► Time to test cheapest F-type
► Lower-powered V6 manual
► Boggo spec, 18in wheels!
It's amazing how rarely we get to drive the lowliest models in car manufacturers' ranges. Cars on launch events, and frequently on press fleets, tend to come from the upper echelons, with spicier engines, trims and options galore. How refreshing then to test the latest Jaguar F-type in remarkably unadorned form.
This is the 2015 F-type roadster in lower-powered 335bhp 3.0 V6 trim - and it's with the recently added manual transmission and missing several popular options. Note the relatively balloon-like 18-inch tyres. The lack of the switchable Jaguar sports exhaust. This is F-type distilled.
Jaguar F-type: the most basic spec
Not that this roadster is exactly poverty-spec. Far from it. Reminding us of Jaguar's unusual market positioning halfway between Boxster and 911 from arch-rival Porsche, even this cheapest F-type costs a stiff £56,745. Click here for CAR magazine's F-type vs Boxster twin test.
As well as that aluminium-intensive structure and supercharged 3.0-litre V6, that dosh brings a wealth of standard equipment: all F-types in the UK come with leather seats and wheel, DAB radio, rain-sensing wipers, xenon headlamps that flash up and down automatically, heated front screen, parking sensors, sat-nav and 14-way electric powered seats and steering wheel. It's not what you'd call stripped-out.
Crucially, however, ours rolls on the standard 18-inch Vela wheels. And such is Jaguar's obsession with huge rims (stemming largely from design chief Ian Callum's love of stance), that it's a rare chance to sample the F-type on - relatively - smaller alloys.
The F-type still has wow factor in spades, even in this lowliest form. The design hasn't dated one jot since launch in April 2013 and our roadster looks svelte, menacing, sharper than previous sporting Jags such as the XK. My preference remains for the gorgeously slick F coupe, but there's no denying the appeal of the roadster in these balmier summer months. The roof pops up and down electrically and, with wind break in place, you can conduct normal conversation even at surprisingly high speeds. Just watch out for the rubbish boot; I can't think of a more disappointing loadbay, no matter what the figures say. (196 litres of pancakes maybe - the boot is seriously postbox thin).
If you've driven, or seen photos of, earlier, more powerful S-trim models, you'll immediately spot the lack of orange/gold trim on minor switchgear and the more pared-back interior of our car feels slightly unexciting. You sit low down, hunkering in a high-sided leather-lined cocoon and the seats adjust well to give a good driving position.
How does the 335bhp 3.0 manual F-type drive?
This is where it gets interesting. In an age where even hot hatches are starting to nibble into the five-seconds 0-62mph category, the lower-powered V6 doesn't feel markedly rapid. This is actually A Good Thing, encouraging you to wring its 335bhp supercharged neck more often. It's the same reason I often prefer lowlier Porsches.
Shorn of the switchable sports exhaust, the 3.0-litre V6 sounds remarkably more muted at first. The F-type range puts aurals at the heart of the experience, the S and V8 models being sonically extrovert, all parps and burps and screaming cacophony. Sometimes it's too much - hence the switchable exhaust, letting drivers choose. On the base V6 there is no switch, just the regular sports exhaust - which still opens its lungs at 4000rpm and provides some degree of scream, just less showy-offy. I think I prefer it. Those 18s bring added compliance, too, giving the chassis some handy absorption and they hardly disappear in the arches. A welcome addition in my book.
We've driven F-types aplenty (check out further reviews in the Other Models tab above) so here we're assessing the suitability of the six-speed manual 'box. DIY fits sports cars, so the logic goes. The problem is, the F-type's shift is just not quite as snickety as you might like. The automatic is so well tuned to the F-type's V6, I actually preferred the slusher to the stick shift. Heresy? I don't think so, not any more. Jaguar simply can't match the tactility, the quality of the throw that you'll find in a manual Porsche - and to make matters worse, my left hand bashed into the hand-grab every time I selected reverse. Not good.
It seems I side with Ben Barry in this regard. Driving the manual V6 S, he too preferred the automatic F-type. Unless you really are addicted to cog-swapping yourself, or can't stretch to the extra £1795 for the auto, we'd pick that model over the manual. It's still a fine car, but somehow missing a little bit of magic.