It was a move that was all but inevitable. Needing to both trim its emissions figures, and hopefully broaden its appeal a little, the Jaguar F-Type has been fitted with a four-cylinder engine. Some will be shocked by that - purists, the same people who derided Porsche’s decision to go for a flat-four in the Cayman and Boxster, will rail against it and say that it makes a travesty of the car’s E-Type lineage.
Others, possibly more sensible, will note the reduced emissions, improved economy, still satisfyingly brisk performance, and pronounce themselves well pleased; not least because the four-pot F-Type looks almost identical to the six- and-eight cylinder models. It’s also a useful £3,000 cheaper than the next V6-engined model in the range, whether you choose the coupe driven here, or the convertible variant.
There is also the small matter of a 52kg weight reduction, which will reduce (if only slightly) the performance gap between this and the larger-engined models. And Jaguar’s engineers have had a crack at the chassis and steering, too, to make sure that the F-Type makes the most of that weight loss, almost all of which comes from the nose.
So, is it the lesser brother of the V6 and V8 versions? Or just a different kind of F-Type?
Sitting there in Ultra Blue paint (think classic French Racing Blue with a little more kick to it) with contrasting brown leather upholstery, it’s almost impossible not to be beguiled by the F-Type Coupe, whichever engine is nestling under that long nose. While this is a car that will compete, head-on, with the 718-model Porsche Cayman and Boxster, it immediately looks more special, more enticing than either.
Visually, there is nothing to differentiate the four-cylinder F-Type from the V6 and V8 models, bar the fact that there is a single trapezoidal exhaust outlet at the back, and slightly different 18-inch alloy wheels. Certainly to these eyes it looks just as gorgeous and exciting as its brethren. The sort of car that, had private jets not been invented, F1 drivers would use to get between races.
Inside, equally little has changed compared to the bigger-engined models, bar the addition of an updated Touch Pro touchscreen and associated software. There is a boost to safety though, thanks to a new stereoscopic camera tucked up behind the rear view mirror. This feeds data to both the autonomous emergency braking system and the lane-keeping assistant, which nudges the steering if it spots you drifting out of lane. Also adding to safety are traffic sign recognition, an intelligent speed limiter, and a driver drowsiness monitor.
The new four-cylinder engine is part of Jaguar Land Rover’s Ingenium family. It has been entirely designed in the UK, and is built at the company’s big new facility in Wolverhampton. And what it lacks in cylinders, it certainly makes up for with tech. There’s an electro-hydraulic valvetrain that can almost infinitely alter the opening and closing cycle of the engine’s valves, controlling its breathing and either liberating more power, or improving economy — delete as applicable.
The exhaust manifold is integrated with the cylinder head, so the twin-scroll turbocharger is as close to its cylinders as possible to improve responsiveness and there’s a 200-bar direct fuel injection system. All of which adds up to an impressive series of figures: 295bhp, 295lb-ft of torque, 0-60mph in 5.4 seconds, 163g/km of CO2, and a top speed of 155mph.
How does it drive?
The big question, initially, is not so much how does it drive, but how does it sound? Porsche drove its 718 Boxster and Cayman into a wall of howling criticism for the drop in sound quality when it switched from flat-six to flat-four. Has Jaguar similarly shot itself in the ear, especially considering the much-loved sounds of its V6 and V8 engines?
Well, not quite. Cards on the table; I’m one of the few not bothered by the sound of the 718 Porsches, possibly something to do with my affection for old Subarus. True, they’re not as musical as the old six-pots, but at least they sound interesting, and with nigh-on 150bhp per litre and real-world economy as good as 42mpg, I for one am happy to take the aural hit.
The F-Type four-cylinder treads similar acoustic ground. No, of course it’s not as symphonic as the V6 or V8 F-Types — there’s almost no way it could be. And to make the comparison harder still, those engines are amongst the most revered in the world for their sound quality.
Jaguar has clearly worked hard to retain a classic F-Type character in the four-pot, if not its all-out sound. The intake and exhaust have both been heavily tweaked (without any electronic enhancement) to make the engine sound as good as possible, and for the most part it sounds pretty good. There’s a certain similarity with the Ford Focus RS engine, though the F-Type’s powerplant is smoother than that, but has a similar deep-lunged muscularity, overlaid with an appealingly gruff four-cylinder thrum and a deeply entertaining set of overrun pops when you back off. No, it’s not the V6 engine, but it’s not bad at all.
Performance is, if anything, more impressive. Although it’s more than half a second behind a Cayman from 0-62mph (5.4 seconds to the Cayman PDK’s 4.9), the F-Type four-cylinder feels very quick indeed, an impression heightened by the fact that you sit so low, and have such a huge bonnet to peer out across. True, a well-driven Volkswagen Golf R would give it trouble, but the Golf will never look as good, no matter how fast it goes, and the F-Type’s eight-speed ‘Quickshift’ automatic gearbox does its best to find you as much get up and go as possible.
Dynamically, the F-Type is really quite delightful. Front and rear springs have had their rates altered by four and three per cent respectively, to take account of reduced weight over the nose, the dampers have been altered, and there’s a new calibration for the electric power steering. The result is a car that feels both planted and relaxed on the road, but one with lightning-fast reflexes, able to tuck that long nose tightly into an early apex, secure in the knowledge that the rear won’t break loose unless you really want it to. That means less entertaining tail-happiness than in faster models (tightly-enforced speed limits on our test route through Norway didn’t really allow us to explore the chassis’ outer limits…), but then perhaps this four-cylinder model is more about on-road driving, and less about track days.
In that role, it excels. It’s agile and comfortable; refined and engaging. You can sit back, relax and let the car take the strain, or find some twisty bits and really get into the meat of the road. Given the four-cylinder engine’s offical 39mpg fuel economy, either way you’re going to get where you’re going faster than someone in a V6, even if it just means you’re stopping less frequently for fuel…
Should I buy one?
You definitely should. You can safely ignore the incoming moans that Jaguar has somehow neutered the F-Type by lopping off two cylinders, or that its once dramatically noisy exhaust has been stuffed with cotton wool. Yes, the V6 and V8 cars are of course noisier and more exciting, but the four-cylinder F-Type is a very pleasing car.
It’s light, it’s agile, it’s smooth, it’s more economical and kinder to the environment, and it’s a bit cheaper (albeit still quite a bit more expensive than a basic 718 Cayman). It still looks awesome, and it’s still enormous fun to drive. Four isn’t greater than six (or eight), but it’s not far behind at all.
Gallery: Jaguar F Type 2.0-litre