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Jaguar F-Type Roadster: Confident, competitive

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Jaguar F-Type Roadster: Confident, competitive

The front-engine, rear-wheel-drive two-seater has an aluminum body. The lined soft top folds in 12 seconds at speeds up to 30 mph.

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POSTED September 27, 2013 1:27 a.m.

“All Jaguars have to look fast even when they are standing still.” — Sir William Lyons, founder of Jaguar.

The open pipes of the Jaguar F-Type V8 crackle and snap like a rattail on bare, wet flesh. And, man, does that feel good behind the wheel.

The F-Type “roadster” marks the return of Jaguar as a builder of sports cars. Not everyone knows Jaguar had a bloodline of sports cars. The 1950s and ‘60s were the golden years for the C- and D-Types and then on to the E-Type in the ‘60s. But it has been 50 years since we laid eyes on a new Jag two-seater.

The sports-car landscape today is bristling with competitors — the Audi R8, Aston Martin Vantage, Porsche 911 and new renditions of the SRT Viper and Corvette Stingray.

The F-Type is for impact, Jaguar says — on the brand, on customers and on sales numbers.

There’s no old fogey in the F-Type, which Jaguar calls its most advanced model to date.

The company knew going into this project, at least 31/2 years ago, that if its car was a millimeter less in prowess than a Porsche 911, it would be kicked to the curb as just a gentrified grand tourer.

It was built for speed and efficiency, using an aluminum body, aluminum suspension and aluminum subframe. The variable ratio hydraulic steering is the fastest of any Jaguar, including the XKR. The eight-speed Quickshift automatic was optimized for acceleration. All engines integrate auto stop start at idle.

And it has the ideal front-to-rear sports-car weight distribution of 50:50.

Upon this backbone lie three levels of performance and pricing. The standard F-Type with 340-horsepower, supercharged V6 starts at $69,895. The F-Type S with a 380-horsepower version of the supercharged V6 starts at $81,895 and the Holy Grail F-Type V8 — today’s test car — starts at $92,895 and can run to $105,000. Extras on it included the Firesand Orange metallic paint ($600) and the Performance Pack ($2,950), which includes sport seats, flat-bottom steering wheel and the configurable dynamic mode and selectable active exhaust.

I’ve tested the midrange F-Type S and V-8 models and actually prefer the lightness and quickness to the Type S. But when it is time to impress, the growler V-8 cleaves the way.

The F-Type V8 gets to 60 mph in 4.2 seconds, the V-6 S in 4.8 and the standard model in 5.1 seconds.

As a convertible there is virtually no cowl shake over rough road. And the cabin has good girth for full-figured occupants, a slight advantage over the 911. Trunk space is shallow at 7 cubic feet, which the 911 trumps and also offers a pair of folding jump seats.

But it is the F-Type drivability and styling that makes the personal impact. As designer Wayne Burgess said at the media introduction, it is a sports car “to grab by the scruff of the neck and really drive it.”

Throttle and steering have firm and quick response. Braking is sure from 13.9-inch front discs on the standard model, 12.8-inch rear. The S models get high-performance, 15-inch discs on the front and the V8 gets 14.8-inch rear platters.

S models also get launch mode and limited-slip differential for a high-rpm drag race hole shot

The interior is thoroughly contemporary with a jet-fighter cockpit theme, from a car built in a factory that also built Spitfires during World War II.

The cockpit is a 1+1 philosophy, selfishly focusing on the driver, Burgess said. The passenger is separated by a large and useful grab handle along the center console. There is keyless entry and push-button ignition. The outside door handles lie flat to the aluminum skin and deploy automatically when the driver approaches the car. Three chunky dials regulate air controls and the vents rotate upward when the system is activated. The phosphorous blue gauge lighting switches to red when Sport mode is engaged by the jet-fighterlike switch on the shift console.

Airflow is brisk with the top down, without the standard windscreen, but smooth enough for conversations at highway speeds. The insulated soft top folds in 12 seconds at speeds to 30 mph and Z-fold forms a tidy tonneau.

There were unintentional references to previous Jaguars in the exterior styling, Burgess said, but there is a hint of E-Type in the tapering tail. He used the term “fuselage” to describe the body section at the doors and aircraft-like surfaces, with “shrink-wrapped metal over hood and haunches.” The car has good “dash to axle dimensions,” he said, adding to the balance of long hood and short deck. There’s a good “fruitiness of the rasp” to the V8’s quad tailpipes, he said. From behind, you can ID the V8 by quad pipes and the V6 by center dual exhaust tips.

It was Jaguar design chief Ian Callum who opened the design throttle. “We can afford to be fearless with this car,” he said. “It’s bold, confident and, above all, desirable.”

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