Here comes the F-type, the most exciting Jaguar since...well, the legendary E-type. The F-type is a proper two-seat sports car, with aluminium construction, heaps of tech and strong performance from its V6 and V8 engines.
'If people ask what Jaguar stands for, it's this!' says the company's design director, Ian Callum. 'This is the centre of the brand.'
The F-type goes on sale in April 2013, and will cost from £58,500. It's pitched in the gap between Porsches Boxster S and 911, though it's as long and tall as a 911, and a bit wider. The F-type is engineered to take other front-engined, rear-drive roadsters (think SLK and Z4) to the cleaners.
How? First up, it has lashings of performance. The basic F-type, with its 336bhp supercharged V6, costs £58,500 and takes 5.3sec to reach 62mph from standstill. Choose the £67,500 375bhp V6 S, and that benchmark sprint drops to 4.9sec. Go for the £79,950 eight-cylinder S, packing 489bhp, and the chase to 62mph is swatted in just 4.3sec. Top speeds are 161, 171 and 186mph respectively. That said, the SLK55 AMG has plenty of performance, but it doesn't make for a tool that neatly and incisively bisects corners. 'We've worked hard to make sure responses to steering, throttle and brakes are absolutely immediate, a task made far easier by the F-type's rigid aluminium structure,' says Jaguar's dynamics guru Mike Cross. 'It's precise and exciting, and it sounds fantastic!'
Jaguar executives are bouncing off the rev limiter with excitement about their new baby, which will be launched first as a roadster, then as the two-seat coupe previewed by last year's C-X16 concept car. They're all particularly proud of the technical detail that's gone into the F-type.
Jaguar's technical masterpiece
As Mike Cross says, core to the F-type's claimed ability is its aluminium structure. This keeps weight down to 1597kg for the base V6 - though that's still a hefty 247kg heavier than a Boxster S - topping out at 1665kg for the V8. The Jag's architecture helps provide a stiff backbone for the all-round double wishbone suspension, enabling Crossy's team to precisely fine-tune it to ensure the F-type responds rapidly and progressively to driver inputs.
The engineers have strived to get the best weight distribution, locating the battery and washer bottle in the boot for example, and funneling as much mass as possible between the wheels to boost agility and stability. If you get stuck for conversation with a Jaguar engineer, play hunt the weight saving to discover how they shaved 2 kilos from the windscreen, 5 kilos from the engine and bumper mounts, 24 kilos from the seats and so on.
As all bedroom engineers know, reducing weight not only enhances performance but boosts economy. Throw in stop/start across the range, and the V6 models conceivably return just over 30mpg - but not if you drive them as Cross and Callum would encourage.
Power is sent to the rear wheels by an eight-speed automatic transmission, which sounds at odds with the car's character.
Paddle-operated and dubbed 'Quickshift', the transmission features a locking clutch in second gear and above, sidelining the torque converter to ensure rapid-fire shifts. Clever electronics monitor how the car is being driven, and can select up to 25 different transmission programmes to ensure the drivetrain is in sync with even the most ballistic driver.
Likewise the throttle is blipped on downchanges, to smooth shifts and make owners sound like driving gods.
Naturally given Mike Cross's penchant for oversteer, the S models are fitted with limited-slip differentials. The V6 S gets a mechanical diff to feed torque to the rear wheel with the most grip, while the V8 S's is electronically controlled. There's also a dynamic launch mode for OTT traffic light-getaways (sorry, track use), and an active exhaust which amplifies the exhaust note to overload the senses. And the F-type will be the most configurable Jaguar yet, with the driver able to tweak individual steering, throttle, transmission and stability control thresholds, as well as suspension settings with an adaptive dynamics system.
Admittedly this kind of kit has long been on Porsches, Audis and BMWs, but it's great to see it being uniformly deployed on a Jag. Hell, there's even a g-force meter and lap timer, Porsche Sport Chrono Pack-style.
Proportions to make you dribble
The F-type is a punchy-looking car, all athletic proportions rather than glitzy details. The squared-off mouth is in keeping with the XF and XJ grilles, and while the vertical headlamps look a bit Mercedes SLS, Callum flipped them from horizontal to encompass the character line that comes off the brake ducts and travels through lamp and bonnet before fading on the flanks. The other key character line accentuates the powerful rear haunches, linking to the cliff-face rear end. Boxster-girlie it is not.
V6 cars get twin central exhausts, while the V8 gets the quadpipe treatment seen on today's R models. Wheel sizes range from 18 to 20 inches.
The soft-top roof takes 12sec to fold away at speeds of up to 30mph. Inside there are twin analogue dials, like a proper old-school sports car should have, and a seating position almost as low as the Boxster's. If you're scouring the dashboard for air vents, give up now: they're hidden behind a pop-up panel on the dash top. Housing them in the dashboard would have increased its height, and impacted on the seating position.
The central tunnel houses a stick shift inspired by fighter planes (rather than the rotary gear selector on Jag saloons), and a grab handle in case the pace gets too much for passengers. And that's eminently possible.
For in the words of Ian Callum: 'I drove the V6 F-type on track, then got into my [186mph] XK-RS. I love that car dearly, but I found myself wanting to get back in the F-type...'