(Pocket-lint) - Brits buy more convertibles than any other nation in Europe. Perhaps it's our obsession with the weather. Despite living under dreary skies for what feels like over half the year (ok, summer 2018 has admittedly been great), we're quiet optimists. And it's why we love cars like the Jaguar F-type convertible, too.
It's over five years since we were in Italy, first driving the F-Type. It doesn't look like a car which has been around that long. The design hasn't dated. There might be a lot of rubbish talked about beauty being in the eye of the beholder. But the F-Type in genuinely pretty. It still turns heads, it's still loved – here in Britain, at least.
Standing still or freshening up?
But stand still for too long and your competition overtakes. So Jaguar has given the F-Type a bit of a freshen up. It's barely touched the design – some new wheels are about as far as it goes on the outside. Inside there's the newer and more colourful InControl Touch interface too.
But the big news is under the bonnet: the F-Type is now available with a 2.0, four-cylinder petrol engine. Whereas previously the cheapest and most efficient F-Type came with a 3.0 V6.
The reason for the new engine is that its turbo-charged nature means it can make 300 horsepower, in order to provide sport-car credible performance, but also deliver fuel efficiency and lower emissions.
That, and a lower entry price, should open up the F-Type to a wider audience and help it compete with its key rival – which also introduced a 2.0, four-cylinder petrol engine quite recently – the Porsche 718 Boxster. We love the Boxster, but not it's guttural-voiced, grumpy engine.
First impressions count
When you've stopped gawping at it from afar, the F-Type continues to impress close-up. The flush door handles scissor out, opening the hefty door in an unusual movement.
The driver's seat position feels ensconced in the cabin by the high beltline and wrap-around centre console. Jaguar has got rid of the copper-coloured touch points sadly (and Polestar has nicked that accent colour now), but the pulsing starter button remains.
Now for the moment of truth: does the four-cylinder ruin the F-Type's appeal? Well, it doesn't sound like someone's rattling marbles in a can (that's a reference to you, 718 Boxster). After a quick starter spin, the F-Type engine fires quickly and blares the revs up to 2000, creating a baritone bark from the exhaust, and a not-unpleasant din from under the bonnet.
The drive is delivered with a certain urgency. It feels like there's plenty of power from the off, and so it proves the minute you blast past a national speed limit sign. Floor the accelerator and the F-Type punches forwards, the engine zipping up through the revs and sounding a whole load better than the equivalent you find in the Porsche.
Ok, so this Jag's no opera singer, like its V6 and V8 brothers, but the exhaust still does a nice bit of trumpeting and crackling if you blast down through the gears, and the sonic ambience that the F-Type has always excelled at just about remains intact.
The longer take
But you don't buy a sports car just for its engine. And luckily, the F-Type is blessed with lots of characteristics that make it a great sports car. Beyond any specific driving dynamics, it has the ability to make you feel good. The driving position is low, but comfortable. The steering wheel is nice to hold. You feel like people are looking at you. And it makes you feel in control.
The steering is great – really accurate and nicely weighted. The ride is compliant – and you can switch the dampers to make it softer or stiffer depending on mood and context. The handling has always seemed up to scratch, and we're sure you'll enjoy a bit of curve carving. But this time we didn't get to try out what this lesser-powered F-Type does in extremis. That's as most owners will use it, and we think they'll be very happy with the way the car drives, but the reduced weight over the front axel (a four-cylinder engine inherently weighing less than a 6- or 8-cylinder) means the Jaguar is keener to turn into bends than before.
We've always liked Jaguar's calibration of the ZF 8-speed automatic gearbox, found in so many brands. And the F-Type proves no different. It's quick to change, it's smooth, it keeps the revs nice and low so the car is quiet and economical on a long motorway run. We even managed nearly 39mpg on a late night motorway cruise to Stansted airport.
However, the combination of a small capacity engine and a turbo charger means the throttle response isn't that sharp. The quick-acting gearbox is quick to change down though, so you're never caught out for long. And there are steering wheel paddles as standard for when you want a quick hit of power.
