Two new versions of the stylish Cat, but only one meets customary marque standards
In order to let the press sample its new four-wheel-drive and manual F-types, Jaguar took us to Estoril – one of my favourite European tracks. And when we arrived we were told we’d be driving the all-wheel-drive car only on the track and the manual version only on the road. To me this seemed a nonsense. The four-wheel-drive system has been included at the cost of an 80kg weight rise because there are important regions on earth – the US snow states in particular – where a rear-drive F-type is simply not viable. It is a device designed to add safety and practicality. But the manual, well how better to show that off than to let us scream around the same track on which Ayrton Senna scored his maiden Grand Prix win in 1985? But Jaguar insisted.
To be fair, the all-wheel-drive system (available on the V6S and V8 R models, but not the basic V6) is clever enough to know when it’s not wanted, which is most of the time. The F-type therefore remains resolutely rear-drive until it detects any degree of longitudinal or lateral slip, at which point a theoretically limitless percentage of torque can be channelled to the front wheels.
The still better news is that if you can feel the additional 80kg or any degradation in handling, thanks to the engine needing to be raised to fit the new hardware underneath, then it is you rather than I who should be doing this job.
But the best bit is that the F-type doesn’t feel like it has four-wheel drive in any way, until you reach the stage where you’re actually rather glad it does. When you first turn into a corner, instead of understeer greeting you before the apex the F-type will either go exactly where asked or, if you’re really trying, break loose at the back. But when you reapply the power it neither increases the angle of yaw nor blunders back into understeer. Instead the car adopts that delicious power-on neutrality I think most of us would choose our sports cars to exhibit.
So full marks to Jaguar for that.
But it’s six out of 10 for the manual, which is the last thing I expected. In this case the six-speed transmission is available only on the V6 models (it’s not rated to handle V8 torque) and there is sadly little of the pleasure you might expect from its operation. It’s as if Jaguar concluded it was enough to provide an F-type that was manual, and wasn’t that bothered about ensuring it had a shift quality to match the dynamic standards of the rest of the car. The change is a little slow, a touch inclined to baulk and in every other way entirely unremarkable. Were this a new small saloon I’d be less bothered, but in such an expensive sporting Jaguar I’d hoped for and expected more.
Engine: 5.0 litres, 8 cylinders, supercharged
Power: 502lb [email protected]
Torque: 383lb [email protected]
Transmission: eight-speed auto, four-wheel drive
Top speed: 186mph