The new F-Type is the sportiest and most driver-focussed vehicle to come out of the Jaguar factory since the legendary E-Type of the ’60s and rabid XJ220 supercar of the mid-’90s. The V6 supercharged version you see here may not be as angry as the range-topping V8 S but it is as vicious and every bit as capable as its contemporary German rivals. Of course, no sports car evaluation can be considered a true test of speed and handling if a spiralling stretch of asphalt isn’t included in the itinerary. So we headed to the southernmost tip of the Cape peninsula, home to some of SA’s most pristine coastal rollercoaster drives, to test the F-Type’s performance and dynamics as well as to ascertain whether it can rekindle the tenets and emotion that first made this brand such an iconic automaker.

Body armour

At first glance our Rhodium Silver F-Type appears much bigger than the pictures suggest. At 4470mm long and 1923mm wide it’s a pretty burly and solid-looking chunk of metal but not in a negative sense. It looks proper – athletic yet lithe enough to cut through the air like a shark through water. Speaking of sharks, the F-Type bears an uncanny resemblance to the aquatic predator, especially from the front, where a collection of slatted air inlets, a sculpted clamshell bonnet and open-mouth grille impart a rather aggressive appearance. Aggressive too are the muscular haunches that house massive 295-section 20-inch wheels, but it’s only once you view it from a three-quarter angle that you truly appreciate its classical physique. Some touches echo the immortal E-Type, such as the centrally-arranged dual exhaust outlets and sleek tail-lamp design. So now that we’ve established it’s a beautiful car from the outside, what’s it like when you step over the sills and climb in to the driving seat?

In the driving seat

Once inside you’re surrounded by a non-intimidating, driver-focused cabin that’s been treated to just the right mix of luxury, style and charisma. While it lacks the tactile refinement and fit and finish of the rivalling Germans, everything has been tailored with the driver in mind. Position yourself in the cosseting racing bucket seat, clasp the thick-rimmed steering wheel and you feel as if you’re sitting only millimetres off the road surface – an illusion created by the high waistline of the doors. The instrumentation is clearly marked and laid out with all the important items such as the exhaust note amplifier, rear spoiler, roof and drive mode buttons residing nearby on the transmission tunnel. You’ll also notice the F-Type uses a joystick-style gear selector instead of the rotary dial we’ve become accustomed to in recent Jaguars. The interior, however, isn’t perfect and there are a few bugbears, one of which is the dull monochromatic palette. Why Jaguar didn’t option it with contrasting leather and trim I don’t know, but thankfully the copper-coloured engine start button, drive mode toggle and paddle shifters do add some colour variation. The other issue is the lack of luggage space. As a sports car, the F-Type is naturally not a very practical machine so there aren’t any rear seats, and the boot – rated at 193 litres – is more of a letter box than a bona fide storage area.

The rocketship experience

A longitudinally- mounted V6 rests up front and drives the rear wheels through an eight-speed ZF automatic ’box. This isn’t just any V6 however – this one is breathed upon by a Roots-type twin Vortex supercharger that helps pump out an impressive 280kW and 460Nm of torque. Not huge numbers by today’s performance car standards, but the broad spread of torque available between 3500-5000rpm supplies a linear, almost naturally aspirated-like power delivery. The 3.0-litre V6 delivers the perfect balance between power, torque and emotion so chasing the vanishing point of the distant horizon is a rather simple exercise. Zero to 100kph takes just 5.04secs, the quarter-mile 13.39 and the top speed is pegged at 275kph. Aah, but just how good is the ZF transmission I hear you say? The answer: faultless. Who needs a double-clutcher when a quick-shifting torque converter – when mapped correctly – can provide up-changes and intuitive downshifts as effectively as this transmission? Stopping power is just as impressive as the performance figures, the F-Type needing only 37m and 2.7secs to come to a complete stop from 100kph. But what’s a Jaguar sports car without the ominous soundtrack to match? The V6 S is far louder than I expected. Even louder when you fold away the roof – it growls and cusses as you pin the gas and explodes into a Travis Barker-like drum solo on the overrun. Press the sports exhaust button, place the transmission in manual with Dynamic mode selected and the F-Type transforms into a sonic mortar, shooting mechanical profanities from its centrally arranged double-barrel exhaust system with every change of gear. It’s freakin’ awesome.

