Few cars have had such a dramatic impact on the shape of things to come. More than a half century after its debut, the Jaguar E-Type still looks surprisingly timeless, which may be why the British maker took so long for a reprise. It’s come close a few times, with sports coupes like the XK. But finally, Jaguar is back in the sports car game, with the striking new F-Type. Its sleek and sensuous lines demanding a gentle caress, we find one waiting for us on a chilly morning in Pamplona, Spain, its brilliant orange matching the first flames of the sun peeking out over the nearby hills.
“I could feel the E-Type all the time while we were designing the F-Type,” confides Ian Callum, Jaguar’s global design chief. It was both a blessing and a curse, setting a benchmark that had stymied so many of his predecessors. In the end, Callum found a balance that is anything but a retro-mobile. There are subtle hints of the past, but even the classic oval Jaguar grille has been reshaped and refined. New regulations require such basics as a true rear bumper. On the other hand, the new F-Type avoids the oversized butt seemingly ubiquitous these days, resolving aerodynamic challenges with a pop-up wing. Another slick trick: hidden door handles that pop out only when you’re ready to climb in.
Slip behind the wheel and the cockpit envelops you like a glove. You are met with proper gauges—as well as a reconfigurable LCD display—and real knobs, buttons and switches. The maker did accede to modern fads with the push-button start. Give it a tap and the engine fires up with a resonant rumble. This morning we’ll head into the mountains of northern Spain inside the F-Type V8 (starting at $92,000), with its supercharged 5.0-liter “eight-banger” blasting out 495 hp and 460 lb.-ft. of torque. With its all-aluminum body and chassis weighing a modest 3,700 pounds, it doesn’t take much to nudge the sports car into triple-digit territory, 60 mph coming up after a static launch in a mere 4.2 seconds. For those who don’t quite need that neck-snapping power, there’s also a 340-hp Jaguar F-Type V6 ($59,000) and the mid-range V6 S, at 380 hp ($81,000).
Raw power is only part of the equation, we discover, during a long, back-country drive and a few hours on the challenging Circuito de Navarra race track. The new F-Type is predictably sure-footed and responsive to even the most subtle driver inputs, encouraging you to take risks, but quickly forgiving all but the biggest mistakes.
Is this the best sports car on the road, as Jaguar contends? You’ll have a lively debate with diehard Ferrari and Porsche fans. But the F-Type will certainly challenge their faith. It’s been a long and frustrating wait for the Brits to get back into the sports car market, but the results are unquestionably worth it.