Photography by Richard Pardon
What do you cross-shop a Jaguar F-type against? A Porsche 911? Your Jaguar dealer certainly hopes so, because the cheapest, least powerful 911 cabriolet retails at £82k, the most expensive and far more powerful F-type V8 S at £80k. Strong value, dontcha think?
There is a loud trumpeting coming from the corner of the room, however. It becomes increasingly distressed as you go to ink the dotted line. It’s the Porsche Boxster S. You get 311bhp for £46k, while Jaguar offers an entry-level V6 F-type (335bhp) for £58.5k or a V6 S (375bhp) for £67.5k. Still want that Jag?
This massive saving might be of little consequence if the Boxster was a poor relation to the 911, but it isn’t, it’s so fantastic that it gives even big brother the wobbles. The Jag needs all the help it can get, which is why we’re pitching the F-type V6 S into battle.
The good news for poorer F-type buyers and bad news for wealthier ones is there’s little to visually differentiate one F-type from another. Only the lack of quad exhausts and 20-inch wheels tell dedicated spotters that you’ve got a supercharged V6 – not the range-topper’s supercharged V8 – under that long, sharky bonnet. And you can always option 20s, as fitted to our car. Even if you don’t, the F-type remains a breathtakingly gorgeous car – all muscles, curves and taut little creases.
Great to drive, too. You sit down low on seats that are comfortable if firm, supportive but not overtly aggressive. Your legs stretch far out in front of you and you’re cocooned by the high beltline and rising centre console, left hand instinctively resting on the stubby gear-lever. You feel ready to grip the steering wheel, stand on the brakes and punch home those downshifts – blam, blam, blam! It’s a powerful, empowering driving position.
I set off in our test car and notice the excellent ride quality, closely stacked gears that come smooth and fast and the steering that’s quick and accurate but maybe not as feelsome as it could be. Weirdly, I’m sure our new long-term V6 S, which arrived after this test, feels firmer while steering feedback positively fizzes through its Alcantara-wrapped rim. Either way, the V6 S doesn’t have the hyper-agile feeling of the V8’s rear end with its electronically controlled rear diff, but it is agile – certainly more so than the bigger XK.
Throw it into a fast corner and the nose bites clean and hard where an XK would grip and slip a little at the front, a telegraphing of limits with a safety net of understeer to catch the inexperienced. The F-type’s front end is pointier, and if you push harder it’s the rear that gives up the fight first. But it’s never twitchy or scary and through slower corners, where you’d maybe hope to overwhelm the rear tyres with a dose of throttle, well, traction from our car’s 295/30 ZR20 tyres is almost disappointingly massive.
Wind up the rpms over these Yorkshire moors and you’ll get a damn good shift on. Throttle response is strong, but you’ll never mistake this V6 for the dragster-like V8 with its awesome thrust, popping and banging on the overrun and wanton desire to burn rubber at every opportunity. On longer straights at higher revs the 375bhp can feel a little thin and strained. The engine’s character is carried by engineered-in crackles on the overrun and loud cracks between gearshifts that sound like a fart being slammed in a door, rather than any intrinsic depth of personality. Get out and you think, hmm, this is very good. But great? You’re not entirely sure.
Then you look at that Porsche with its tantalising £20k saving and its take-your-breath-away looks and you realise that this Jaguar doesn’t half have its work cut out.
The Boxster’s driving position is again spot-on – low-slung, comfortable and easy to tweak to your proportions. There’s less theatre going on than the Jag, less of a sense of occasion, but you’ll feel more at home with the Boxster. Its proportions, upright dash and prominent front wings make it an easy, compact car to place on the road.
At speed your sense of connection continues: the manual gearchanges slot home with an oily slickness, the throttle response tingles with crispness, the electric power steering is meaty and quick – if in dire need of polishing up its communication skills – while the pedal weight is perfect. Even at modest speeds the Porsche feels engaging and together, its responses completely flab-free.
Then you up the ante and everything just amplifies. The part-alloy, part-steel Boxster is fully 300kg lighter than the aluminium F-type and it feels it, darting across the landscape with a verve and finesse that makes the F-type feel portly, less focused, less connected. You revel in shifting gears yourself, in leaning ever harder on the endlessly grippy front end, in standing harder and harder on those brakes as your confidence increases. Everything feels instantly right, but nothing more so than that engine, a naturally-aspirated 3.4-litre flat-six that zings and sings and revs endlessly to 7000rpm. It feels faster than the F-type, sounds better too and that effervescent throttle response makes the Jag’s feel significantly fuzzier.
At higher speeds the Boxster feels similarly playful to the F-type and there’s less body roll too, but the biggest surprise is perhaps how eager the Porsche is to slide out of slower corners, despite the mid-engined position adding a chunk of weight over the rear wheels. Go in late on the brakes, turn in hard and add some early throttle and you’ll play with the Boxster where a V6 F-type or a 911 would stick stubbornly to its trajectory.
All of this might be salvageable for the F-type if the Boxster had got tunnel vision by focusing so intently on dynamic brilliance. Thing is, the Porsche is well mannered too, more rounded than even the F-type. It rides very comfortably and refinement is as good as anything made by its rivals in Stuttgart, but then you realise that as well as the hunk of luggage space under the nose, you’ve also got another hunk lurking at the back. It equates to 280 litres in total, where the F-type’s tiny rear boot holds just 196 litres. That kind of thing won’t be at the front of your mind when you’re buying something as emotional as a two-seat roadster, but there will be a time when you want to head off for a weekend away and you won’t be able to fit enough of your stuff in the F-type and you’ll wish you’d bought the Porsche.
The Porsche is more practical, it’s cheaper, it’s better to drive, it’s equally refined. The question for you as you swig coffee in those Porsche and Jaguar dealerships is this: do the Jag’s drop-dead-gorgeous looks still swing that deal? I suspect they won’t.