Through the twists and turns

After treating the locals to a mechanical concert, my first chance to test the F-Type’s handling abilities avails itself in the form of Red Hill road, just above Simon’s Town. The car feels right at home in such a curvaceous environment. With Dynamic selected the throttle becomes sharper, the steering weightier, the shifts quicker, the adaptive dampers firmer and the electronic nanny’s safety grip a little looser. Tuck it into a corner and the first thing you’ll notice is the F-Type’s steering. It’s a touch on the light side but is direct and responsive. It turns in accurately thanks to the 50:50 weight distribution, reinforced underpinnings and a pukka mechanical limited-slip differential, which allows you to lean on the car’s huge reserves of grip as it marshals torque across the rear axle. It’s all very confidence inspiring and you quickly forget you’re driving a drop-top vehicle such is its stability and roadholding prowess. That said, it’s not always point-and-shoot – get too enthusiastic with the throttle pedal and things can go awry. Surprisingly, the ride quality hasn’t been compromised by the double wishbone suspension arrangement, firm damping and big wheels. It’s actually pretty good, and while bumpier surfaces do permeate the cabin, the overall ride quality is impressive for a vehicle of this calibre.

Decision time

The Jaguar F-Type is one of the most entertaining drives of 2013. In fact, it’s difficult to drive it without smiling, banging through the gears and reveling in its ballistic soundtrack – but it’s not perfect. Yes, it’s quick in a straight line and the chassis follows every flick of the steering wheel, but compared with the likes of the Porsche 911 Carrera S Cabriolet et al, it’s clear that the F-Type lacks the clinical approach, dynamic finesse and tactile interior polish of the Germans. But let’s not forget it’s been over 50 years since Jaguar last built a proper sports car. The opposition will be well aware of the threat the F-Type poses not only at present but going forward, particularly since the V6 S one of the most affordable sports cars around. Price tags aside, it’s going to come down to preference of use – if you want a precision scalpel buy a 911or an Audi R8 V8; if you want a double-serrated battle axe infused with emotion and sonic mayhem, buy the F-Type. Simple…


Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 driver Lewis Hamilton takes Topcar senior journalist Aaron Borrill for a brutal drive around Bilster Berg race track in Germany


IT’S HARD NOT to get just remotely excited when the key to an Aston Martin for evaluation lands on your desk. Of life’s many pleasures there’s nothing as fulfilling as shepherding a thoroughbred sports car through a series of tightly knitted corners, all to the glorious tune of an unsullied V8 mill. The key I’m holding, however, doesn’t belong to the latest Vanquish but rather the new Vantage V8 – one of the most successful Aston’s ever made. Yep, it may be over seven years old now but Aston Martin has parlayed various components from last year’s Vantage S into the model you see here, resulting in a more focussed and surprisingly cheaper car than before. Nevertheless, can the Vantage V8 still cut it as a modern sports car?


In the metal

Although the Vantage is getting on in years, it still cuts an exquisite shape, particularly when parked against the picturesque rock-strewn backdrop of Table Mountain. There aren’t many cars that exhibit the same sense of balance, beauty and poise. The classical contoured silhouette with short front and rear overhangs, bulky haunches and hunkered stance all evoke a sense of speed even when it’s not moving – it’s achingly beautiful. The 2012 model has inherited a number of styling riffs from the Vantage S and the results are rather impressive to say the least. Aston’s fabled grille layout punctuates the front end flanked by newly-designed headlight clusters complete with intricate LED accenting while a lower front bumper with pronounced air dams and a splitter have injected the Brit with a refined level of aggression and undeniable road presence. As you move along the car’s shoulder line towards the rear, you’ll notice the chunkier side skirts and a larger rear diffuser which complete the visual package.


Life inside

As expected, the cabin features a contrasting meld of hand-crafted equipment and plush cow hide and Alcantara, resulting in a comfortable and cocooning cockpit. Of course, the interior is fairly customisable and can be personalised with complementary stitching, more leather and facia accents but our test car was pretty standard from a trim-spec point of view. Still, the relationship between the leather and aluminium switchgear on offer is of a premium feel, the only disappointments being the audio unit and the integrated pop-up Garmin navigation screen, which both look out of place amid the other equipment’s high-quality fit and finish. The seats may not quite match the grippy nature of a Porsche bucket seat but they’re still first-grade items, and the high scuttle line gives the illusion that you’re sitting just millimetres off the road surface – proper race car stuff. Like all automatic Aston Martins, the interior is bereft of a traditional gear lever. Four buttons assume the role of gear selectors instead and inhabit the space just above the audio toggles on the facia, marked Sport, Neutral, Reverse and Drive.


