The Jaguar F-Type – as either a coupe or a convertible – has proved easy to fall in love with. It's one of the best looking cars in the world, period. And it has been endowed since launch with lovely engine options on either end of the range, athletic rear-drive handling, and a tuneful exhaust that sets one's heart to thumping.
So how does Jaguar improve on such a winning formula? The answer that enthusiasts have hoped for is that Jag offer its sports machine with a traditional manual gearbox. And for the 2016 model year, those hopes have been fulfilled.
Always wiling to take one for the team, I flew out to New York state to drive the 2016 F-Type S Coupe, fitted with the new manual transmission. (The trip included time in the F-Type R AWD that you'll hear more about later, and a long stint in the Range Rover Sport SVR, so I wasn't exactly shy about requesting the gig.) The short version is that the F and the 6MT get along like special sauce, lettuce, and cheese. But for the detailed blow-by-blow follow along.
So, how is the manual? That's the primary force animating this review, after all. The short answers are: great, fine, just dandy. The middleweight clutch (not too light, not too firm) is easy to operate at speed or in heavy traffic. The gearlever offers positive, smooth action, not particularly mechanical, with throws that are of average length. The closest analogous experience I've had is with BMW manuals, though the Jag's clutch is slicker.
But the biggest win for the stick shift in the F-Type is spiritual (if you'll excuse my being a bit romantic). This is after all the heir to the E-Type legend, a stirring rear-drive coupe (or convertible) that looks like wet sex and goes like heaving hell. The eight-speed automatic will continue to offer a more modern driving experience, but the manual just feels right with the car.
You're going to have to prefer that kind of purity over outright speed to get the manual, too. Jag with sell you a hand-shaker with the base, 340-horsepower F-Type or the 380-horse F-Type S, but not with the V8 or new-for-'16 AWD variants.
The supercharged V6 in the S is far from disappointing. Keep the sport exhaust active and you're likely to be the best sounding thing on the road that day, unless you run up on a coffee klatch of Ferraris. Third gear reveals enough torque to pull hellaciously through tight corners, and enough top end to triple the speed limit on the roads that offer those bendy bits (not that I ever would).
Handling on those same roads is exceedingly pleasurable, though not edge-sharp. Jaguar has a nice balance of ride quality and flat-cornering ability here, well suited for spirited weekend driving or even casual cruising. The F-Type S never feels stressful or edgy. It also doesn't feel as sharp as a Porsche Cayman or Boxster, or as mean-minded as a Nissan 370Z. I'd prefer the F-Type Coupe to look at, but the Porsche version of the $70k-ish sports car formula is ultimately more rewarding for me to drive. Your results may vary.
Take a gander at the video we shot in the F-Type, and the scale of my head alone should give away the fact that I'm a gigantic human. At six-feet and five-inches tall, around 240 pounds, I fit into the F-Type coupe, but just. The seats go low to the floor so headroom is decent (I even wore a helmet in the F-Type Coupe R at the track). But laterally I'm almost too wide for the side bolsters, and my knees wouldn't be unsuitable for turning on the windshield wipers if I were feeling acrobatic. You regular people should slide in just fine.
Visibility on the sides and at the rear, is going to be challenging for any sized driver, however. The low, raked glasshouse provides an unblemished forward view, but I was twitching like a squirrel on the highway shoulder when trying to change lanes in city traffic. Easy solution: drive fast enough to stay ahead of the pack.
Just make sure you have a good grasp on where you're headed while pacing the field. JLR doesn't have a great navigation system in its toolbox, and I was constantly almost missing my turns trying to follow the breadcrumbs on this one. Small complaint for a sports car in the era of smart phones, but one weak point in the F-Type armor, nevertheless.
I'm not sure that any measurable factor is made better by this new ZF six-speed. But I hardly care. A fast, foxy machine has been made more involving to drive by way of the new transmission, and shoppers should give it a hard look before they plunk down their cash.