Jaguar's all-new F-Type has been one of the most anticipated new car launches in decades and we were eager to get behind the wheel when Jag's demo road show event rolled into the SF Bay Area. The F-Type is Jaguar's first 2-seat roadster since the legendary E-Type and promised an exciting, contemporary new sports car experience. After a quick thrash through two autocross courses, a drag strip run and good close look at the design and features, this jury is in. The verdict - not quite a sensation, but a fascinating and fun-to-drive new roadster with a great deal of new tech performance and distinctive character.
First the good news. The F-Type is offered in three distinct trim levels starting at $69K with the new 340 HP supercharged V6. Toss in $12K more for the 380 HP S version of the supercharged V6 or pony up $92K for the supercharged V8 S and unleash 460 brawny British ponies. All flavors are savored through the same, excellent 8-speed ZF automatic transmission, and no manual gearbox is available. As you step up the ladder the basic 103" wheelbase chassis gets adaptive dampers in both the S versions, progressively better brakes, 19" and 20" wheels and tires, and a few minor trim variations. The bigger wheels fill the wells better and arguably look a bit cooler than the base 18 inchers, but the F-Type looks about the same in all cases, and the real reasons to upgrade are the dynamic dampers (nice) and the extra power (unnecessary). On the autocross my clear preference was for the V6 S version which carries a hundred pounds less in the nose than the V8 and feels all the more responsive for it. The V8 S was all sound and fury, but less crisp, and really offers more power than one can usefully apply short of a racetrack. The dynamic dampers deliver a properly controlled, but sporty ride in cruise mode and snug up tight when things start to get tossy. The F-Type has a beautiful handling feel and is well balanced when driven aggressively. It is certainly in the sports car category, if a smidge more comfy than the competitive Boxster variants, as fits its personality. On balance the driving experience is very Jag, very good and won't disappoint anyone who takes this roadster for what it is - a proper touring sports car, not a track rat.
Now the sad parts. Jag must live with it's past and the inevitable comparisons to the original E-Type that set the automotive world on it's ear in the early 60's. It had super sexy looks, world class performance and a sticker price under $6000 - only moderately expensive in the day, and certainly affordable by a lot of people who wanted one. A sensational hit on all fronts. The F-Type is none of that. Styling is not bad, but not really very good either. It's fat, funky and very cheaply detailed with obvious chrome plastic dodads here and there. The clamshell hoodline shows some awkward corners, the profile is bland and overall it just is not progressive nor sexy enough for me. The interior is contemporary and gadget filled, reasonably well done, but just not very special, nor at all bespoke or British enough. Performance is fine in all levels, but by engineering and offering three variations, instead of just doing one version right, the development costs obviously drove the sticker into the rarefied atmosphere of mega bucks. At $49K the base version would be an eye popper, at $69K plus change and options you are looking at $75K out the door, which is a lot of money for a toy.
And most sadly, the F-Type really is a toy - with many design compromises that limit its usefulness to afternoon romping and Rodeo Drive profiling. Issue #1 is that there is really no trunk space. At just 7 awkwardly shaped cu. ft. there's no room for 2 carry-ons, let alone enough gear for a long weekend with a bird in tow. Issue #2 is that there's no extra space in the interior behind the seats for a purse or briefcase, just 2 plump buckets. Bottom line ... a Mazda Miata has a lot more utility - unforgivable at $70K.
So, excuse me if I expect a livable package in my roadsters, but the F-Type comes up short, despite its ample attributes. My sports car needs to be fun, affordable and useful - it's not. Nice, but no cigar. I'll leave this one for the toy collectors.
• dean seven