You already know three-pedal manual transmissions aren’t the “performance option” anymore. The V8-powered 2016 Jaguar F-Type R is now all-wheel drive only in the U.S., so it can set you straight from an overcooked corner, but there’s more to sports cars than lap times. And the Jag’s new old-school six-speed manual option is just pure joy.
(Full Disclosure: Jaguar Land Rover put me up in a couple great hotels and fed me some really nice food for two days so I could try a few variations of the F-Type along with the Range Rover Sport SVR on road and on track at the Monticello Motor Club. Yeah, it was actually one of the better bribes, I MEAN TRIPS I’ve been on in awhile.)
Don’t worry, I’m not about to blather on about how “a proper manual transmission is the only pure driving experience.” I don’t care if you take your mom’s Toyota Sienna to track days so long as you’re earnestly enjoying your drives. And frankly, if you’re going to be a religious radical about pure driving and your own car is anything more advanced than a Benz Patent Motor Wagen you should shut up and let the rest of us have a good time.
But there is a reason we car enthusiasts love to love manuals, in practice and in principle. It’s simply fun to have one more control to play with in the car, it gives you another sub-skill to hone and practice and feel the rush of winning when you nail it. In an era where PDKs, DSGs, and the other high-performance automatic transmissions can take your speed to a whole new level, driving stick is all about self-actualization.
“This car can’t shift without me. It needs me. Driving is a thing and I’m good at it.”
There are twelve variants of the Jaguar F-Type this year, from just three in 2013.
At one end of that lineup we’ve got the F-Type R AWD. In America, if you want a V8 F-Type, it now comes only with AWD, period. It’s also not available with a manual transmission in that trim level.
Enough about what it isn’t, let’s talk about what it is. Powered by the same fearsome supercharged V8 that turns the Range Rover Sport SVR into an on-track terror, the F-Type R AWD is a freaking rocket ship. And not some hand-crank-powered Apollo 11 nonsense, more like Starship Enterprise.
Summon the fury of a race-car exhaust… at the push of a button. Rip through shifts with professional precision… by flicking the gearbox into “S.” Try your darnedest to turn tires to ribbons with a great glorious powerslide… and the AWD system will rearrange power distribution to get you back on the racing line.
The R AWD is a spectacularly performing car. And yes, of course it’s a hoot to drive. But when a no-skill n00b like me can take a few laps with a tamed racing driver riding shotgun and make him say; “Wow. That was… actually pretty good.” You step back and start to realize these cars are damn near driving themselves.
If you’re on this side of automotive fanaticism; where every microsecond off your lap time is all that matters, you’re gonna have to celebrate when sports cars come with a button that turns the vehicle completely autonomous ‘round the track because that is the only possible final form of ultra-advanced driving aids.
So let’s take a step back, relax, and look at the other end of the F-Type spectrum. Sunday morning; you’re in your F-Type S, the one with the supercharged V6. Sun’s out, sunglasses on, a beautiful companion riding in the other seat. This is fun, this is how you actually end up using the darn thing because going to a race track costs a fortune and great driving roads are just an hour away from pretty much anywhere.
You don’t want to be slamming through gears like an F1 driver, and you sure shouldn’t be whipping corners so hard you need an advanced AWD system to activate the pull-wheels and save you from dumping it into a ditch.
What you do want is connection to the car. The feeling that you’re a driving hero, kicking the pedals and rowing the shifter like you’re in an exercise video. In a rear-drive V6 Jaguar F-Type S, which you can finally order with a real and wonderful six-speed ZF manual gearbox for 2016, you can do just that.
Serious performance is absolutely there; the thing’s got almost 400 horsepower and brakes that could have been hubcaps ten years ago. But you get to work for it a little; there’s a lot of pedal travel and no auto-rev match. And all that makes the F-Type S manual so much fun.
Clutch is nicely weighted; heavier than a Honda, lighter than a Porsche. Shifting is easy with throws on the short side but a little longer an a wrist-flick. The only thing that really gets you fezzed up is the cupholder position. If you go grande or bigger, you’re gonna have a problem shifting without spilling your coffee. (See? I’m no psycho purist).
Breathtaking design and truly exquisite interior materials bring just enough theatre into the driving experience to really make you feel special in this car without giving you a headache. Those cooling vents up top retract when you turn off the climate control, stitched leather is straight out of a strip club. I mean, like, a classy one decorated with from a Restoration Hardware catalogue.
Want some comparisons to other modern sports cars I’ve driven? All variants of the F-Type are basically between the overwhelming insanity of the Alfa Romeo 4C and the razor-sharp perfection of the Porsche Cayman GTS.
And the Jag’s so much easier to live with. Not much cargo space but your grandpa or a short-skirt-wearing passenger can easily climb in or out of an F-Type with their dignity in tact… an impossible task with either of the afore mentioned machines.
So I’m ready to go ahead and admit that I have a new dream car: an F-Type S in British Racing Green with black trim, a red interior, black wheels, the “purist” manual transmission option and about $7,000 worth of very un-purist heated, cooled, comfort options. It’s got all the speed you need and more style than I could ever hope to have. But even with the V6, it comes to the cash register just shy of $90,000... so I guess I’ll be checking classifieds for my Jaguar fantasy in about a decade.
The 2016 F-Type: from the people who brought you the XJ6. And the XJ220. And it shows. And it’s great.
Images by Jaguar and the author
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