TEST DRIVE: JAGUAR F-TYPE

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If it feels like a long time since Jaguar last launched an all-new two-seat roadster, that’s because it has been. Fifty-two years, to be exact. The Beatles hadn’t yet graduated from Hamburg’s Repperbahn when the E-Type drove onto the world’s stage. For four decades, since that legendary car ceased production, there’s been talk of an F-Type.

There was the XJS (a chassis so ancient by the end that it was found to have cave paintings on it) and the XK8, but these were 2+2s; big wafting GTs, not rasping sports cars. Finally, Jaguar has deemed it the right time to release the E-Type’s spiritual successor but, make no mistake, this isn’t a retro flirtation like, say, BMW’s Mini. Instead, designer Ian Callum’s team have taken key Jaguar ingredients from the kitchen cupboard in Coventry and whipped up something totally fresh, new and forward-looking. This isn’t a 21st century re-imagining of a swinging 60s icon, this is a symbol of art, sex, power and freedom today.

One wonders why the long wait. It’s not like two-seat convertibles went out of fashion, or that £70,000 cars with iconic badges have failed to sell. Quite the opposite. Jaguar needs to sex up its image? Sure, but again this has been overdue for decades. The timing of the F-Type’s arrival is something of a mystery, but no less welcome.

The aluminium body is discrete yet with a certain design flourish, like a Mont Blanc pen. The wheelbase looks long because the overhangs are as blunt as a broken pencil, and this makes it look pleasingly chuckable. The nose, with those snarling air intakes either side of the grille, is aggressive. The headlights, slightly reminiscent of the Nissan 350Z were, I am told, inspired by the Star Wars Tie Fighter. Geek alert in the Jaguar design office!

Ultimately, though, I find the front a little unremarkable. It’s nothing less than handsome, but it doesn’t snap knicker elastic in the same way as the snout of an Aston, or even a Porsche. Back in the day Sir William Lyon’s company built the most beautiful cars in the world, so stunning that Enzo Ferrari finally realized, when he saw the E-Type, that it’s not all about the engine and commissioned his first wind tunnel. Compare the front of the F-Type to Ferrari’s F12, you have to give the Italians the ovation.

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It’s better news around the back, where its muscles are hunched. The rear lights cut around the side of the car and right up around the boot lid. It’s dynamic and individual. The three-quarter view from behind the car and down the side, beyond the marque-engraved chrome air intake behind the front wheels, is the most seductive and ranks alongside Callum’s best work, which includes Aston’s picture perfect DB9. One notes, when looking at Callum’s back catalogue, that his cars age very gracefully.

Inside, the big passenger grab handle on the centre console hints at the hooliganism that awaits. The three-spoke steering wheel is large, girthy and slightly raked, rather like that of a 70s sports car. The air vents in the centre of the cockpit are cunningly hidden inside the dashboard and rise silently at the touch of the A/C dial. It’s an unusual feature with a very nice action. The gear lever is like a joystick and the paddles behind the wheel, coated in gold paint (charmingly medallion-man), have very little travel and shifting feels like PlayStation. The sensation, therefore, would feel disconnected were it not for the sound of the cat’s engine.

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Down by the gear lever are a rank of buttons that control the dynamics settings and engine note. You can individually select sport settings for the engine, suspension, gears etc and turn the exhaust note up and down. While in ‘Dynamic’ mode the gearshifts sound feral but it’s in standard mode with the volume turned up that the shifts sound the most characterful. Foot down and filling its lungs with petrol, flick the paddle near the red line and it produces a brass ‘parp’ sound like the toot of a trombone. On the overrun the exhaust pops and bangs, prompting people to drop their shopping and stare, thinking maybe a war has started.

We’re used to modern Jags being conservative, but the F-Type triggers pedestrians to reach for their camera phones and non-car buffs to befriend you while you’re parking and get all Stephen Bayley about beauty and design, which came as a surprise given its rather restrained aesthetic. Maybe I need to reconsider its initial lack of ‘wow’ factor. It connects with people. It has romance, swagger, soul. It’s not a teutonic machine, like a Porsche, more like an animal. A sleek, proud, roaring hunter; a real jaguar.

But the biggest shock is the way it drives. It feels like a balls-out muscle car. This is no country club convertible, all polished manners and hairspray. It is properly lairy. The car I tested, the 375bhp V6 S, doesn’t half like to wag its tail. Squeeze the throttle more than an inch when coming out of a tight bend and the rear will slide. Lord knows what the 495bhp V8 must be like. Lethal, I would imagine. At over 100km/h a rear spoiler automatically stands to attention, and boy does it need it.

This is not a car for beginners. While Ferrari are going out of their way these days to build hyper-quick cars that can be controlled by rank amateurs, the Jag serves to highlight your shortcomings. Unlike the nannying electro-wizardry of most modern sportscars, this car lets you make mistakes. At the first sign of disrespect it will put you in a hedge hinting, perhaps, what the F in its name stands for.

At £67,000, the S is priced to sit between an optioned-up Boxster S and the 911, but the character couldn’t be more different. The Jag feels more like a Camero, tyre smoke like a jet-stream as it drifts around corners, engine note like a drag racer. Jaguar may be a quintessentially British marque, but there’s an American spirit to this car. It would feel most at home cruising down the Pacific Coast Highway. It’s a Brit with an American twang to their accent, like they’ve spent the last 20 years living in Los Angeles. Exhibit A; Catherine Zeta Jones.

There are more accomplished sports cars than the F-Type, with brains and poise to outgun it but, for sheer grin-triggering joy, the Jag has them beaten. It’s not a throwback car, but it has an old soul and the personality to turn every journey into an adventure. In doing so, it lives up to the lofty expectations caused by its glamorous lineage.

Underneath its elegant modern-cut suit is that retro raver remastered for 2013. While we may not still revere it in half a century, its shelf-life should run well into the next decade and its fun loving ways will never go out of style.

AUTOBIOGRAPHY: JAGUAR F-TYPE S

ENGINE: 3.0-litre supercharged V6

POWER: 375bhp

TORQUE: 460 Nm (340lb/ft)

TRANSMISSION: 8-speed automatic with paddle shift

ACCELERATION 0-100KM/H: 4.9 seconds

TOP SPEED: 275km/h

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