Showing its age
Under the gleaming summer sun, the picture is pretty rosy in the F-Type's garden. It looks great, it feels great, it drives great. But it's not perfect.
Where Porsche has moved the game on with slick material finishes and new glass screens, the F-Type is showing its age a little. Sure, there's drama, and the thematic design is good enough. But the stitching just seems a little hum-drum, some of the switches and controls feel a bit plasticky. And the tech and points you touch are a bit... well, five years ago. It all works, but it's not high-tech like a contemporary Audi. Or leading in perceived quality, like a Porsche.
You can brighten things up with some fun colours though. May we suggest red seats in your white sports car? Sounds awful, but it genuinely works. And much preferable to an interior that's simply all black.
The key test of a convertible is whether you can live with it year round. Roof up it must be warm and cosy. Roof down – and it must lower and raise quickly – and it needs to be as wind buffet-free as possible in the cabin.
Roof up, the F-Type is hushed enough. Put it down – a quick 15 second process, via a button on the console – and we found it was great around town too. On faster roads and motorways, the Jag is okay if you're not really tall. For people over six-feet, there's quite a lot of wind rustle over the head which chills the bonce, even on a warm summer's night. And at motorway speeds, conversation with your passenger will involve shouting. In this department a Boxster is better.
What might be tougher to live with are the rather compact dimensions of the boot. On the convertible F-Type, you'll struggle to accommodate more than a couple of squashy bags in the back. You aren't going to be able to take your two-week holiday case to the airport in it. You might struggle if your carry-on is of the hard-shell type. So the Jaguar does ask you to make a couple of practical concessions for its beauty. Again, the Boxster's front and rear boot pairing make it the one to choose if you're regularly going to use the car for airport runs or two-up holiday touring.
Price and equipment
With the introduction of the new engine, the F-Type now starts at £51,210 in coupe format, or £56,695 as a convertible (as tested). The range is now relatively simple: there's the F-Type or an F-Type R-Dynamic. High performance 'R' and mad performance 'SVR' versions are available if you want to go nuts.
We tested the R-Dynamic model, which starts at £60,395. As standard on all F-type models you get 18-inch wheels, an active exhaust system (for those pops and crackles), Xenon lights, sports seats, the InControl Touch navigation system, and a very good Meridian sound system. R-Dynamic trim adds 19-inch wheels, a switchable exhaust, black gloss trim, LED lights and a few other bits and pieces.
The F-Type is reasonably well equipped, but options fitted to our car you'd want to consider were a black-gloss exterior back, a different design of 19-inch alloys (at a pricey £1045 considering there's not bump-up in size – you can get 20s for the same price, which fill the wheel arches better), a seat memory pack (£1100), heated and cooled seats (£820) – a convertible essential, which Jaguar mandate you have as part of a wider climate pack with heated windscreen and wheel (£1070). The seats are a suede-cloth which we really like, but if you want leather you'll need to spend an extra £2080. You'll also need £255 for front parking sensors, and £470 if you want keyless entry. Our car was specced to £67,320.
Six years after it first appeared, the F-Type's appeal endures based on a mixture of good looks, strong drive and feel-good factor
Jaguar's refreshers bring some new colours, trims, and wheels – but it's that four-cylinder engine that's the big news. It doesn't ruin the car, in the way that the 718 Boxster's sort-of does. Our only rider would be that the 3.0 V6 supercharged version is only £3500 more, and if you've got the money and don't mind the fuel bills, we feel still gives a more appealing F-Type experience, largely due to the engine's extra brawn (40 horsepower) and wonderful noise.
Nonetheless, the new engine widens the appeal. The F-Type is easy to use, easier to like, and the slightly older cabin design and limited practicality are easy to overlook in the context of what is ultimately still one of the best sports cars on the market.
Porsche 718 Boxster
The updated Boxster is imperious – from a driving, usability and easy-to-own point of view. However, the 4-cylinder engine has stripped away some of its character, as it doesn't make a nice noise. Picking between it and an F-Type is now trickier than ever.