Jaguar’s F-Type update falls short

The 2021 F-Type R-Dynamic just isn’t what the brand requires to stay competitive

By HANNAH ELLIOTT

The F-Type retains its 8-speed automatic transmission. No manual gearshift is available (Pics courtesy of Jaguar Land Rover)

WHEN it debuted in 2015, the Jaguar F-Type was a “Very Exciting Car”. It was the first cool coupe Jaguar had made since the XK of 2006.

It drove with a focused ease that channelled sports cars worth many thousands of dollars more. It sounded menacing. It was designed by one of the car world’s superstar designers, Ian Callum, who made his name developing such greats as the Aston Martin Vanquish and DB7.

At the time, I liked the F-Type so much I said it had a “million-dollar body” and praised its “more than adequate” driving style. These were compliments appropriate to a certain time and place.

That time has long gone and Callum has retired. Now, the 2021 Jaguar F-Type feels rather démodé. It has been surpassed by competition from Porsche AG, BMW AG and Mercedes-Benz AG, all of which have lately turned out some exceptional sports coupes.

Not that the F-Type hasn’t had some updates. It has new bumpers, thinner LED headlights and optional, glossy black “Jaguar leaper” badging on the rear. But a nip/tuck this minor on such a once-arresting model isn’t enough to relaunch its career, so to speak.

In fact, if this F-Type were the face of an ageing starlet keen on rebranding her stock in Hollywood, the procedures undertaken here wouldn’t stir even the ripple of a wave of paparazzi interest. You’ve got to do more to generate real excitement than slap on some new eyebrows. If I were her, I’d want my money back.

Too Safe to Be Sexy

Looking at the smoothed-out lines of the 2021 F-Type, I get the sense that Jaguar’s design team took the “less is more” approach. They polished away the edges Callum had put in, flattening the hood and sides.

The interior seats 2. Updates include a new, fully digital gauge cluster and a more advanced infotainment system (Pics courtesy of Jaguar Land Rover)

I can understand why they kept it safe. It takes real confidence, and maybe some well- placed irreverence, to push any significant alteration after a beloved leader such as Callum departs.

In fairness, UK safety laws play a hand in castrating design cues — requiring gargantuan bumpers, say — though this seems to have had no effect on the stunning beauties over at Aston Martin. (Alas, Callum has long since departed there, too.)

From the first morning I received the press car that I drove for a week around Los Angeles, I wished that director of design Julian Thompson had pushed his team a little more. Exhibit A: While picking up quesadillas at Sonoratown (delicioso!), I noticed that a new Ford Mustang of exactly the same grey hue had parked next to my car. The Mustang looked distinctively brawny. The F-Type looked like a glorified Miata.

Later that week, certain friends had trouble remembering which car I had driven them in. (“Which one was that one we drove to Venice again?” was a common refrain.) These are people customarily attuned to the precise model du jour and they couldn’t remember who had made this one.

Unfortunately, the new, “wider” grille (I use quotes because the change is undetectable; the whole thing looks basically flat now) and air vents pushed slightly forward just weren’t enough of a change to make the F-Type exciting again.

It didn’t help that I had the convertible version: Rag tops often do nothing but disrupt what good lines a car may have, and this made the F-Type look like a wrong-sized soft-shouldered suit — whether too big or too small, I couldn’t tell. I just know it made the car look a little wilted.

Inside, the plastic-y interior was not helped by the addition of the 12.3-inch control screen in place of the deeply analog gauges of the previous model. On a brand steeped in glorious history, keeping earlier design cues can sometimes be a good thing.

Forgettable is good for spies, not for sports cars. For the US$84,900 (RM361,890) sticker price of the model I drove, I wanted more to remember it by. (When it debuted, the base model cost US$65,000.)

The Forgettable Drive

From behind the wheel, the F-Type could be described as “adequate”, “safe”, “sufficient” and “fine”. These are not words you want to apply to a new sports car. “Dynamic”, “powerful” and (dare I say) “fun” would be more enticing. “Memorable” should be de rigueur.

The F-Type range for 2021 comes with four-, six-, and eight-cylinder engine options. While there have been neither efficiency improvements nor power increases for the four- and six-cylinder powertrains for 2021, Jaguar tells me the forthcoming US$104,225 F-Type R will receive a 25hp boost to 575hp on the V8 engine, as well as an upgraded chassis with new springs, dampers, anti-roll bars and rear knuckles.

I did not have the F-Type R for this drive; I must wait until August to drive that one. If you’re considering getting an F-Type, I suggest you wait, too. Let’s hope that one is better than the R-Dynamic version I drove. While it roared gamely to life the moment I pushed the ignition, its flagging impetus when I pushed it and its lack of precision around corners failed to live up to the early promise of that aggressive engine note.

I drove the F-Type up Route 2 — the usual place when you want to put a car to its limit — and up the old “Hollywood Freeway”, aka Route 101, to the grocery store in Pasadena. The eight-speed transmission with paddle shifters was smooth and quick. But I couldn’t help musing that the steering was not as crisp as what you’d find in the Mercedes C-Class coupe or in the Porsche 718 Cayman — cars I’d recommend over the current F-Type.

It was more than a fleeting sensation. As I drove, I kept thinking how the brakes lacked the responsiveness and deep precision of those in the handsome, comparably priced BMW 8 Series — or any Porsche, for that matter. (No manual version is available.)

All this may sound harsh, but it comes from a place of deep affection for Jaguar, the 75-year-old British stalwart that has long given the motoring world a master class on what pure automotive elegance, style and proper racing grit should be.

Last year, I drove a Jaguar manufactured in each year since the 1960s from Coventry, England, to Paris by way of Britain’s verdant countryside and France’s historic Le Mans race track, including an overnight ferry ride. I will never forget the display of engineering know-how and mechanical reliability provided by that drive. There are good bones here — a proud, unshakeable history.

There’s nothing unsafe in how the F-Type drives. It is simply not a thrilling convertible. Nor is it an ugly car, but there are better options; anyone with enough sense of style to lean toward a Jaguar deserves better.

Right now, we need more. We want more. The 2021 F-Type just doesn’t have it. — Bloomberg