I’m sure there’s a cliché about spontaneity leading to pleasant surprises, but I somehow doubt it was meant to apply to track testing the all-new Jaguar F-Type. Nevertheless, I recently found myself at our local test track doing a little drifting around in the rain in a Mazda MX-5, with no real plans to evaluate the F-Type S AutoGuide head honcho Colum Wood showed up with.
|1. The supercharged 3.0-liter V6 makes 380 hp and 339 lb-ft of torque.
2. The mid-range F-Type can hit 60 mph in 4.8 seconds.
3. At our test track the F-Type S clocked a 1:22.056 lap time with a max lateral g-force of 1.45 and a top speed of 107.7 mph.
4. With a starting price of $69,000 the V6 S model begins at $81,000.
But like any self-respecting racer, when someone offers you the keys to a 380 hp rear-wheel drive sports car, you grab ‘em and run. Even with the soft top up, the F-Type is a sexy hunk of sheet metal (and aluminum), my eyes being drawn to its distinctive horizontal taillights and raised rear haunches. It really does have a purposeful and aggressive look to it, matched perfectly by the delicious snap, crackle and pop that emanates from its dual center exit exhaust tips.
It certainly looks and sounds the part, but can this thing actually post a respectable lap time around our test track and offer some real driving enjoyment in the process?
INITIAL TRACK IMPRESSIONS
Colum assured me it was surprisingly well-balanced and easy to slide around in the rain, a sign of good base chassis and suspension tuning. After a corner or two in the slow-motion drifts that inevitably accompany sopping wet track conditions like these, I couldn’t disagree. The F-Type S feels totally composed at slip angles typically reserved for pro drifters and Scion FR-S owners, albeit at speeds normally associated with the parking lot at a retirement home.
Attempting to turn a hot lap in conditions this slippery would have been futile, but as luck would have it the clouds parted and the sun dried out the circuit just in time for a few flying laps in fully dry conditions (or very close to it). And that’s when the F-Type S surprised me most, as it not only showed impressive pace down the straights while making exhaust noises that can only be described as pornographic, it also demonstrated outstanding brake feel along with quick and precise steering.
I thought it would all fall apart once I got back on the throttle mid-corner, though, since it’s only available with a single clutch automatic transmission and, from what I’d read, rides on a suspension that was tuned more for spirited street driving than relentless attacks on time around a race track. But rather than reject my requests to downshift like so many other slushboxes, the Jag’s superb eight-speed ZF gearbox quickly and sharply did exactly as instructed by the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. In fact, when you engage Dynamic Mode with the push of one of the many buttons on the center console, the transmission will no longer automatically upshift, so you can hold the engine at high RPM in situations that warrant it and even bounce it off the rev limiter.
Although I did experience some mid-corner push, the F-Type S’s Adaptive Damping (which monitors suspension movement 100 times a second and steering input 500 times a second and continuously adjusts damping rates to control body pitch and roll) provided outstanding stability and grip on corner entry. This allowed me to trail brake as aggressively as I wanted without any sign of rear-end twitchiness. Sure, too aggressive a stomp on the right pedal would result in some tail-out antics, but that’s half the fun in a rear-wheel drive sports car like this.
In fact, the Jag surprised and impressed me with its willingness to rotate without any unwanted computer intervention (with stability control turned off, of course), and whenever too much yaw angle was achieved the back end could easily be brought back with just a touch of opposite lock. And as for that mid-corner push, it could be quickly erased with a bit more throttle, and more throttle is good!
AN IMPROMPTU COMPARISON
This wasn’t the Grand Touring handling package I’d been expecting. No, this thing has all the characteristics of a proper sports car. In fact, even when pushed to the ragged edge, the F-Type S always feels willing to give me a little more.
Brake a little later and stand on the pedal a little harder? No problem, just fade-free performance and no sign of any nosedive thanks to those adaptive dampers.
Chuck it into the corner with a bit more aggressive and earlier application of the go-pedal? No understeer frustrations or oversteer death threats, just a wider grin on my face and the sense that this Jag was doing its best Oliver impression: “Please sir, can I have some more?”
I also was not expecting the lap time that popped up on my data acquisition system. One-minute, 22.056-seconds.
Hold on, that’s fast. Like serious sports car fast. In fact, we’ve only had a half-dozen cars post a quicker lap time than this, all of which were heavy hitters with considerably more horsepower than the F-Type S, except for the new Porsche Cayman S which managed a one-minute 21.286-secon lap with just 325-hp (and 400 fewer pounds to carry around).
To better understand how the F-Type S achieved such impressive pace around our test track, I overlaid its in-car data against with the data I had collected in the Cayman S a few weeks earlier. Here’s what jumped out at me.
First of all, it’s downright shocking to see that the F-Type S consistently generated higher peak g-forces in the corners than the Cayman S (1.45 g vs 1.24 g), a mid-engine masterpiece that’s widely considered one of the best handling cars on the planet. Both cars have fantastic turn-in response, the Cayman feeling a bit pointier and thus more neutral by the apex. This allowed it to put the power down a bit sooner, but I was often able to roll more speed into the corners in the Jag, and the F-Type was also very predictable and stable once I got back on the gas.
In fact, there was almost nothing between these two very different sports cars during the first half of their respective hot laps, their position on track being a virtual dead heat as they exited Turn five. The F-Type actually pulled ahead a bit coming into Turn six, but after that the Cayman showed off its low-speed handling advantage through the very tight Turn seven and eight combo, as well as demonstrating supreme high-speed balance through the quickest turn on the track, the left-hand dogleg Turn nine. But with a lap time only 0.7 seconds behind, the F-Type S far exceeded expectations and never put a wheel wrong.
It’s human nature to think more power means higher performance, but in the case of the Jaguar F-Type, my brief but highly enjoyable track test experience has led me to believe that the supercharged V6 S model is the driver’s car of the bunch. Keep in mind, the V6 S has a mechanical limited slip differential, meaning rear traction isn’t being actively controlled by a computer the way the V8 S model’s rear differential is. Yes, an electronic active differential has its advantages (especially for those drivers who need a bit of help staying off the grass), but in a racing context the predictability and consistency of a good old-fashion mechanical limited slip differential is very hard to beat.
Add to that the fact that a number of my industry colleagues have suggested that the 495 hp V8 simply overwhelms the F-Type’s chassis and rear tires despite its adaptive dampers and intelligent differential, and the 380 hp V6 starts to look like the better choice if you’re shopping for a balanced performer. Plus it’s over 100 lbs lighter than the V8 model (3,558 lbs vs. 3,671 lbs), and that’s never a bad thing around a race track.
The V6 S appears to be designed more for the enthusiast-driver who wants to feel a greater sense of connection and at-the-limit involvement, while the V8 model is more for the guy who likes to have the biggest…well, you know, engine. The V8 model’s use of an active differential hints at it being designed to flatter the driver, while the V6 S’s use of a mechanical differential suggests it’s designed to challenge and free the driver.
Of course I can’t really tell you how the V8 S compares, since I haven’t tried one yet. But what I can tell you with certainty is this: the F-Type S is seriously fast around our test track and it’s a true joy to drive in this environment. It exhibited no bad habits and no glaring weaknesses. Even its automatic transmission takes nothing away from the experience. It simply delivers a bombastic soundtrack and confidence-inspiring driving dynamics allowing the driver to explore the limits of its tires without fear of death or taxes.