First Drive: 2016 Jaguar F-Type

There are three important developments in the history of humanity that have marked our course from the primordial ooze to bipedal locomotion: the discovery of fire, the development of antibiotics, and the invention of the manual transmission. While a flaming F-Type would be an obvious non-starter, and even I question the utility of an automobile that dispenses life-saving medication, it's only logical that the latest iteration of Jaguar's fantastic sports car be equipped with a clutch.

A uniquely visceral character that's easy to love and hard to duplicate.

The 2016 Jaguar F-Type has not only been blessed with a row-your-own gearbox, but it's also added the trickster of high performance driving to its options list: all-wheel drive. You can choose one of these new tricks but not both – manual is available as RWD only.

A sometimes boon, oft-times blunt object, there's no question that four-wheel motivation opens up a whole new market for the F-Type, especially in Canada. Just how much has the inclusion of a stick and a snow-friendly drivetrain improved Jaguar's coupe-and-convertible threat? At the British brand's invitation, I set out to the Monticello Motor Club's members-only race track to find out.

Have You Ever Been Mellow?

It's rare for an automaker to lead with an autobox and then ret-con in a manual three years into production, which points to just how hungry Jaguar is to score points with enthusiasts. Lurking in the back of my mind as I settled into the driver's seat of the stick-shift F-Type for the first time, however, was a slight twinge of worry. The eight-speed, ZF-sourced automatic that has been standard with the fixed-roof and drop-top versions of the F-Type since the car was introduced for the 2014 model year is in fact one of my favourite gearboxes on the market. Its ability to quickly paddle-swap cogs, matched with the soniferous and rambunctious squall emitted from the car's active exhaust system, give it a uniquely visceral character that's easy to love and hard to duplicate.

It was clear from the get-go that the six-speed that is now available with the 2016 Jaguar F-Type's supercharged V6 (in both base and S form) had an altogether different experience to offer drivers. Gone is the off-throttle burble and rev-matched 'blatt' that accompany the auto unit and in its place is a more direct connection between the throttle and the car's rear wheels. Shift throws are somewhat longer than I would have expected, but clutch engagement is quick and to the point, and purists will be happy to note the absence of any computer-controlled throttle blipping when selecting a lower gear. The 380 horsepower, 3.0L supercharged V6 in the F-Type S that I piloted didn't feel any quicker with the 6MT, but nor did the car's forward momentum feel hampered by the clutch-and-stick setup, even from a launch.

Whither the F-Type's soundtrack? It was explained to me by a member of the Jaguar engineering team that in order to access similar levels of auditory hooliganism in the manual car, one must venture quite high into the rpm range, a journey that fundamentally changes the carefree, HOA-violating nature of the automatic's relationship with the car's twin tailpipes.

Four Wheels Good, Two Wheels…Not Permitted

Jaguar's decision to port its recently-developed all-wheel drive system to the 2016 F-Type is no real surprise, given the sales spike the followed the implementation of a similar strategy with the XJ and XF sedans. Canadians have been trained well by the marketing departments of major automakers to embrace AWD as their saviour, especially in the luxury segment where it's getting harder to find rear-wheel drive models in showrooms.

While Jaguar has chosen to make all-wheel drive an option for six-cylinder editions of both the fixed-roof and open air F-Type (paired with a standard automatic transmission), V8 shoppers aren't given the chance to express a preference. The supercharged 5.0L unit under the hood of the F-Type R is now exclusively mated to AWD. Helping to soften the blow for those who intended to purchase their Jaguar exclusively for the now-verboten burnout factor is the democratization of the 550 hp edition of this motor, which is now available across coupe and convertible lines (displacing last year's less-mighty V8 S drop-top).

Lamenting the loss of what was a truly hairy rear-wheel drive sports car lasts only as long as it takes to fire up the Jaguar F-Type R's ignition and absorb the first few miles behind the wheel. On the street, the additional traction offered by the system is entirely transparent in its operation, and neither it nor the new electric power steering system that has become standard across the F-Type line-up serve to deaden the car's excellent road feel. At the track in Monticello the all-wheel drive setup reveals its true worth in longer corners, where gentle throttle lift allows the vehicle's torque-vectoring rear differential to redistribute the 502 lb-ft of twist generated by the hulking 5.0L mill and expertly nudge the front of the F-Type towards the corner's apex. It's not nearly as dramatic as incinerating the car's 20-inch tires in a four-wheel drift, but it's a hell of a lot faster according to the stopwatch.

More Of Everything, For Less Than You'd Expect

Lost amidst the broad strokes of a manual gearbox and all-wheel drive finding their way onto the 2016 Jaguar F-Type's spec sheet are the improvements that have been made to the car's list of standard features. Must-have options such as the previously-swooned-over active exhaust system and excellent Dynamic driving mode are no longer options for the F-Type S, while all versions of the Jaguar gain surround sound audio, keyless entry, and 14-way power seats with inflatable side bolsters. If you go coupe, you won't have to forsake the sunlight, either, as a full glass roof is included with even base model cars.

These details are important, because they show just how thirsty Jaguar is to expand the market share for what is undoubtedly its most compelling automobile in over a decade. The trifecta of a U-Shift-It tranny, available all-wheel drive, and value-enhancing additional equipment push the F-Type and its $77,500 starting price further into the conversation alongside notables such as the Mercedes-Benz SL-Class, the Chevrolet Corvette Z06, and the Porsche 911. Doing the most you can with the resources you have is the name of the game for a boutique builder like Jaguar, and the amazingly competent character of the F-Type alongside its deep-pocketed rivals is destined to turn more than a few heads - and hopefully, open an even greater percentage of wallets this time around.

Competitors:
Aston-Martin V8 Vantage
BMW M4
Chevrolet Corvette
Porsche Cayman
Venus de Milo

There are three important developments in the history of humanity that have marked our course from the primordial ooze to bipedal... 5/22/2015 10:30:02 AM