Engine: 2,995cc, V6 cylinders, 24 valves, supercharged, 380bhp
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Performance: 171mph, 0-62 in 4.9 seconds, 31.0mpg, CO2 213g/km
As gestations go, this must be a record. The predecessor of the squat-looking sports car you see here was launched in 1961 and ended production in 1974. That predecessor was Jaguar's ultra-famous E-type, a two-seater fantasy on wheels and the cheapest way at the time to do (a claimed) 150mph. Since then, Jaguar has periodically tantalised us with ideas for "the new E-type", naturally bearing an F-type name. They came to nought.
Until now. Finally, in 2013, here is the Jaguar F-type. It's shorter than the XK that we used to regard as the E-type's spiritual successor, thanks to a compact two-seater cabin and a chopped-off tail, and is intended to be the racy sportster to the XK's grand tourer. So it costs less and can be had with V6 engines as well as an XK-like V8. Initially it comes just as an open roadster, but a coupé will join the range later.
The F-type's character is far removed from the XK's. You know this the instant you start the engine, upon which a blustery, sharp-edged burble rends the air. All three of the engines offered do this – the 3.0-litre V6s with 340 or 380bhp and the 5.0-litre V8 with 495bhp. All are supercharged, and all send their efforts through a ZF eight-speed automatic transmission.
An automatic doesn't sound very sporting, but this is far removed from the notion of a luxury car's self-shifter. It behaves much like the double-clutch transmissions nowadays de rigueur for powerful sporting cars, with paddle-shifters on the steering wheel and a quick, definite, non-slurring action.
First off, the 340bhp V6. As with all F-types its all-aluminium body is surprisingly wide, wider even than the XK's. The flanks bulge over the wheels, the nose bears a broadened version of the XF and XJ saloons' front grille, and that truncated tail looks taut and keen with its slender tail-lights. The world had expected a rival to Porsche's Boxster, but the F-type is more corpulent and more expensive, setting it between a Boxster and a 911. Jaguar regards this as an unexploited niche. We'll see.
This first V6 is, frankly, a disappointment. It seems less quick than its power suggests it should be, the steering feels rubbery and anaesthetised, the suspension never quite settles. There's a lot of wind turbulence with the roof down, too, but the speed of its electric-powered folding and unfolding is impressive: 12 seconds. That apart, this is not the car for which we've waited 39 years.
The V6 S, the 380bhp one, however, feels a completely different car. The engine is crisper and punchier, and the switchable "active exhaust" releases yet more fluffs and crackles with each gear change. Adaptive dampers work wonders with the suspension and steering, banishing the choppiness while sharpening the responses so you can feel the F-type's delicious handling balance. Now you can have a terrific time, blipping up and down the gears, powering through bends, thrilling to the pace and the F-type's go-for-it nature.
Given the V6 S's pace, you wonder at the point of the V8 (4.3 secs to 62mph, 186mph). It's slightly less wieldy and a lot thirstier – but it's also hilarious fun, its exhaust crackling like Krakatoa, its tail-out cornering stance a hooligan's delight if the mood takes you. The point is made: both V6 S and V8 are proper sports cars. Worth the wait? Undoubtedly.