FIRST DRIVE: JAGUAR F-TYPE

IT’S BEEN a long wait, but finally it’s here. Jaguar’s F-Type has had one of the longest build-ups of any car in recent years, but all the hype now has to stop and the car itself is required to do the talking.

Jaguar says the F-Type is it’s first ‘proper’ sports car in 52 years, and as the name suggests it has to follow in the footsteps of the E-Type. Massive shoes to fill of course, but view one alongside the other and you can see lineage, but not pastiche. The F-Type nods to its great grandparent in the cut-off nose and high rear deck, but it’s a thoroughly modern design. It pulls the neat trick of looking sensational in a range of colours and the option of light or dark wheels gives extra scope for tailoring. Looks wise, it’s a solid-gold hit.

It’s clever with it, being sculpted out of aluminium just like the bigger XJ saloon. That helps to keep the weight down while remaining as strong as a conventional steel structure, and ups the recyclability too. It’s a convertible only of course, but the wise decision to stick with a fabric roof means a 12-second raising or lowering routine and no unsightly design compromises. It’s a strict two-seater and the boot is modest but you could fit a generous weekend’s luggage in there without having to skimp.

Approach the door, press a button to pop out the flush-fitting door handle – a feature that keeps the overall design slick – and drop into the driver’s seat. It’s snug but not cramped, and aside from the button-covered steering wheel the cabin is a lesson in simplicity. A row of straightforward switches, the familiar Jag touch-screen and neat new climate controls complete the job. The joystick-like gearlever encourages you to ‘fire’ it when selecting Drive by pushing the trigger-like button; a clever ploy to get you in the mood.

The three-model range comprises of the F-Type V6, F-Type V6S and the top V8S. But there’s no such thing as an ‘entry-level’ model here. The only thing telling them apart is a discreet badge front and rear plus quad exhaust pipes on the V8S. Fire it up and there is a surprisingly strident crackle from the exhaust, another area where there has been effort expended to deliver the right kind of feel.

Set off in the standard V6 and there’s an instant feeling of ‘rightness’. The steering is quick and accurate but smooth, the ride quality is immediately impressive while remaining in firm touch with the road. Left to its own devices the eight-speed automatic shifts quickly and smoothly and you can surf along on the generous torque. It’s sporty, but it’s still a Jaguar.

It won’t be long before you want to up the pace and you have a choice in how you go about this. A simple squeeze of the accelerator releases another chunk of torque while the gearbox will shift down if required, but ideally you’ll finger the switch to put it into Dynamic mode. Depending on the model, this opens up the exhaust, sharpens throttle and gearbox response, stiffens the suspension and reduces assistance to the steering.

The most dramatic change comes in the noise from the exhaust. Squeeze the accelerator hard and you get a sophisticated but vocal rasp, and when you back off there’s half a dozen loud crackles too. You’ll do it on purpose just to hear it over and over.

Smooth and effortless though it is, the F-Type really shines when pressing on. The surety of its responses instils plenty of confidence and as you start to push it harder through challenging bends it just keeps on gripping, staying flat and controlled whatever the surface is doing. It deals with broken surfaces remarkably well, but you can tweak all the individual Dynamic settings and soften the suspension again if desired. Even if you don’t, it’s never harsh.

It’s unquestionably fast too. The F-Type starts with 335bhp and if you never sampled the more powerful versions you’d think it was plenty. With eight gears to flick through the supercharged V6 spins up quickly and always has torque to spare. But if you can spare the extra cash the 375bhp of the V6S is welcome. On the other hand, the V8S is a monster; the chassis is more than capable of coping with almost 490bhp, and the resulting acceleration, speed and noise are truly breathtaking – it’s a devilish delight.

We’ve waited patiently for the F-Type and been thoroughly primed for its arrival, but the truth is Jaguar has delivered a truly superb car. It has the looks and performance beyond what you might hope for, but better than that it also rides superbly, is easy to use and has some smart design too. For sports cars at least, 2013 belongs to Jaguar.

FACTS AT A GLANCE
Jaguar F-Type V6S, £67,520
Engine: 3.0-litre petrol unit producing 375bhp and 339lb.ft of torque
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic driving the rear wheels
Performance: Top speed 171mph, 0-62mph in 4.9 seconds
Economy: 31mpg combined
Emissions: 213g/km of CO2