How much can you tell about a car by sitting in its passenger seat? Not as much as by driving it of course, but the opportunity to take a seat in Jaguar’s new F-Type does provide some early indications of what the most eagerly awaited car of 2013 will be like on the road when it goes on sale this spring.
Passenger rides are a well-established tool that PR departments use to garner more coverage before a new car is given to journalists for testing. The process doesn’t really give a detailed impression of how a car will perform, but it does give an indication and the chance to see Jaguar’s new two-seater convertible being thrown around by Tim Clarke, the firm’s chief power-train engineer, is simply too good to turn down.
Since its launch at the Paris motor show last year the F-Type hasn't been short of publicity, but in the metal and on Welsh roads with a good coating mud, it looks fantastic. It’s a car Jaguar’s design chief Ian Callum admits he’s wanted to design since he was a boy. And like all the best car designs it could be illustrated with one sleek line from its raised rear and spoiler (which pops up at speed) to its flared wheel arches and aggressive front end. Inside there’s not a touch of wood in sight and just the right combination of sharp styling and clever detailing, such as pop-up heaters that emerge when the roof is down.
It’s a pretty car then, but how does it perform on the road? Again it’s hard to tell from the passenger seat, but Clarke is able to push it around with poise and take it to the limits of traction on slippery roads without it misbehaving. It follows the classic rear-wheel drive and front engine sports-car formula and prices will start at £58,500 in April. It will have a three-strong engine line-up; two V6s and a V8. The entry-level engine will offer 335bhp, give a 0-62mph time of 5.3 seconds and hit a limited top speed of 161mph, while the more powerful V8 engine in the S specification will produce 488bhp to hit 62mph in 4.5 seconds before topping out at a speed of 186mph.
These are all just number though, says Clarke explaining that 0-62 mph times have become almost meaningless in modern performance cars. “It’s all about how you deploy that power,” he adds as he squirts the V6 S we’re in out of a damp Welsh bend. And as far as I can tell from the passenger seat that power is laid down well and with precision. The ride is firm as a sports car should be, but it isn't overly tough or unforgiving. It seems that the engineers at Jaguar haven’t fallen for the trap of tuning it for Nürburgring – the demanding German road circuit often used by sports car manufacturers – but have instead carried out much of the development work on the 'real' roads of north Wales. Clarke and I follow the route of the so-called Evo Triangle – a road loop made famous by the motoring magazine of the same name. They are challenging roads with tight bends, hairpins and fast straights and the F-Type acquits itself well in both the V6 and V8 form. We won’t know for sure until getting behind the wheel, but by the sweet note of the smaller engine it sounds like the V6 S will offer the ideal blend of power and noise in the F-Type engine range.
I finish up with Jaguar’s chief engineer Mike Cross to my right for a final B-Road blast. “It’s important that a car drives like it looks,” he says. The F-Type certainly looks (and sounds) the part and by early indications it feels like it will handle and ride well. Beyond that it’s hard to give a full impression from the passenger seat, but watch this space to find out more in April and see if the hype really is to be believed.