The dry, hilly terrain of Catalonia in northeast Spain is where I find myself with Wayne Burgess, one of Jaguar Cars top designers. It's a cool, clear evening in a part of Spain that looks and feels like Northern California, but the conversation turns hot with Burgess's passion as he bends my ear for an hour describing the gorgeous F-Type Coupe, arguably the most beautiful car in production today.
The F-Type is setting the table for everything yet to come from Jaguar, and the car seems to be doing all the right things. Seventy-five per cent of F-Type convertible owners are "conquest" sales, which means those buyers previously owned another brand of car, most likely a German one. The Coupe, however, should conquest 90 per cent of its sales. Look out Porsche Cayman and 911, to name two.
This new Jag's looks start the conversation, and the on-road/on-track performance punctuates a long and bountiful sentence.
The car has a light touch, one quick to take a driver's inputs and do the right things with them. The balance is superb and the power – well, the $109,900 F-Type R is a 550-horsepower beast with a supercharged V-8 that will do 0-100 km/hour in 4.2 seconds, with a top speed of 300 km/hour (limited). No one needs to be race-certified to appreciate the range topper at Jag, but it helps, of course. Because this car will carve corners with the best in the world.
Even the 340-hp starter ($72,900) is a joy and really very close to the 380-hp F-Type S ($84,900) in its road manners. Both cars have 3.0-litre, supercharged V-6 engines and in terms of looks, they're virtually identical. Think about that when you're mulling your purchase. And also think about the coupe's trunk with space to accommodate two sets of golf clubs.
Of course, the Jag engineers have plenty to say about the hardware. The F Coupe is available with Jag's second-generation electronic active differential and an all-new torque vectoring system that will make you a hero on the track by enhancing the car's agility and handling at the limit through clever and intelligent brake applications while cornering.
Jag has loaded up the F-Type with all the expected driver's performance and comfort aids, not least of which is the adaptive dynamics system. It actively controls vertical body movement, roll-and-pitch rates based on driver inputs and the way the car is behaving on the road – adjusting damper rates accordingly up to 500 times a second to optimize stability. So you feel both comfortable and safe at high speeds on the race course, or just tooling down a country road. I know this because I've done both, on the track portion at the FIA-approved Motorland Aragon, and the road bits all around this northern Spain city about 1.5 hours from Barcelona.
It is perhaps the most important part of the performance story. But in a car so gorgeous, it's the sort of thing that at first gets overlooked.
"We take a very pure route to creating satisfying cars," says Burgess in an interview at the auto maker's introduction of the car to select media. "And, of course, if you've got the right proportions, then all of the details are just gravy after that."
Symmetry and balance are at the heart of anything beautiful, in particular a premium sports car like the F-Type Coupe. It follows the classic formula of sports car design: long nose, short rear deck, 50-50 weight distribution. But move beyond any sense of admiration for one particular design element or the other, such as the Jag's characteristic fuselage sections, and you'll find something emotional. Look at it and you pause, wet your lip, sigh with admiration. You don't think about it; you just feel, and when you do, you feel sexy and alive.
"This is the car that I dreamed about when I was a 14-year-old kid," Burgess says. "This is the car that I wanted to see on a poster on my bedroom wall. This is the car with that appeal. This is the kind of car that kids will tell their dads and moms to buy. … We worked very, very hard to get the [F-Type] convertible proportions to be absolutely stunning."
The F-Type Coupe is identical to the open-top car, other than the permanent hard top.
"When you plant the roof on that car, you actually use it as a device to emphasize and exaggerate the proportions that it's already got," he says. "So the cabin is positioned rearward, right over the rear axle, really emphasizing that front engine, rear-wheel drive, two-seater sports car – the almost classical proportions that the F-Type has."
It's impossible to overemphasize how important design is to Jaguar, and how critical the F-Type is to the future of a British brand that began life in 1922 as the Swallow Sidecar Company. The founders were two friends from Blackpool, England, William Walmsley and William Lyons (later to become Sir William Lyons). After the Second World War, the company was renamed Jaguar and since then it has been on a roller-coaster ride that seems headed for a serious upswing in fortune under Tata of India, the owners who bought Jaguar Land Rover from Ford in 2009. Jaguar Cars has been undergoing a design revolution, starting with the XK sports car back in 2006, then the XF and the XJ.
"Those cars were very different from their predecessors," says Burgess. "They moved Jaguar design forward. So having undergone that design revolution, we've now reached a period of consolidation, where we make our cars recognizable (as all part of the Jaguar brand)."
Indeed, the F-Type Coupe, "is about creating the best-possible proportions – trying to do best-in-class proportions, in fact. And having a minimum of super-dynamic lines on the car, lines that appear spontaneous, even though it takes three or four years to get them to look that way. And unifying these elements with pure, confident surfaces."
Just consider the grille. It's not a reinterpretation of the E-Type grille, nor an ellipsis that harkens back to Jaguars of decades ago. Instead, it takes its inspiration and key elements from the current XJ and XF.
"We want to have a common grille as part of the Jaguar face that people recognize," Burgess says. "Likewise, the LED J-blades, as we call them. They again have become a common feature of Jaguar cars. So the lamp graphics might be different from car to car, but that J-blade element will become will become a recognizable Jaguar signature. It's important to build a recognizable identity for Jaguar cars."
The F-Type, the 2015 coupe and the convertible launched last year to global acclaim, cast a halo over the entire brand. They are to Jaguar in 2014 what the fabulous E-Type was to the company in the early 1960s. That is to say, everything.
The writer was a guest of the auto maker.
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