Test Drive

2018 Jaguar F-Type Test Drive Review: Light and Right

Jaguar has got the entry-level F-Type just right.

From the moment it launched in 2013, the Jaguar F-Type was an instant classic thanks to phenomenally good looks as a roadster and some potent V6 and V8 engines. Hard as it was to believe, the coupe that debuted a year later looked even better, making the F-Type twins the sexiest lineup on wheels. Although it’s a niche product, it’s been incredibly successful, close to reaching almost half as many sales as the well established Porsche 911, and outselling both Mercedes-Benz’s venerable SL and rowdy AMG GT.

Jaguar covered this market extremely well with both the coupe and convertible, incremental levels of power, and increasingly insane high-performance models culminating in the 567-hp F-Type SVR. Although the upper end of the spectrum was well served, Jaguar saw room for a new point of entry that was lighter, more efficient, and more affordable, making use of its latest Ingenium 2.0-liter turbo engine that's making its way into most of Jaguar’s vehicles.

In the F-Type, Jaguar cranked the 2.0L turbo up to maximum effect, squeezing out 296 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque, aping the top trims of the E-Pace. That output is enough to get the 3,360-pound F-Type to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds. Being the entry-level model, it obviously gives up something compared to the supercharged V6 that served as the former point of entry to the F-Type line (with its 340 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque and 5.1 second 0–60 mph time). It’s hardly catastrophic, and with peak torque available from 1,500 rpm to 4,500 rpm, it has plenty of jump, but feels more leisurely and less frantic than other F-Type models, which feel more and more maniacal as you move up the trims.

For a lot of casual drivers that just want the F-Type for its gorgeous looks and luxurious appointments, that mild power means this is a more docile cat, less of a handful, so it also makes sense that it's offered only with the automatic transmission. Although those same drivers may have appreciated all-wheel drive, it’s understandable that Jaguar passed on that option in favor of rear-wheel drive to keep the price point more approachable.

And because of that rear-wheel drive, even though the power is less overwhelming, it still has a playful character, and really dipping into the power can step out the back end. It’s not necessarily something you want to discover making a left turn at a busy intersection, but sometimes that’s just the hand that life deals you.

Thankfully, the car is wonderfully balanced and the steering quick and responsive, so it doesn’t even require any conscious thought to correct it with a bit of countersteer (perhaps some stability control braking, too) and you’re on your way. Surprised, perhaps for the permissiveness of the traction control, a reminder that a powerful rear-drive coupe requires your full attention.

When I found some corners and planned my inputs more precisely, the F-Type Coupe had plenty of grip thanks to staggered 19-inch wheels with 275/35 ZR19 Pirelli P Zeros at the back end and 245/40 ZR19s at the front. Braking power is provided by single-piston sliding calipers and ventilated discs, 14 inches in front and 12.8 inches at the rear, and the suspension is double wishbone at both ends. It adds up to a car that is (almost) always under control, the brakes doing a fine job of scrubbing speed and loading the tires while the firm suspension favors cornering over comfort, but not so much that it feels punishing or harsh.

The steering is light for a sports car, but Dynamic mode adds weight so you’re less likely to add to much angle accidentally. With car in Dynamic mode and the eight-speed transmission in Sport, the car is ready for a touch of the brakes to load the front tires and turn-in is eager, with the balance of the chase and the grip of the tires allowing a smooth line, but a responsive throttle allowing you to rotate the chassis with the right inputs.

The sport seats had plenty of bolstering to keep me glued in place for cornering, the right kind of support and adjustability to be comfortable for long periods, and they were even easy to get into – well, as easy as it can be for a car that low.

Between the firm ride, lively steering, and the responsive throttle, the F-Type can come alive and be the playful backroad companion that you imagined, but it’s thankfully not always on, so you can relax and cruise much more readily in this 2.0T than in the V8 and V6 versions of the F-Type, which always feel like they’re itching for you to drop the hammer and go sideways or smoke the tires.

It can tear up that favorite backroad, but when you’re just going in for a night on the town or cruising the highway on a road trip, it settles down and can be a relaxed grand tourer, quiet and smooth on the highway, though it doesn’t reach levels of comfort like the Mercedes-Benz SL. Parking is challenging because of limited sight lines, but a backup camera and parking sensors are available to take some of the stress out of backing it into a spot.

One part that does disappoint compared to other F-Types is the sport exhaust, which tries to add some baritone to the small engine’s weaker sound, but it’s a far cry from the raucous, rowdy noises coming from the back of other F-Types, entertaining in the V6s, and absolutely bonkers in the V8s. Some might appreciate the stealth and subtlety, but I wanted more, and I think the F-Type deserves at least another few decibels of vocal drama.

However, that quieter personality does make it easier to appreciate the Meridian stereo, which is impressive for the basic stereo, though I guess I shouldn’t be surprised since it features 10 speakers, including 2 subwoofers, and is powered by a 380-watt amplifier. Operating it is easy enough as well, with a large 10-inch touchscreen with clear graphics that has good basic organization, but some functions take too many menus to access, the screen response is just a tad too slow. However, the home screen is customizable, so you can add widgets to bypass convoluted navigation for any functions you use frequently.

While Jaguar is trying to keep up in the tech race, its InControl system only supports select apps (like Tile and Spotify) through a proprietary connection app rather than a direct connection through Carplay/Android Auto. However, the connected navigation system is thoughtful, letting you know if you have enough fuel to make it to a destination you entered, ‘learning’ your commute and making alternate suggestions when it detects congestions on your typical route. It also thoughtfully sends updates on delays and your ETA to select contacts via text or email.

Despite the new gadgets and tech, any interior entertainment was always going to be a distant second to the car’s engaging driving dynamics, and I was far more impressed with the look and feel of the interior living up to the sultry lines of the exterior. Thanks to the $3,270 Ebony Windsor Performance Seats option, the seats were more supportive for any of my driving antics, while the the dash and various interior surfaces were swathed in delectable leather. A touch of Ivory stitching accented the edges of the seats and door handle, but the interior was a bit somber with all that Ebony black and dark “Knurled” aluminum, except at night, when the glow of the dials and colour of the touchscreen gave it a bit more of a luxurious space shuttle feel.

Although 2018 models were briefly available with the 2.0 turbo-four for $59,900, the 2019s are due shortly and that base price climbs to $60,750, and a 2019 F-Type equipped as ours was with leather performance seats, fixed panoramic roof, climate package, and 19-inch wheels just climbs into the seventies at $70,705 with the $995 destination charge.

While top trims of the F-Type go toe to toe with the 911, Corvette, and AMG GT, at this price, the F-Type lines up against the Porsche 718 Cayman, Audi TT RS, and Mercedes-AMG SLC 43. The F-Type is by far the best looking of the bunch, but dollar for dollar those coupes are faster and more powerful, and the Cayman S, starting at $70,350, will run circles around the F-Type handling wise.

Still, there will be many that simply find the F-Type irresistible on looks alone, and you need not worry about armchair racers; the F-Type is a legitimate and satisfying sports car, this 2.0L turbo-four making it more accessible in price and less daunting to drive hard. There are over twenty ways to get your F-Type between the coupe, convertible and engine options, and this new base powertrain adds a civilized, effortless performance that still wears the alluring styling and luxurious interior that have led the resurgence of Jaguar’s soul just as the F-Pace has revived its fortunes.

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