In the hot seat

The same high-revving 4.7-litre V8 engine introduced during the last round of updates has been retained and fills the space behind the front wheels. Power and torque outputs are unchanged at 313kW and 470Nm respectively. The only powertrain alteration comes in the form of a new seven-speed automated manual gearbox that has been passed down from the Vantage S. Sure, this transmission has its benefits – according to Aston Martin the ratios are shorter and shifts are quicker, but in reality the gear changes feel stilted and incoherent. The terrible shift sensation can be minimised by coming off throttle during up-changes but this feels unnatural and counter intuitive, and does nothing but amplify the disconnection between engine and transmission. As a result you never really bond with the car in the same manner as you would a car with a traditional manual or even a dual-clutch transmission. But perhaps I’m being too harsh here because the gearbox does have its perks: it’s just as happy trundling around town at low speeds as it is butchering the red line, and the fuel consumption figure isn’t too bad, either. I managed to eke out an impressive 10.9ℓ/100km over our economy run but not without some serious restraint from my trigger-happy right foot.

Performance levels are surprisingly a little on the tepid side. The brochure claims a 4.9sec 0-100kph time but we couldn’t get it to dip under the magical five-second barrier, no matter how hard we tried. The best we could muster was 5.3 seconds with a 13.35 quarter mile, which are both quite a way off the figures logged by the Porsche Boxster S we recently put through its paces. Bugbears aside, the big V8 does discharge quite a spectacular noise especially when the bypass valves open their mandibles at 4000rpm, not to mention the flurry of spine-tingling blips that accompany each downshift.


An asphalt rollercoaster

The Vantage makes up for the lacklustre straight-line stuff the moment you flick its nose into a corner. It’s phenomenally responsive in the twisties. The 49:51 front/rear weight distribution means the car remains neutral in most cornering situations so there’s no understeer – even oversteer feels oddly in check as the fatter rear wheels foster unbelievable grip levels as they embrace the bitumen beneath. The new Vantage also gets the steering column, re-valved power-steering pump and quicker steering ratio (15:1 instead of 17:1) from the S. There’s real positivity to the steering, it’s superbly weighted with detailed feedback instilling a sense of confidence that allows the driver to be more creative with steering inputs. And creative I was – the road directly beneath Table Mountain offers a varying surface with tight directional changes and the Vantage’s suspension absorbed the imperfections and kept its shape through some of the bumpier transitions even with as much as 70% throttle applied. The only real let-down, if I were to nitpick, is the thin steering wheel, which lacks the girth and meaty feel of a Porsche or Mercedes-Benz AMG equivalent.


Final call

The Vantage is still a great driver’s car – no question about it, but realistically it poses no threat for the newer and more technologically advanced Porsche 911Carrera S. The competition has moved on significantly during the last couple of years whereas Aston hasn’t, choosing to instead reinvent (read recycle) an aging product portfolio. Personally though, the only real issue I have with the Vantage is the inarticulate automated transmission, which tarnishes the entire driving process and robs the driver from ultimate involvement. Sure, I understand that certain global markets demand the services of an autobox, but why anyone would prefer it over a razor-sharp dual-clutch transmission is seriously perplexing.

Make no mistake, the Vantage is still one beautiful machine, an icon of timeless design many admirers, including myself, hold in the same company as legends such as the Jaguar E-Type and Ferrari 250 GTO. From a pricing viewpoint, Aston has had to slash its sticker price by R100000 to level the showroom playing fields so to speak, but at R1720000 it’s still over half-a-million more expensive than the 911 Carrera S – yikes! One thing is for sure though, the Vantage is still the most alluring and well-proportioned sports car currently on the market, and because of its huge status appeal (and now cheaper asking price) it will continue to sell and beguile the buying public, even with faster and cheaper opposition entering the fray.

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