For most of us, automotive passion isn't a calculus derived from crunching horsepower numbers, acceleration figures, and braking distances. It's the intangibles - the way the tailpipes burble and roar through a tunnel, the glint of the sun off the cowl on a country road, the smell of unburned hydrocarbons wafting back into the cockpit at a stoplight - that play an equally important role in developing a bond with a specific vehicle.
For anyone who's been within twenty feet of the 2016 Jaguar F-Type roadster this is easy enough to understand. The British drop-top doesn't even have to be running to elicit a double take, as its painfully gorgeous sheet metal stops even the least auto-aware individual in their tracks and commands their attention for a second or two. Far more than a pleasant interruption on an afternoon walk, the Jaguar also happens to be one of the most compelling-to-drive sports cars to have been turned loose on the public in the past decade.
More, And Less, For 2016
First, some housekeeping: Jaguar has made some important tweaks to the basic F-Type formula for the 2016 model year. In addition to offering a manual transmission with six-cylinder editions - a nod to purists upset by the auto-only line-up initially presented by the F-Type - the company has bet big with all-wheel drive. Optional on entry-level and S versions of the F-Type, all-wheel drive is now standard equipment for the eight-cylinder F-Type R. This means more foul-weather grip across the board (and hopefully an influx of four-seasons customers into Jaguar showrooms), but less hoonish fun doing donuts in the parking lot after work on a Friday afternoon. It also means that the R model is now available as both a coupe and convertible, with the V8 S fleeing the scene in a cloud of rear-wheel drive smoke.
Torque Split Is The Only Invisible Aspect Of The F-Type
My tester for the week was an all-wheel drive Jaguar F-Type S, which features a 3.0-litre, supercharged V6 engine good for 380 horsepower and 339 lb-ft of torque. These numbers are unchanged from 2015, but the all-wheel drive system has added about 80 extra kilos to the mix and shifted the balance of the car marginally towards the front axle.
Although it might be a tenth or so slower in a straight line, I was happy to discover that the F-Type S hasn't surrendered any of its handling chops or road feel to the imposition of four-wheel locomotion. The company claims that 100 percent of engine output is shunted to the rear wheels in most driving situations, with the potential for a 50/50 split occurring only when traction conditions warrant. It's impressive how Jaguar has managed avoid a feedback dead zone resulting from the inclusion of a front differential and a new electric power steering system - the F-Type is still a pleasure to guide through the rolling hills and narrow two-lane roads the criss-cross the Lake Brome-to-Lennoxville pathway through the Eastern Townships of Quebec.
I'm a diehard manual transmission enthusiast, but that doesn't make me a Luddite when it comes to the march of progress. All-wheel drive F-Types are restricted to the brand's ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic, a unit that eschews dual-clutch complication in favour of a traditional torque converter. This is far from a handicap when it comes to spirited driving - in fact, the eight-speed box is my favourite auto unit on the market, due in large part to the sonic fury unleashed when combining Jaguar's Dynamic driving mode and active exhaust system.
Blipping the throttle on downshifts calls down crackling hellfire from the car's centre-mounted tailpipes as a few drops of raw fuel are dumped in in an effort to wake the dead with the F-Type's audio assault. It's an experience you just don't get with the manual version of the roadster or coupe, which have been subjected to different programming for their off-throttle exhortations. The Jaguar's aural aspect is the cement that holds together the entire F-Type experience for me, and the smooth-shifting eight-speed would be my pick when ordering the automobile.
The Heart, Not The Head
The 2016 Jaguar F-Type S AWD stands apart from its would-be German rivals like the BMW M4, the Mercedes-AMG GT, and the Porsche 911 by making a play for our hearts, rather than satisfying the quantitative rigor of the grey matter located in the left hemisphere of our heads. Rather than focusing on lap times and drag strip achievements - included, but not emphasized, by the car - the F-Type gains access to our respective ventricles by the ear, the eye, and the upward twitch of the corners of our mouths.
How many times can I fall in love with the same car before I realize it was meant to be? This Jaguar roadster connects with the driver in a way few of its more mechanically-gifted rivals can, and it's that ability to bridge the gap between meat and machine that makes the F-Type one of the most intriguing sports cars money can buy.