With the exception of the new Bentley Continental GT, no car that refers to itself as a ‘grand tourer’ is any good at grand touring. Striking a balance between long-distance comfort and good old-fashioned driving enjoyment is difficult, so most manufacturers aim somewhere in the middle, producing a car which is neither particularly nice on long journeys nor properly exciting to drive on twisty roads.
It’s fair to point out that the ‘grand tour’ itself is a largely fictional notion, and that hardly any drivers use their cars on long, leisurely trips across continents. Car companies – preoccupied as they are with making money – have no reason to cater for imaginary consumer groups, so develop models to meet the needs of real people, and to sell to real customers. Which is why the new Jaguar F-Type is a little bit confusing.
It’s a conventional two-seater, available with a six-cylinder, four-cylinder or eight-cylinder engine, and with a hard or convertible roof. You can have it with rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive and, if you opt for the range-topping SVR versions, performance figures that will hassle a supercar. Prices start at around £50,000 and soar to over £130,000. Jaguar sells about 10,000 of these cars in a given year.
The one I’m driving this week, a P380 soft top, has a limited-slip differential and adaptive dampers, alongside the 3.8-litre turbocharged V6 that gives it 375bhp and 460Nm of oomph. It costs around £72,000 in this form, the R-Dynamic trim, and comes with beefy brakes, a ‘switchable active sports exhaust’, and a smattering of visual adornments to let everybody know it’s a high-spec model. There’s an optional £3,500 paint job and an optional £1,000 climate control system. So far, so Jaguar.
But I’ve driven it over a thousand miles in England and Scotland, and I’m still a bit confused as to what it’s for. On the back roads of Fife at 2am I felt a glimmer of what it wanted to do, and then on the M6 Toll it tried to tell me again, but for the most part my time in the Jaguar F-Type has been a baffling experience.
One of the main problems is that it’s too fast. The 4.8 seconds it takes to reach 62mph are fairly standard for a performance car, but the rapidity with which the speedometer rotates beyond that point is a little startling on most UK roads. It would make perfect sense on a German autobahn (oh how I’d love to hear these six cylinders at full chat) but here it requires constant reigning-in.
Yet at the same time, it’s not fast enough. The power takes a split second too long to gather itself, and the engine doesn’t have the same manic urgency felt in slightly more expensive cars. And let’s face it, the 4.8-second F-Type will get hassled by a Ford Focus RS and gently smoked by a Volkswagen Golf R.
It’s a beautiful car to drive, or at least I think so, because I only found half a dozen bits of the British Isles which could accommodate any sort of exuberance. It’s probably still the best-handling convertible on the market (off the top of my head – please comment below if I’ve omitted something obvious) and is testament to how well-sorted this car was when it launched half a decade ago.
But times have changed. The Honda Civic Type R is, subjectively, roughly as fun to drive down a windy road. I have an Alpine A110 parked outside at the moment too, and this cheerful little car is far more entertaining in the bends. You can actually drive the Alpine hard; while it has similar performance figures to the Jag, it’s far more fun at the kind of speeds mandated by law.
Of course, this isn’t an all-out sports car. No, there are elements of GT to it too, which means it’s been put together with long-distance cruising in mind. And it does that pretty well – it’s comfy, relatively quiet, composed at motorway speeds, and not unbearable on that concrete section of the M25 before Egham.
All of this is confounded by JLR’s infotainment system, though, which is bad company at the best of times but truly annoying when called upon during long trips. The radio struggles to find signal and then drops it like a hot brick every few miles, and the sat nav user journey is ghastly. Even the Audi R8, which makes for a poor grand tourer, is less frustrating to use over 1,000 miles.
Then there’s the noise. It sounds better the harder you push, thus the beautifully intoxicating howl of the engine is available only in frustratingly small doses; the rest of the time, it’s just a bit droney. And at this point it’s worth talking about the price which, tickling £80,000, which gives this particular flavour of F-Type a lot of very serious rivals.
I do really like this car. It’s an exceedingly attractive jack-of-all-trades which strikes a balance between sports car, grand tourer and boulevardier. How many people are looking for this combo remains to be seen, however, and I can’t help feeling that this all-things-to-all-men V6 might have such broad scope as to be a tad niche.