used by that iconic machine, fronting-up with 259kW, to the old XK-engined car's 198kW. Even the 5.3-litre V12 E-type engine offered little more than 200kW.

While the F-type can be had with a more powerful version of its supercharged V6, as well as a supercharged V8, offering 280 and 364kW respectively, the base car doesn't lack performance, with a zero to 100kmh time of 5.3 seconds, which is plenty for anyone save for those who might like to do some weekend trackwork.

The only significant item missing from the base F-type's repertoire is exactly that: music. Where the V6 S and V8 each have console button with a wee pipe graphic on it which allows you to switch from a neighbourly gurgle of an exhaust note to a "hammers of hell" snarl - deeper in the V8 of course - our test car makes do quite nicely with a note somewhere between the two, all the better to avoid the twitch of net-curtains while providing an entirely pleasing soundtrack when the throttle is mashed to the floor.

A clue as to why this least-powerful of current F-types still feels damn quick to drive is that by measuring 305mm shorter and sitting 120mm lower than the big bruiser V8 XK GTs in the Jag line-up it's not much bigger than an MX5, but with more than twice the horsepower. So while the numbers are impressive, you get a far more direct feeling of the car's explosive nature by driving it, to the extent that you might wonder, as I do, why any sane person really "needs" any more thrust than this car can provide.

On the ride and handling front, I was more than a little concerned about the car's ride. The test car was fitted with racy 19-inch rims, but it managed the washboard surfaces of Christchurch quite well without too much shaking of its occupants although there was a touch of "tramlining" under ghard braking. The car can be had with 18-inch rims, which still look delightful, so I'd advise opting for that diameter just to put a little more air and rubber between you and the road when surfaces are broken and where potholes dominate.

While the upper-echelon F-types can be had with adaptive damping, I didn't miss it that much, and when coursing the car around the southern Alpine foothills and the wicked switchbacks that link Canterbury's gorges, the car was as faithful as a hound, staying tightly on line and responding to the driver quickly and accurately. No divots or holes diverted it and its massive brakes hauled everything down for corners in a heartbeat.

The two V6 F-type models have 50:50 front to rear weight distribution, and turn in with more alacrity and accuracy than the V8, which noses out to understeer on tight bends unless you get on the throttle and bring the tail around. I felt much more at one with the base V6 on public roads than I was with the thunderously quick V8.

The body felt twist and shake-free, a rare thing in a drop-top and I wait with wonder as to how the soon-to-arrive coupe will feel on the same roads, after all, by definition it will be even stiffer in the body and even more accurate on such roads.

The coupe will also beat the F-type's only remaining bugbear: a tiny 196 litre boot with so little space, that a weekend away is as far as you can pack for and even then you won't be able to dress for dinner. The coupe, which gets here this month will offer twice the volume and a hatch through which to acccess it. It's also even better-looking, though the absence of the wind in the hair factor would be something to lament.

The rest of the car is more than enough, thanks. Good connectivity, great sat-nav, an easy to use power hood and lots of leather, though the creamy hide version of the car does pick-up indigo blue stains from your jeans, and buying some decent pants is surely the least you could do for your new Jag. In all there's not a lot to complain about.

Having said that, the F-type could do with a detachable hard-top for the winter season just as the E-type used to have 50 years ago. While the hood is tight and snug and the heating and airconditioning strong enough to stop the F-Type occupant from looking too much like an Everest mountaineer on top-down winter runs, a detachable hardtop would improve the car's out-of-season profile - no ragtop ever looks as good with the hood up as it does al fresco.

But even hood-up it turns more heads than a tennis rally and in carparks, middle aged men - and women - will stop you and ask you about the car, with wistful memories of long-gone relatives and their E-types or XKs.

"How much?" is usually the second topic and to a man - or woman - my new-found friends thought it was pretty reasonable at $140,000, despite it being almost twice as much as the current cheapest Jaguar, the almost as stunning XF sedan.

I hear the F-type coupe will start at way below the roadster, and when the four-cylinder and manual transmission models arrive, the entry point will be even lower again.

Jaguar and its fans must be grinning like a Cheshire cat. Like me.

- The Press

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