What defines a sports car? Is it an arbitrary set of numbers--weight limits, 0-60 mph times, lateral g forces? Or is it something more emotional, something that can't easily be quantified?
I tend to think it's the latter, and the 2014 Jaguar F-Type presents a convincing case in support of that tendency.
Running strictly by the numbers, the F-Type falls a lot closer to the Grand Tourer class than it does to any classical (or even fairly modern) definition of a "sports car." But behind the wheel, the F-Type's spirit, the feeling it evokes in the driver, rails against classification with two-ton tourers.
Weighing in at 3,521 to 3,671 pounds, with a footprint that's 6 percent larger than the 2013 Porsche 911's, the F-Type is no minimalist enthusiast's machine. With up to 495 horsepower on tap--and 340 horsepower in its least-powerful form--it's also not a lesson in momentum maintenance and apex speeds.
But between the balanced street-tuned suspension, throaty exhaust notes, abundant torque, balanced chassis, and massive grip, the F-Type ultimately validates Jaguar's claims of a return to the sports car game--whatever the numbers say, whatever the time lapse since the last one.
The Entry Point To F-Type
There are three main flavors to the 2014 F-Type: the base model, named simply "F-Type," the F-Type S, and the F-Type V8 S. Between the three, the primary differences are engine output or type; optional equipment availability; and suspension configuration.
The base F-Type, starting at $69,000 (though it can quickly rise from there) sports a supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 engine rated at 340 horsepower. Good for 5.1-second 0-60 mph runs and a top speed of 161 mph, the base F-Type comes standard with 18-inch wheels and cloth seats. It's the lightest of the group, weighing 3,521 pounds, but it misses out on the Adaptive Dynamic Suspension system, which improves not only ride quality, but handling, in the V6 S and V8 S, where it's standard.
The base F-Type also misses out on Jaguar's very well-tuned performance electronics system, available only on the S and V8 S. With a Configurable Dynamics option offering control over throttle and transmission response, steering weight, and suspension settings (for Adaptive Dynamics-equipped cars), the F-Type lets you tailor the car's driving feel to fit your uses.
But what's it like behind the wheel? In base form, the F-Type is quick, but not particularly inspiring. The low-end torque is good, but, given the car's weight, not great. Once you muscle past the 3,500-rpm mark, however, things liven up greatly.
If you've opted for the two-mode exhaust system (our test car was fitted with it) the sound wakes up even more, right around the same transition point. Going from quiet and understated (if a bit pedestrian) the sound comes alive, giving even the base F-Type a pleasant bark, particularly on upshifts and downshifts.
When it's time to wipe away the perma-grin installed by straight-line pedal mashing and start turning corners, the F-Type is equally happy to oblige.