Have you ever wondered what it would have been like to own a real E-Type back in the day? Your imagination, or possibly your memory may send you back to the early ’60s behind the wooden rim and metal-spoked wheel of a 3.8-liter Series 1, cycling through its four-speed Moss “crash box” while tackling the hairpins of the glorious Furka Pass, just like JB did in Goldfinger, although he was piloting a different British classic at the time.
Maybe he should’ve been in an E-Type. After all, Enzo Ferrari never called the DB5 “the most beautiful car ever made.” He wasn’t alone of course, the E still revered with the same awe today that the great Il Commendatore showed at its unveiling in March of 1961.
I’ve driven that road, albeit at the controls of a late ’80s Fiat Uno—not quite the same experience. I’ve tested much more alluring cars on California’s Big Sur, mind you, and I can certainly transport myself back to the early ’70s, a time when I actually have lucid memories. It was a roadway first discovered on a family road trip when War was making waves with “Why can’t we be friends?” and “Low Rider”, so it’s easy to imagine myself slaloming a pristine Series 2 through its majestic curves, the stunning seascapes below beckoning attention from the task at hand.
I was fortunate enough to pilot a Series 2 two-place coupe at the beginning of my writing career, when a friend who sold classic cars let me take the odd one out for a test drive and photo op, after which I’d write it up and publish it on my then new autos e-zine. It was the ’90s, and I was an early adopter to this new thing called the Internet. Funny now thinking back to my first European press launch in 2000, when waiting in the lobby of Munich’s Kaminski airport hotel among a circle of “fellow” auto journalists I was told, “This internet thing will never last…” by a particularly snotty newspaper writer who I would later learn was as mean spirited as he was presumptuously arrogant. While lambasted then, I suppose I get the last laugh now.
I’m sure some of the old-timers present (many of which were and still are especially nice fellows) had actually been on the original E-Type press launch, which would certainly be a story to relay to the grandkids. That makes me wonder if I’ll be telling similar tales to my future grandchildren about the good old days of driving the E-Type’s spiritual successor, the near certain collectable F-Type.
I haven’t had the pleasure of taking hold of this modern-day classic’s leather-wrapped wheel on the roads of Southern Cal or Switzerland, but I’ve enjoyed many wonderful miles right here in my West Coast homeland. Some of the seaside highways are particularly picturesque ribbons of circuitous tarmac, as are the shorter runs up local mountains surrounding my city. I’ve driven F-Types on many a challenging roadway, these the sorts of routes driving enthusiasts seek out when in possession of a brilliantly capable sports car; and believe me, the new F-Type is everything its cracked up to be and then some.
Its actual predecessor is the XK, a model that arguably provided more visual clues to its E-Type heritage, such as a wide oval grille and long, flowing, curvaceous body panels, but where the XK was more of a high-performance boulevardier when introduced as the XK8 in 1996 and finally a super coupe and convertible when bowing out as the XKR-S in 2014, the F-Type reintroduced light and lively sports car capability to Jaguar’s range, which was the true spirit of the original E-Type.
For this reason the F-Type is now considered a serious alternative to the less expensive Chevrolet Corvette and pricier Porsche 911, among others vying for the ever-thinning number of enthusiasts buying into this premium market segment. After growing from 36,787 units in 2010 to 75,126 in 2014, it dropped to 72,772 in 2015 and 67,119 last year (not including Bentley and Maserati that just started reporting sales numbers in 2016). The falling sports car numbers point to a weakening U.S. economy, being that pricey luxury toys are normally purchased when times are good.
Jaguar’s U.S. operations have benefited directly from increased F-Type sales since its first full year of availability in 2014 when it sold 2,250 units to calendar year 2015 when a record 4,629 left dealer lots. Sales dropped to 4,069 units last year. These numbers pale in comparison to the 8,900 Porsche 911s sold during the same 12 months, or for that matter the Corvette that found 29,995 buyers, but compare today’s F-Type numbers to a 2006 high of 4,567 XKs that tapered off to 1,452 in 2014 and finally 293 in 2015, and then factor in that the F-Type placed third out of 19 models currently available at the close of 2016, and it’s clearly a rarified sports car success. Truly, the F-Type’s gorgeous lines, beautiful interior, phenomenal performance and good value keep it up top where it belongs.
The big news for 2017 is the new range-topping F-Type SVR pushing 575 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque to each of its four wheels. The 550 horsepower all-wheel drive R is carried forward the same as last year’s, as is the 380 horsepower S in rear- and all-wheel drive variants, and 340 horsepower base model, also offered in RWD and AWD. Likewise, you can get every one of these trims as a two-door Coupe or a Convertible, the former featuring a sloped rear roofline ending in a practical liftback, and the other incorporating a high-quality fabric top ahead of a regular trunk.
The car we bring you today is the latter with the base engine and just a few upgrades. While it doesn’t sprint to 60 mph in a mere 3.7 seconds and top out at 200 mph like the new SVR (the SVR Convertible hits its limit at 195 mph), the base F-Type Convertible boasts an energetic 3.0-liter V6 capable of 5.5 seconds from standstill to 60 mph and a top speed of 161 mph with the six-speed manual or 5.1 seconds an the identical top speed with the as-tested paddle-actuated eight-speed auto, which is more than enough to raise the heartbeat.
