Jaguar has returned to its sports car roots with the two-seat convertible F-Type for 2014. The name F-Type comes from a lineage of Jaguar racing and sports cars called C-, D-, and E-Type.
That's a tough act to follow, as the E-Type is one of the most highly regarded designs of a production automobile. Indeed, the E-Type was only the third motor vehicle to be acquired for the very small permanent car collection at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
The F-Type definitely pulls some inspiration from the E. Touches like the power bulge on the center of the hood, as well as the vents on either side trace back to the E. The slim horizontal taillights with a round stop lamp are E-Type all the way. They have a great light signature and Jaguar principal design manager Jonathan Sandys says we can expect to see this style of tail lamp finding its way onto other Jaguars as a family feature. The long-nosed proportions and bulging haunches are inspired by the E-Type. Six-cylinder models have two center-exiting exhaust pipes like the E-Type (the V8 S has dual tips on either side.)
Sandys described head designer Ian Callum's concept of "shrink wrapping" the sheetmetal around the mechanicals of the car as the main driving force of its design. The interior of the car has a cockpit feel that also wraps around the driver. That said, I was surprised how roomy the cabin felt, and that I was able to find a perfect driving position. That's sometimes a challenge for me at six-four with long legs, but the power tilt and telescoping steering column and power seats had a generous range of adjustment. Power lumbar and bolstering adjustments helped provide a high level of comfort, too.
Callum's philosophy includes keeping the instrument panel low for good visibility. Since the driver sits low in the car, that may have presented a challenge. Two touches that help facilitate this are a straight portion at the bottom of the steering wheel, and upper air vents that open on demand or automatically when needed. The latter keeps the instrument panel looking clean. Gauges have big numbers for a quick read at speed. Control layout is kept uncluttered. A neat touch is twist-and-push knobs for climate control; on either side you turn them for dual zone temperature selection, press the knob in and the display within the knob switches to seat heat adjustment. Also, the graphics are hidden until lit, for a clean appearance when shut off. Very neat. Some of the other switches are inspired by aircraft. Sandys probably had a hand in this as his design career has included work on airplane interiors. He said the switch to turn on Dynamic Mode, which changes mechanical functions for high performance driving, mimics a jet fighter's switch for attack mode. When you switch it on, instrument lighting turns red as well.
Dynamic Mode alters the behavior of the engine, active exhaust, transmission, suspension, and steering. For the first time Jaguar is offering a configurable dynamic mode on the F-Type so you can pick and choose which items you want adjusted for aggressive driving.
We departed the Pan Pacific Hotel in Seattle in a six-cylinder Jaguar F-Type S for a brief fight with morning rush hour, escaping to a lengthy scenic drive winding towards Mt. Rainer. It was a great way to get acquainted with the 380-horsepower mid-range offering. It uses the same 3.0-liter supercharged V6 as the base model, just tuned differently. That's a staggering 127 horsepower per liter, the highest specific output of any Jaguar engine. We then traded for a 495-horsepower F-Type V8 S for some additional mountain road driving.
What would a sports car introduction be without some laps on a racetrack? We headed to Ridge Motorsports Park in nearby Shelton, Wash. I did a stint in a V6 S model with one of the local instructors. Then it was time to try a V8 S with coaching from famous endurance racing driver Davy Jones. The guy is a rock star in racing circles with a career that includes a victory at the 24 Hours of LeMans and a second place finish at the Indianapolis 500. This was not our first meeting. While this was the official media launch event for the Jaguar F-Type, I had a sneak peek a few weeks before when I was invited to Autobahn Country Club in Joliet, Ill. for a taping of a video for the #MyTurnToJag social media campaign. Even though I wasn't the lucky winner of the contest to get a track day with Jones, I was lucky enough to have an opportunity to ride and then drive in a F-Type on the Autobahn track with him. The Ridge track was technical and challenging, but unlike Autobahn it's on hilly terrain, adding another dimension.
After a warmup lap, Jones coached me through the corners, and the track's half-mile long straightaway, pushing me much further than I would have dared had I been out there alone. The laps were exhilarating, but the car was so competent I never hesitated to follow his directions. Between the extremely rigid all-aluminum body structure and the Jaguar Adaptive Dynamics suspension, which reads the road surface and driver inputs and adjusts the dampers hundreds of times per second, the F-Type can deliver a perfectly smooth highway ride or a firm, sporty response for full control in performance driving. The steering is instantly responsive, and communicative you almost think your way around a corner. Jaguar opted to use a hydraulic power steering system for better feel than the electric power steering many automakers are using now. The 495 horsepower speaks for itself, but the ultimate measure of a track-bred car is the brakes. They were phenomenal, with a firm pedal hauling us down repeatedly from triple digit speeds without even a hint of fade.
Then Jones took the wheel and showed me what the F-Type can really do in skilled hands. The F-Type price of admission starts at $69,000 with the V8 S at $92,000 or check out #MyTurnToJag for other unique possibilities