Jaguar’s Back in the Sports Car Business

2014 Jaguar F-Type.

2014 Jaguar F-Type.

Nineteen seventy four was a big year in the timeline of British car brand Jaguar. After more than a dozen years in production, the E-Type (also called the XK-E) was excised from the company’s product line, replaced a year later by a four-seat touring model called the XJ-S.

This was significant for a number of reasons. First, it meant that for the first time in decades, there was no two-seat sports car with the famous Jaguar badge. There was also no open-top model, though the XJ-S would eventually get a cabriolet version. Many purists knew that an era had come to an end.

Beyond that, the discontinuation of the E-Type meant that one of the most storied and talked about designs of the post-WWII era was gone. Debuting at the 1961 Geneva auto show, the E-Type is to this day a shape that nearly everyone recognizes as striking and beautiful.

Let’s zip ahead a few decades and look at the company that exists in the 21st century. Owned by Indian conglomerate Tata — yet still thoroughly British — Jaguar wants to be a player in as many premium segments as possible, and the long-rumored two-seater has returned to Jaguar showrooms.

The F-Type takes up where the E-Type left off back in ’74, in the literal sense with its alphabetically appropriate model name, as well as in the spirit of its forebear. It’s a two seat sports car with a folding convertible roof, dazzling performance, and a striking design. Jaguar is back in the premium sports car business.

While there was some talk of doing a retro design that would mimic the E-Type, modern safety standards made that too much of a challenge, and probably would have resulted in a rather clumsy appearance. Instead, a modern car with some classic lines is more appropriate.

From the front, the heritage is evident. The wide-mouth grill inlet is pure Jag, and the long hood (or “bonnet” to the British) tilts from the front just it did on the E. Subtle strakes and inlets here and there take you to the rear of the car, where a short overhang gives a purposeful look.

The structure is aluminum for weight savings, and the power folding soft top raises or lowers in just 12 seconds. You can even do this while on the way, at speeds up to 30 miles per hour. Perfect for dealing with changing weather while stuck in traffic.

Back in the E-Type’s day, a long inline 6 or later a long and wide V12 filled the engine bay, but the F-Type goes with modern V6 or V8 power. The base engine is a supercharged 3.0 liter V6 making 340 horsepower, and the S variant gets its power bumped up to 380 horsepower with the same size engine. You can go whole hog and choose the V8 S, where a supercharged 5.0 liter V8 makes 495 horsepower.

You won’t be shifting your own gears in this new Jaguar sports car, at least not involving a clutch pedal. The sole transmission is an 8-speed automatic with a sport mode and manual paddle shifters. For the very few people who demand a traditional manual gearbox these days, it’s just not worth the development and certification expense for a car company to offer one.

I’d been asking Jaguar for a test car for months, with the car having started trickling into showrooms even before its official media launch in August. When they finally had one to toss my way, they went all out. A metallic burnt orange S V8 was mine for a week, and I enjoyed every second behind the wheel. Heck, I even enjoyed it when it was sitting still in my driveway. It’s that handsome a car.

Obviously the driving is what a car like this is all about. Tapping the starter button brings the engine to life, and if the top is down you hear a nice bark from the exhaust pipes exiting just a few feet behind you. Handling is crisp and sure, and there is ample comfort, to the point this would be an easy car to drive day-in and day-out.

Like the E-Type back in the day, the price of admission into an F-Type today is steep. Base price for the car is $69,000, and my fully-loaded V8 S topped $100,000 with options.

Expensive, attractive, and fun to drive. Yes, Jaguar picked up right where it left off nearly 40 years ago.

I’ll see you down the road.

Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net Twitter: @ABC7DaveKunz, Facebook: ABC7DaveKunz