Jaguar F-Type pictures and first drive

"Bella, bella!," shout the kids on bikes as we trundle past, through yet another picture-postcard Umbrian village in the new Jaguar F-Type - exhaust note crackling and ricocheting off the walls of surrounding buildings. Even if your grasp of Italian is - like ours - limited, it's not hard to deduce what they think of this car. And as these things go, that one word is a pretty good all-round summary of the F-Type.

We've been waiting a long time to get our hands on the F-Type since Jaguar dropped it on to the Paris motor show floor last September. Sports cars may represent a tiny fraction of the overall car market, but they're important for brand and Jaguar wants you to see the F-Type as representing much about the future of what it is going to stand for. It also follows in the footsteps of some rather impressive forefathers. No pressure then.

But this isn't the place for chat about strategy, positioning or market economics - you'll want to know what it's like to drive.

Before that, it's worth pointing out how your first acquaintance with F-Type is dominated by a set of tactile interactions, set up by Ian Callum and his design team. Plip the car and the flush door handles pop out from their far end, presenting you with a Jaguar inscription on top and an angled handle to clasp (from underneath) in order to pull open the door.

Snuggle down into the low-set sports seat and the dash reclines away from you, accentuated by the wrapping form of the centre console, which envelops the gearshift, defining the driver zone and forming a grab handle for the passenger. Tug the door shut, and (regardless of the leather seat and dash colour of your F-Type), the next thing that stands out is the copper-orange trim. Inspired by the "mode" switch in the Eurofighter jet cockpit, Jaguar has rendered the drive mode select switch - along with the starter button and gearshift paddles - in this contrast orangey hue.

Thumb the starter and the needles swing around the deep-set, hard to read dials while ahead of you a starter motor quickly spins the supercharged V6 into life with a blare of revs, accompanied a split second later by a spit and a crackle from the exhaust behind. It's great fun and applauded and smiled at here in Italy, but be warned that when you start up your F-Type for that 5am airport run back in the UK, your neighbours are very quickly going to hate you - may we suggest a move to Umbria?

What's clear is that the Jag team wanted to make you feel good; feel special when you first climb in. There's theatre to it, which is arguably the antithesis of the approach of certain German firms - no bad thing as far as brand differentiators go.

Out on the road and the F-Type is one of those "clearly good within 500 yards" type of cars. Everything that you interact with from a driving perspective feels just so. The roof drops and raises in 12 seconds. With it down, you can happily cruise along the motorway without too much fear of losing your toupee. We can't tell you what it's like with the roof up - we're British, it's summer and we were in Italy. Even though it rained, the roof stayed firmly stowed.

You sit low and ensconced in the cockpit and even in the early stage of the drive - with the car still in normal mode and with the sports exhaust switched out - it's clear the exhaust note is going to play a pretty fundamental part in proceedings. The steering weight is well judged and the rack is relatively quick - fast enough for hairpins but not so darty that it feels overly alert and twitchy on straights as a Ferrari 458 does.

As the miles roll by, the ride quality stands out. Our test car rode on whopping 20-inch wheels (needed for the F-Type to look its best), but despite Italian road surfaces that make Surrey's look like paragons of smoothness, the F-Type remained composed and comfortable. Only on the very worst craggy surfaces did it occasionally graze its chin or we detect any scuttle shake. We can think of several cars where we'd have had to slow down just for the sake of our buttocks. In the F-Type, we just winced and then cracked on.

And of course, it's quick. Not earth-shatteringly, supercar so in this, the middle - 380 horsepower V6S form that lots of buyers will choose. But it's quick enough to scare you and quick enough to have lots of fun with. Only by the end of day two did we find ourselves wondering just how fun the V8 might be.

Up the mountain pass, you'll also discover that when flicked into "dynamic" mode, and with the (auto only, 8-speed) gearbox over in sport to give you full paddle control, the F-Type is a right little thug of a thing.

It thunders from corner to corner, the V6 making a sharp, nasally holler, augmented by an hilariously tuned exhaust - it pops, bangs and crackles on the overrun - so much so that everyone in the valley below knows you're coming. Full control of the gearbox really does mean full control too - it lets you bang into the rev limiter and bounce off it if you don't grab the right paddle soon enough. The brakes held up rather well too. Overall it's a car that's very easy to drive fast from the get-go, but far from one-dimensional to drive.

With enough space and the traction control fully off, you can doubtless leave tens of metres-long stripes of rubber up the road.

Quibbles? We can see the exhaust getting tedious when you're not in the mood. And on the upshift, the paddles didn’t always seem to summon up the next gear quite as quickly as we'd have liked - it's not a dual clutch box, although the payback is smoother cog shuffling when you're not "on it".

Perhaps more tellingly, you're sometimes quite aware of the weight of the thing. It might look petite, but this car tips the scales at a chunky 1600kg (a fair bit more than a bigger, four-seat 911). Most of the time you can’t tell - but with repeated direction changes through tight switchbacks you sometimes can, and overall its a bit of a letdown given how much aluminium alloy there is in the structure. But none of these are deal breakers.

What might be is the lack of boot space. It's a true roadster, so a fully packed carry-on trolley might challenge the F-Type - you'll need squashy bags. And whatever you do, don't spec one with the optional spare wheel if you want to take anything more than a toothbrush with you.

The technology set-up inside is largely as we've seen before from Jaguar. That means a large centre touchscreen-based system, which we've never truly loved. Subjectively it feels a bit more responsive here, but it's a shame aspects like the satnav graphics didn't get an update for the F-Type. For a full rundown of the tech and tp tell you more about what things like "stealth" mode do, we’ll need to spend more time with the car in the UK.

For now, it's a pretty unqualified thumbs up for the F-Type. Whether you lust for one more than certain German-branded opposition, you'll doubtless have decided long before reading this article.

We'll only comment that the F-Type's character is infectious, it feels - for now at least - exotic and special. We can't wait to get behind the wheel of one again, which is a telling endorsement of any car. To the million-dollar question, is it better than a Porsche? Pass. But give us a week or so and we might be able to give you a few more answers to that question… watch this space.