Over the years, I’ve reported on various Jaguar F-Type variants, ranging from mild to wild, including the positively ferocious F-Type R, complete with carbon ceramic brakes and 550 horsepower.
In some form or another, here’s one of those cars I try and drive regularly because, in my opinion, it’s a standard setter and a car I tend to keep in mind when reviewing others like it.
This time around, it’s the F-Type Checkered Flag Edition Coupe. This F-Type hardtop (convertible models are available, too), packs exclusive graphics and cosmetics, the latest F-Type tweaks, and an asking price that begins to enter six-figure territory. Included is Jaguar’s three-litre V6 engine, complete with supercharger, for 380 horsepower.
Unlike many comparable turbocharged engines, use of the supercharger instead gives this one more immediate throttle response, a more peaky and high-revving character, and far more pleasing sound.
But for the money, this is neither the fastest nor fanciest way to spend about $105,000 — but it is one of the best sports cars for the money I’ve ever driven, thanks in no small part to the great big grins it causes on every single drive.
In a sense, it’s the stuff of childhood car enthusiast dreams: a small, light, supercharged two-seater that makes a scene, looks striking, and turns heads and attracts attention with ease.
Sure, the compact and curvaceous look of the F-Type turns heads, but the sound of this car is the real star of the show.
Jaguar gets exhaust notes in a very serious way, and enthusiasts recognize it as having one of the most distinctive exhaust sounds on the road.
During a week at the wheel, dozens of other motorists hunted me down in traffic, lowered their windows, and even cupped a hand over their ears, requesting a listen.
Not surprising given that hundreds of prototype exhaust systems were tested to get things just right. One engineer with the automaker once told me that the final decision between several prototype exhaust systems went to an expert — his five-year old son.
The sound chosen by that young gear head is so pleasing that after some 8,000 kilometres of use, nobody had yet bothered to adjust the equalizer of the Meridian audio system from its factory default settings. It’s a magnificent stereo (I checked, briefly), though F-Type owners will, mostly, be listening to the music from the tailpipes out back.
A button press opens flaps in the muffler to make the F-Type incredibly loud. You’ll wonder how it’s even street legal. Thankfully, a second tap on the button closes those flaps, quieting things down when desired.
In any case, it is the unique sound of a uniquely-tuned supercharged engine, exhaling with all of the crackling, popping and snorting that you’d care for. Hell, just lift the throttle from any sort of revs, and it sounds like someone lit a pack of firecrackers just behind you.
When the electric cars come and all engines go silent, this writer will forever remember the F-Type for having one of the most obnoxious exhaust I’ve ever driven. Whoever signed off on this exhaust system must be an absolute riot at parties.
Let’s talk about how the F-Type feels — first, as a place to be, and second, as a driving machine.
It’s small and snug, you step down inside, and it feels more like putting on a piece of clothing than getting into a car. You’re wearing this machine, more than you’re sitting inside of it. There’s a long and sculpted hood ahead of you, as you sit back, almost on the rear axle. The outward visibility is limited, and your inches from the road, sitting almost on the rear axle.
In other words, it’s a fit and feel and driving position likely to stir the soul of the driving enthusiast with ease.
The F-Type’s cabin is getting dated these days, especially where the instrument cluster and some of the less commonly-used controls (power mirrors, wiper stalks) are concerned.
It’s beautifully trimmed, with flowing leather and careful stitching and plenty of gloss and texture and detail, though it does somewhat pale in comparison to the cabin of many a recent six-figure Porsche, Mercedes or Lexus.
Don’t miss the high-end sports seats, complete with special care instructions — nobody does leather like Jaguar, and these seats are so fragrant, you’ll smell them on your clothes, hours later.
Things get better in motion. The way the F-Type obeys its driver is magnificent. Throttle response, shifting, steering — every request from the controls is executed immediately, urgently, and with no drama or lag.
Steering is so quick, you can change lanes by just tightening the muscles in a few fingers. Toss it through some corners, and you’ll grin at how little work is required at the wheel to fling this car around.
Words like flat, tidy, sticky, drama-free best describe that experience. Even pushed hard, F-Type never feels uncomfortable, or insufficiently planted. My tester included all-wheel drive, though driving enthusiasts will be happy to know that the engineers tuned the system to only send power to the front wheels as an absolute last resort — so it’s a rear-drive handling feel through and through. Steer with the throttle or brakes, and she’s responsive and predictable and very frisky.
Those brakes offer a strong bite from the first bit of pedal input, and a linear buildup of stopping power, with minimal pedal work. Precise off the bat, and even more so when you get really get the big red calipers clamping. The brake pedal action is among the most precise in my recent memory banks.
Like many parts of the F-Type (see also: steering, transmission), the brakes feel better, the harder you work them. This creates an encouraging and fun-loving dance partner when you find occasion to drive this machine as intended.
Paddle shifts are entertaining enough to warrant frequent use, though numerous competitors can browse forward gears far more quickly. The eight-speed ZF automatic is a capable piece of hardware, even if we don’t see it’s very fastest work in this application.
Thus far, F-Type is quick, beautiful, has a very ridiculous sound, and feels eager and feisty in the way that only purpose-built two-seat performance cars usually do.
It’s a nice highway cruiser, too. It does get a bit noisy at higher speeds, though not enough to necessitate any voice-raising to carry on a conversation. F-Type could get away with a much less comfortable ride, too. Use the toggle to switch from the enhanced feistiness “dynamic” mode to the all-purpose “normal” mode, and you can actually feel the car relax, soften, and unwind beneath you. Make all the noise you like, or, flick a switch and just cruise in relatively quiet comfort. This one’s road-trip ready, if you like.
And so, for the amount of drama the F-Type puts at the tips of your fingers and toes, it’s also a competent long-haul cruiser. If you stay out of the supercharger (good luck), it’s relatively easy on fuel, too.
To see the real appeal of this machine, you need to drive it. After all, specs and figures and horsepower output, on paper, are two-dimensional: they only tell part of the story.
Think of the word performance literally, as in, a performance, where sights and sounds and sensations are crafted, planned out, and deployed to create a memorable experience. That’s where the F-Type pulls hardest at my car-guy heart strings.
The soundtrack, the sensation, the urgency, and fine-tuned feel, backed by the way F-Type encourages you to take it all in as often as possible, are all what makes this a modern great.
It’s one of a few machines that nails the idea of creating and nurturing a beautiful human-to-mechanical connection, despite being laid back enough for every-day enjoyment.