Mountain Wheels: Jaguar F-Type revolutionizes two-seat sports machines |

Mountain Wheels: Jaguar F-Type revolutionizes two-seat sports machines

2014 Jaguar F-Type

MSRP: $69,000-$92,000

Powertrain: 340 or 380 HP 3.0-liter supercharged V6/494 HP 5.0-liter supercharged V8 engine, eight-speed automatic transmission

EPA combined mpg figures: 23/22/18 (per engine choice)

Seattle — Jaguar’s on something of a roll these days, with a flurry of new products, new technology and a global popularity that’s nearly eradicated the company’s once-dodgy reputation.

Good time, then, to launch the F-Type: an exciting and entirely sports-oriented two-door convertible, a raw, beautiful and performance-centered machine that’s created quite a bit of excitement.

Jaguar admits that sports cars aren’t that big in developing markets like China, but here in the United States, they’re a big deal, and offering a threesome of well-polished (and optionally insanely powerful) two-seaters will be a very good way of letting high-end buyers know there’s more to Jag than big executive cruisers.

F-Type is already for sale in the U.S. so true enthusiasts have likely put their greasy mitts on the car’s windows at a dealership already; suffice to say that in real life, the car is astoundingly fun, perhaps a little understated in its interior design and … a load of laughs both on a mountain road or on a full-blown racetrack day.

F-Type’s chiseled looks may hold some Maserati elements up front and maybe a little BMW (or even Chevy Volt) in the cat-eye brake lamps on the back, but the flowing, aircraft-inspired body itself is a modern, soul-infused nod to the noted Jaguar racecars of days gone by.

The glowing “Firesand Orange” body color — halfway between Mustang orange and the Subaru Crosstrek’s pumpkin color — also helps crystalize F-Type’s litany of cool details, ranging from new J-shaped LED daytime running lights to a new fighter-jet-styled grille, which Jaguar says you’ll start to see on all of its cars. An active rear spoiler pops up at speed, and the roof can be hidden away in 12 seconds.

Tantamount to the sports car experience is a load of power under the hood and the F-Type’s U.S. market range includes two supercharged 3.0-liter V6 engines (a tame but impressive 340 horsepower version or a just-right, beautifully noisy and head-jolting 380 HP S model) or the frankly ridiculous (and awesome) supercharged 5.0-liter V8, producing an ungodly 495 HP.

We set out for a six-hour jaunt near Mt. Rainier and spent the curviest part of our trip in the mid-level, 380 HP F-Type S, which I believe has the perfect mix of bratty, crackling exhaust, easily summoned torque (339 foot-pounds) and bigger brakes and optional active dynamics for the suspension.

Like a 911, you can press the active exhaust button on the elegant center console to make the car sound even more obnoxious (an effect particularly resonant in a deep, old-growth coastal rainforest); you can also toggle the beautiful, copper-colored switch to put the car into a more aggressive sport mode.

Handling is, as you might expect, superb, with a light feel and plenty of playfulness from the old-school, rear-wheel-drive setup. Though sporty, the suspension was also comfortable enough to make a half-day drive a pleasure; when we had the opportunity to crank it into some twists, the relatively light (3,558 pound) F-Type behaves like a very classy, high-powered Miata.

True A-type personalities will not only want it in orange but also with the V8 under the slightly bulging hood, and they’ll get all the power they can handle, and more. It’s also a considerable jump in price: The most basic of V6 models starts at $69,000, but V8s begin at $92,000 and the tester we used to brave northbound I-5 was a spendy $104,770, albeit with a load of options (including 20-inch wheels, slightly less-forgiving race seats and more leather).

Those A-types will fit in nicely if they brave the racetrack, as we did after our long haul, where the F-Type’s truly track-worthy credentials absolutely shine.

Inside, F-Type has adapted the futuristic look of models from the new XJ to the Range Rover Evoque and is really aimed at you, the driver — your passenger is literally separated from the audio and AC controls by a leathery barrier (annoying, but useful if you have a relentless button-poker as a co-driver).

Jaguar’s never light on the unexpected details and F-Type’s include a bank of air vents on top of the center stack which can hide in the dash when not required, as well as rubberized toggle switches and cool two-mode AC knobs.

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