Of course, I couldn’t help but exercise my right of temporary possession by putting it through its paces. The last time in an F-Type wasn’t long ago, a 2017 R Coupe powered by a rapturous sounding supercharged 5.0-liter V8 pushing 502 lb-ft of tire-smoking torque down to all four 20-inch Storm forged black alloys on ZR-rated Pirelli P Zero rubber, the stunning two-door hardtop launching from standstill to 60 mph in a knee-weakening 3.9 seconds before attaining a 186 mph top speed (which I never even came near attempting).
Despite the considerable straight-line performance discrepancy, I still had to question why I’d pay more for the outrageously powerful V8. Of course the acceleration numbers don’t lie and the seat of the pants thrills of that engine and the car’s handling upgrades epitomize spine-tingling fun, but the sweet note of the base model’s V6 and dual-exhaust combo, plus the pleasurable pull of its still significant output makes it a brilliantly engaging drop-top just the same, with much more available speed than any public roadway can contain.
On the road the F-Type is like no other sports car. I’m not saying it’s better than a 911 or the Aston Martin Vantage so many enthusiasts compare it to, but it’s as good as either with its own unique personality. The base F-Type has Jaguar’s classic front-engine, rear-drive layout, just the way I happen to like it best. The engine is mid-mounted behind the front axle for ideal balance, and the car’s bodywork and suspension is mostly formed from lightweight aluminum for a slight 3,499-lb curb weight, which is a mere 44 lbs more than the F-Type Coupe and very close to the aforementioned 911 Cabriolet, the car it most suitably targets.
Its power to weight ratio is spot on, and ability to slice through the most circuitous sets of consecutive switchbacks at rapid rates of speed downright shocking in its seeming ease. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a thoroughly engaging sports car, delivering the high levels of feedback craved by enthusiast drivers, but it gets the job done so effortlessly it would be anticlimactic if it weren’t for little controlled slides at the rear wheels and that sonorous exhaust note I keep going on about.
Take it down a notch or three and it’s easy to see that Jaguar doesn’t skimp on interior quality, with rich stitched leather across the dash top, around the sides of the center stack including the buttress-style handle on the passenger’s side, across the door uppers and then all the way down to the very bottom of the door panels as well as the lower dash. Jaguar even covers each roof pillar and inside edge of the windshield cross-member in stitched leather. Truly, the detailing is otherworldly, the stuff of the ultra-luxury class that normally costs hundreds of thousands more. Some of my tester’s stitching was in black, with other areas done in red, but interestingly the fabulous flat-bottom leather-wrapped sport steering wheel was laced up with the former.
The wonderfully comfortable and fully supportive sport seats boasted a mix a black leather and red thread, for a particularly attractive look. They featured a multitude of adjustments including adjustable bolsters that pinched backside in order to hold torso in place during aforementioned fast-paced cornering. Three-way memory for both seats made it easy to find favorite seating positions, and while I’m only five-foot-eight I would imagine there’d be plenty of room for most body types.
Of course, being a convertible there’s unlimited headroom as long as it’s warm enough outside, but even in the winter months there was a good five inches above my head, and it’s a very nicely finished soft top as well, with an insulated fabric liner. It goes up and down quickly at the touch of a lower console-mounted switch, allowing you to take advantage of sudden sunshine or vice versa on the fly.
Also powering up and down are the center vents, which can be hidden away if you’d rather see a more aesthetically pleasing dashboard, although they look nice enough open and do a very good job of providing ventilation, combined with a set of large corner vents. Such details in mind, the F-Type has beautifully crafted switchgear, especially the scrolling dials for controlling those vents, these rimmed in metal with rubber centers for added grip. Additionally, attractive solid feeling composite toggles and rocker switches can be found throughout the cabin, also finished with grippy black textured surfaces and satin-finish metal edging. The look is top-tier, and the functionality superb. In fact, all of the F-Type’s switchgear is far above average, with excellent fit, finish, materials quality, and design.
And let’s remember, my tester, despite a gloss black styling package, those fabulous black alloys and some interior upgrades was mostly in base trim. The 2017 F-Type Convertible starts in the high-$60k to low-$70k range, with notable features including proximity sensing-access with pushbutton ignition, a powered tilt and telescopic steering column with memory, powered leather seats with memory, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment with navigation, a rearview camera, 380-watt Meridian audio, satellite and HD radio, auto climate control, rear parking sensors, a dynamic rear spoiler, active sports exhaust, a Dynamic sport mode, auto engine start/stop, an electromechanical parking brake, plenty of active and passive safety features, and much more.
Suffice to say the F-Type is the purest of sports cars gentrified for a luxury lifestyle, a car with the power to move one’s soul yet embodied with the calming spirit of graceful style, craftsmanship and quality that can easily sooth an aching mind after a demanding day’s challenges. Therapy from behind the wheel? As any Jaguar owner can attest, life with one of the British marque’s cars rates at a higher level, and spending part of each day with the F-Type raises one’s game yet again. It’s the attainable modern-day equivalent to the E-Type, effectively delivered in one fabulously performing, luxuriantly equipped, intelligently safe, sensibly reliable package. You truly must imbibe.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press Copyright: American Auto Press