Until last week, I was rather like the film buff who’d never seen Star Wars. My main claim to fame is that, as a British car journalist with a special interest in our own car industry, I’d never driven a Jaguar F-Type. Was I the only one? I think so. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’ve sat in many, ridden in a fair few and was even there when the concept version was unveiled to the world. However, because of the incessant hype built up about the car, I found myself becoming increasingly resistant to the idea of driving one.
In reality, that really is rather stupid, but it is how my brain is wired. I love a loser, and hate to be told by the rest of the world what I should and I should not like. But more than two years on from when it first went on sale, I finally decided enough is enough and called the ever-lovely Lindsey Dipple at the Jaguar Land Rover Press Office, asking her if I she’d mind terribly if I could finally lose my F-Type cherry. Rather graciously, she agreed and, days later, this lovely, white, V6 coupe with the rare manual gearbox was being delivered to Media House in Peterborough, with my name on it. This isn’t going to be a review – after all, Honest John and Mike Humble have both done that job for me. This is more about how the car makes me – and, I hope, you – feel.
Anyway, as soon as I’d escaped the office, I was heading north in it. Not after taking time – as usual – to spend a little time drinking in those finely-honed lines, and appreciate what an object of beauty the chaps from Jaguar have created with the F-Type. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not unusual to mention the words ‘Jaguar’ and ‘beautiful’ in the same sentence, especially as the company hasn’t launched a bad looker since the X-Type (sorry, folks, just my opinion). Inside, it looks good, with nicely sculpted surfaces and well-judged materials helping to disguise one or two cheap-feeling switches and controls.
But where the F-Type really scores is in its ability to turn heads, thanks to its gloriously curved haunches and dramatic proportions. Not bad for a car that’s been in production for more than two years and now doesn’t have that immediate ‘wow’ factor of a brand new car.
Gunning the F-Type onto the A1, with Cumbria dialled-in on the satnav (wow, JLR really is making good infotainment systems these days), I can’t help but be impressed by the soundtrack. Considering it’s the entry-level V6 model, giving it plenty in the bottom three gears, evokes a proper old-school deep-chested yowwwl beyond 4000rpm. Unlike the V8s and V6Ss I’ve ridden in before, this V6 is actually unobtrusive if you’re not looking to play, but goes all angry-feline when you do – and that’s how it should be.
Settling down for a motorway amble – at 70mph, tops – and in sixth, other than the low driving position, it’s executive car relaxed. Time to play with some toys, which all work as they should. The active dipping headlamps are wonderful (just leave it in high-beam and, when oncoming lights hove into view, it dips for you), the heated steering wheel a godsend (I always thought this was a first-world answer to a question no-one had asked), and iPod connectivity with voice recognition is seamless. Heck, even my Android-powered smartphone integrates via Bluetooth without quibble. The miles are passing by effortlessly, too – so much so, that two hours in, when Scotch Corner looms ahead, I’m still relaxed and raring for more.
Turning left onto the A66 and, after indulging myself in a few cat-yowwwling moments on the throttle getting back to speed, it’s more cruising, at least for an hour or so. Other remarkable F-Type positives are its supportive and comfortable seats, which do their best to soothe my ageing muscles, roomy (for two) cabin, perfectly-placed controls, and a Meridian-branded hi-fi that does its best at reproducing Fleetwood Mac to an acceptable standard. There’s something else this feline manages to do – attract attention from other drivers. Positive attention. You know – smiles, nods, waves. I somehow think a Porsche Cayman might not be so warmly greeted.
Another couple of hours pass, and I’m deep in the Western Lakes. Darkness has fallen, the traffic has thinned and there’s a sinuous and rather challenging road into the fells that I’m itching to get the F-Type on. Sure, I’d picked up a sense that this car is dynamically honed on the way up – playing on roundabouts, revelling in the uncorrupted steering and surprisingly compliant suspension set-up, as the car digs in, squats, and powers out of bends. But it’s on my favourite big dipper of a B-road that I really begin to appreciate how the JLR ride and handling team managed to create a balanced, enjoyable, thoroughly adjustable, sports car.
Point one – it’s not all about performance. This is not supercar quick, but it is pleasingly rapid nevertheless. With 335bhp 0-60mph is dispatched in 5.1 seconds, which is where top end hot hatches now play. However, where a Honda Civic Type-R or Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG buck, squirm and generally make you feel wired when you’re on it, the F-Type feels planted, secure and alive, and confident to play.
Point two – the magic is in the feedback. I’ve already relayed the pleasure you get from the steering, but control weights – the way they weigh up as you ask the car to perform – are uncommonly delightful. Given we’re deep in the era of electronically-managed stability systems, dull-witted EPAS and over-servoed brakes, this comes as a revelation.
The road upon which I really got under the F-Type’s skin must remain a secret. But, on that clear, moonlit evening, where straights could be devoured, bends explored, and traction teased to the best of my limited ability as a driver in a traffic-free environment, the F-Type never once put a foot wrong or ever left me feeling anything other in control. The F-Type reminds us that sometimes, when we put our minds to it, we Brits can produce something that’s pretty damned good – and do it effortlessly.
It’s probably outpaced in outright terms by the best of its German opposition, and there are minor irritations you’ll encounter in daily use, but where the F-Type is extremely successful is in how it makes you feel. You’ll feel good about your driving, about your choice of car and about how other people react to you. I know I did… and now I wish I hadn’t waited so long to find out.