Did you know that Jaguar wasn’t always “Jaguar”? It began life in the early 1920s as the Swallow Sidecar Company, building sidehacks for motorcycles and then, in the 1930s, it began building cars, like the SS90 and SS100, so named because they were “Standard-Swallow” models. However, the company’s “SS” designations didn’t set well after World War II so “Jaguar” was born. It lasted as a mostly-independent company until 1968, when it was merged with British Motor Corporation and then, in 1990 acquired by Ford. In 2008, Jaguar was purchased by Tata Motors, a company in India known for very inexpensive cars. Purists were worried. They needn’t have been.
Since the Tata reign started, Jaguar has produced a bevy of beauties, each meeting with commercial and critical success. They created their XF, XJ and XK cars and, for those for whom speed and power were paramount, they offered the ones with the “R” designations, which were the models’ steroidal cousins. When that wasn’t enough, the “S” variant was added to the “X” and “R” designations (for example, XKR-S) for those who like their cats with 500 horses. Still not enough? The XKR-S GT is coming this summer.
But cars do not sell on power alone. So based on the raves which greeted the stunning Jaguar concept C-X16 at the 2011 Frankfurt Motor Show, Jaguar decided to build the F-Type which, as you may have guessed, is the successor to the E-Type throne. That’s one big chair to fill.
Jaguar’s E-Types were built from 1961 and 1974 and today command high prices for their advanced design and collectability. Cars which initially sold new for as little as $3,000 (about half the price of contemporary Aston Martins) now often sell for well over $100,000, and special models with unique provenance can sell for many times more.
So let’s look at the F-Type, which is arriving at dealerships as we speak (and, reportedly, over half of the first year’s production already has been sold). The two-seater beauty currently is offered only as a roadster (the coupe is slated for 2014) and it’s available with three engine variants – fast, faster and lickety-split (in power terms, that’s 340, 380 and 495HP for the F-Type, the F-Type S and the F-Type V8 S, ranging from a base price of $69,000 up to a base of $92,000). When you go on Jaguar’s Website (www.jaguarusa.com), you can configure your own (“mine” penciled out at $102,000 but, then again, I’m a sucker for trick brakes and killer rims).
All F-Types have an eight-speed automatic (with both a floor lever and paddle shifters) connected to the supercharged six- or supercharged eight-cylinder front-mounted engine of your choice powering the rear wheels. As you’d expect, there are lots of driver-adjusted settings for the pilot to play with. The strongest cat can hit sixty in a reported 4.2 seconds and race to a top speed of 186MPH. The bodies (all three variants look much the same) are about the same length as a Porsche 911 but with a much longer wheelbase and with lots of aluminum. Weighing in at about 3,500 pounds, it’s not the lightest feline ever, about 500 pounds heavier than the aforementioned 911, yet it sure knows how to move.
But you can’t talk about a Jaguar without mentioning its looks. Just as the E-Type was sinewy-lean, the F-Type clearly is its kin, feline haunches and all. Jaguar design chief Ian Callum had his work cut out for him as the E-Type reputedly was described by Enzo Ferrari himself as “the most beautiful car ever made” but Dr. Callum was up to the task. Translating the sculptural lines from the concept C-X16 to a buildable and roadable car was challenging but, after having been involved with the design of some of Aston Martin’s most gorgeous cars, Callum said that he’d waited fifty years for this opportunity and he knew just what to do, which is apparent from the finished product.
The renowned Dr. Albert Schweitzer once said that the only escape from the “miseries of life” are music and cats. I didn’t even know that Dr. Al was a car guy.
My article on the Jaguar F-Type appeared in the magazine several months ago. Unfortunately, due to scheduling challenges, I was unable to drive the car before writing the article but, luckily for me, that changed in January of this year. Jaguar was nice enough to deliver to my home, for a one-week follow-up, a brand-new F-Type V-8 S Convertible, a supercharged five-liter eight-banger boasting 495 horses, 460 pounds of torque, an eight-speed transmission, a redline fast approaching 7,000 RPM, a weight of under 3,700 pounds, a 0-60 time a click over four seconds and a top speed of 186 MPH (185 is so yesterday). Oh, and it has stop-start technology, which no doubt helps it achieve the 18MPG combined mileage figure. Wow! I loved the car before but now I am smitten (which, interestingly, rhymes with “kitten”)
As mentioned in my original article, the base price on this car is $92,000. Add in every whistle and bell in the parts bin – “climate pack” with heated seats and steering wheel (great for a convertible); “premium pack” with wind deflector, garage door opener and locking interior storage (also great for a convertible); “vision pack” with adaptive lighting, front sensors and color rear camera and a blind-spot monitor; metallic paint; HD Radio and SIRIUS radio; and “Switchable Active Exhaust (more on that later) and you’re at $97,065 with destination and delivery charges. Am I missing something or does Jaguar have the least-expensive “add-ons” in the exotic garage?
This car joins the Maserati and Aston Martin singers (Three Tenors?) with an exhaust note of note. However, Jaguar does something interesting – start the car and drive in “normal” mode and it shifts automatically at maybe 2,500 RPM and runs along pretty quietly. But there are two tricks left in the performance/sound bag – sport mode (denoted by a checkered flag on the button – how quaint) – which adjusts suspension stiffness, transmission shift points and the like – and the Active Exhaust button, which is marked with an icon of two exhaust pipes but perhaps should have been a picture of your neighbor with his mouth open to scream and his hands clasping his ears. With that button engaged, this puppy (cat?) is loud! Not only is the sound level higher, it spits fire (at least, it sounds like it) when on the revving downstroke. Drive down the street and let off and it’s just short of the aural atmosphere at the end of the Mulsanne Straight, when all of the F1 flyboys are grabbing gears and braking hard and their cars are flaming out the back. It’s a great sound (at least to those in the car – sleeping denizens may not agree). Thankfully, it’s switchable (though, truth be told, I kept it engaged most of the time, especially around tunnels and even underpasses).
This car really can be a transformer, from docile road car to screaming sports mobile. Interestingly, the 8th speed, coupled with the very tall rear-end ratio (2.56:1), provides an lackadaisical 90MPH at 2,000 RPM, which keeps the car very quiet at highway speeds.
My one week with the Firesand Metallic (orange) Jaguar went by way too quickly. I used the car for some quick speed runs, as a grocery-getter and everything in between. It performed flawlessly (though it doesn’t hold that many shopping bags) and felt at home in every environment. I’m often asked this about the cars that I have driven – “If the price weren’t an issue, would you want to own the car?” For the Jaguar, that’s an easy one to answer: the Brits would say “quite” but I would say “absolutely!”