The first rendition of the sultry Jaguar F-Type Convertible quickly drove straight into our hearts, instantly becoming one of our favorite new cars. Then, when the hard-top Coupe came a year later, we fell even deeper in love.
In 2016 the changes aren't so drastic, but they do make an already great car even greater -- and gave us an opportunity to get back behind the wheel again. The biggest update surrounds the R model. You can now get your F-Type R in either convertible or coupe flavors, and that supercharged V-8 now delivers 550 horsepower across the board, up from 495 in the former S V8. AWD is also available for either the coupe or convertible, and in fact, American buyers will no longer have the option of an RWD V-8 motor. Jaguar personnel has seemingly decided that ham-fisted Americans aren't capable of keeping up with it.
They might be right. That's a lot of power for car with a wheelbase this short. In AWD trim, both the R Coupe and Convertible sprint from zero to 60 in 3.9 seconds and will hurtle themselves all the way up to 186MPH before the electronic limiter cuts in. The AWD system is RWD for the most part, but a small secondary driveshaft driven by an electronic center differential can send up to 50 percent of the power up to the front wheels when needed. And, with your foot to the floor and that 5.0-liter V-8 screaming its unholy song, it'll probably be needed quite frequently.
And what a song it is. That V-8 has one of the most raucous notes on the road today, howling and barking under full acceleration, banging and spitting fury whenever you lift off the accelerator. Every time I got out, I expected to find the bumper singed and melted around the quad exhaust pipes, but that wouldn't be very civilized, and the F-Type is of course a very civilized car. Indeed, you can quiet down the exhaust at the touch of a button should you -- or your neighbors -- find it a bit too much.
If so, you may want to consider the 340-horse base supercharged V-6, or the 380-horsepower S model. Where the V-8 is throaty and angry sounding, the V-6 sounds infinitely more refined. Its exhaust note has its own, high-revving charm, though it, too, can be made to pop and snarl at the press of a button. It's also some 300-plus pounds lighter than the V-8 and so rather more nimble, but 3,455 pounds for a base V-6 with manual transmission is hardly svelte.
And, yes, there's a manual transmission available now. A proper one, with a clutch and everything. It's a six-speed offering tasty short throws and a rather notchy engagement. The clutch feel is light and clean, and while I found the brake pedal to be a bit high for clean toe-heel rev-matching, the system is at least blissfully free of any sort of auto-rev-match electronic interference. (Looking at you, Corvette.) Sadly, that manual is only available on the V-6, but thankfully the auto-box on the V-8 is about as good as they get, shifting quickly at the behest of a pair of paddles when sport mode, slipping and easing you from one gear to the next the rest of the time.
The brakes, too, are very good. Metal rotors feel fantastic and offer plenty of performance on road or track, but those who need more can opt for carbon ceramic discs that add a whopping $14,450 to the price of the F-Type S. Go for the R and you'll pay only $12,000. As if you needed more incentive.
Though the 2016 F-Type gets a fair few extra bits and pieces lumped on as standard equipment (keyless entry, 14-way power seats, a 770-watt Meriden sound system, panoramic glass roof on the coupe), none of the models are exactly bargain priced. In the US, you're looking at $65,000 for a base F-Type Coupe with a manual transmission, $68,100 for a Convertible. The S Coupe and S Convertible start $12,000 higher, with a further $7,000 if you'd like AWD. The F-Type R Coupe, meanwhile, starts at a lofty $103,600, while the R Convertible is $106,450. (All prices are in US dollars. International pricing and options configurations vary.)
That's proper money. That's Porsche Cayman S money, even 911 money depending on spec. That's a lot to ask for a little car, and on paper it doesn't make sense. But this isn't one of those cars that you can evaluate on paper -- or on a digital display, as it were. This is one of those cars that you must drive to appreciate, a thoroughly charming blend of visual and auditory flare that makes it far more than the sum of its parts.
Still, its parts are pretty damned good, and it drives quite nicely on the track or off. The V-6 is predictably the most agile and engaging, the AWD R predictably the most shocking and thrilling. The AWD version does lose a bit of its deftness thanks to the extra drivetrain bits and power to the front wheels, but it still feels light and turns quite readily. At the limit it will understeer, but not terminally so. In fact, four-wheel drifts are quite possible, but get into the corner too hot and the nose will safely wash away first, giving you plenty of time to gather things up before you get to test how well the AWD system handles the grass.
The traction-control system will give you plenty of rope to hang yourself with in Dynamic mode, enabling you to have a reasonably good time. However, once it kicks in it kicks hard, shutting things right down and basically deactivating the throttle until the car is confident you're pointed in the right direction and doing so at a reasonable pace.
Really, though, as capable as the F-Type is at hustling around on the track, it's much better suited for flowing country roads, where you can make use of the torque and really enjoy that engine note echoing off the trees around you. That's doubly true if you're even slightly tall in stature, as my six-foot frame struggled to fit in the Coupe with a helmet on. (That glass roof looks nice but does not help in this regard.)
The 2016 F-Type is refinement, a few tweaks here and there, and that's quite alright with us. The styling still looks contemporary, progressive even, and the driving dynamics leave little to be desired. It's a brilliant blend of the visceral and the evocative. It's a lovely thing that must be driven to be appreciated.