2016 Jaguar F-Type Manual, AWD First Drive
Reclawing the Cat: Jaguar's Flagship Is a Work in Progress
You want the bad news first, right? The 2016 Jaguar F-Type outfitted with a manual transmission is OK. Great? Naw. Adequate? Sure. I mean, it's a row-your-own H-pattern six-speed. How bad could it be? And it's not bad. It just sorta is. I'm not entirely sure what I expected from the addition of a manual transmission, but I'm always in the mood to be wowed. I wasn't, and I'll try and explain why. Bombing toward the extreme western edge of continental Europe -- a rocky outcropping near Sintra, Portugal, called Cabo da Roca -- it hit me that I'd held this particular stick before. But where? Then, on a quick 3-2 downshift where I missed second and the lever wound up banging against a dead spot I call a "ghost detent," it hit me. This is the same plug-n-play ZF unit used by BMW for the 335i. Ropey, rubbery, but mostly old-feeling, this particular manual is out of step with the otherwise contemporary Jaguar. The shifter's fine, and that's about the nicest thing I can say about it.
See, people aren't buying manuals. Pick from the litany of reasons why not, but they just ain't. So why would Jaguar bother introducing a manual option into the lineup? Why does Porsche make a Targa? A convertible GTS with AWD, along with 20 (or so) other variants of the 911? Because it might sell a few. Keep casting that net wider and wider and you're sure to snare a couple more fish. Buying a sports car isn't exactly a logical decision to begin with, and making sure (wealthy) customers' every possible whim is satisfied makes good business sense. As AMG's Tobias Moers said to me about his company's upcoming GT variants, "[The 911 is] a good role model. Those guys know how the segment works." Therefore on the one hand, I think it's great that Jaguar's bothering with a manual F-Type. Even better, it will be cheaper than the eight-speed automatic version. But on the other hand …
A fundamental mistake Jaguar makes with the F-Type manual is this: Who buys manual transmissions these days? Driving enthusiasts. What do (most) driving enthusiasts crave, besides a manual transmission? Power, and loads of it. You know what makes loads of power? The F-Type R's 550-horsepower, 500 lb-ft of torque, supercharged V-8. Can you get the F-Type R with a manual transmission? No, and therein lies the rub. Now, Jaguar's not totally alone here. The most powerful 991s are dual-clutch only affairs: the Turbo, Turbo S and GT3.
Thing is, ZF doesn't make a manual transmission that can handle the power of the blown V-8. The only supplier that does is Tremec -- the TR6060 can handle a max of 600 lb-ft of torque, or slightly more for Hellcat duty -- and I doubt it could even fit in the F-Type. Plus, as you're about to read, all F-Type Rs will be AWD within a year, meaning that there's simply no way to bolt in an off-the-shelf unit. As Donnie Brasco advises, fuhgeddaboudit. But hey, if you want a coupe or convertible supercharged V-6 F-Type with a manual, happy days are here. One word of caution, tempered by the fact that I was driving an early build, pre-production unit: Under heavy throttle input the transmission slips. Dump the third pedal, floor it, and you can feel the clutch slipping against the engine's copious torque. You can smell the burning, too. Hopefully this is simply a pre-production issue, and doesn't mean the ZF box can't handle the instant supercharged torque.
Now the good news. We also got to play with pre-pro versions of the AWD F-Type on the old Estoril F1 circuit. Job well done, Jag. I've been (ridiculously) lucky enough to have been assigned both of Motor Trend's long-term F-Types (the 380-horse V6 S convertible first, followed by our current Coupe R). Moreover, I've spent a good deal of time behind the wheel of the V8 S. For the first time ever I found myself fully able to bury the throttle without fear of massive, butt-first-into-a-tree oversteer. The sex cat now grips, and that equals confidence. Confidence leads to faster laps, part of what owning a sports car is all about. Four wheels driven will also help with acceleration. However, seeing as how we've clocked the Coupe R to 60 mph in 3.6 seconds and through the quarter mile in 11.8 seconds at 122.3 mph, being quicker is hardly an issue.
How does the new all-wheel-drive system work? Pretty much exactly how it works on the AWD XF and XJ. On the left side of the transmission there's a PTO (power take-off) that sends a relatively thin prop shaft (or as us Yanks say, drive shaft) forward to the front differential. There's an electronic clutchpack that in normal driving is open, allowing 100 percent of the torque to hit the rear diff. Then comes the black magic. Depending on conditions the central clutch can vary the amount of power sent to the front wheels. The max it can send is 50 percent (and I kid you not, it took a full 10 minutes for Jaguar to give us that answer), but it's complicated. Under launch conditions, the computer routes about 30 percent of the gumption to the front wheels. During cornering, maybe 20 percent. Maybe more, and maybe less. It's up to IDD (Intelligent Driveline Dynamics) to decide the appropriate amount, and the system makes that decision in 150 milliseconds. Basically, if you're sitting on patch of ice and floor it, the torque is then split 50/50.
Also new for the 2016 F-Type is Jaguar's take on EPAS (electronic power-assisted steering). During the presentation we sat through a song and dance about how Jaguar has been working on EPAS for half a decade but hedged on releasing it until it was good enough. I interpreted that to mean until tightening emissions regulations forced their hand. Thing is, it's bloody good. If you take a gander at the XE First Drive story, I mentioned how that car's EPAS steering is particularly incredible. On the new F-Types, the new steering is just pretty good, not revelatory. At low speeds you can still drive over fairly major road imperfections and not feel the steering wheel budge. That's a lack of feedback that hydraulic-assist steering aficionados so desperately crave. On the track, the feedback is wonderful.
Back to the track, specifically the wet track. Jaguar started us off on a compact, water-soaked autocross course. The cars were V6 models set in water/snow mode (essentially, that equates to a lazy throttle mapping) and everything was turned on. They also placed a driving instructor/snitch in the car to make sure we didn't change any of the settings. Still, the AWD proved very impressive. You could go nearly WOT out of corners and the car tracked straight and true. Sure, if you overcooked it then the back end would go all squirrely for a second before the nanny caught the car. As I mentioned, I've driven F-Types in wet conditions and they never previously behaved this way. Honestly, you can't even power out of corners in the dry.
On to the main event, which was the big-dog R models on the main circuit. Yeah baby. I went on the launch of the F-Type Coupe in Spain where Jag stuck us on a racetrack in the then new RWD Coupe R. Not good. The back end was just all over the place and I found myself constantly babying the throttle post-apex. We ranked the Coupe R ninth place out of 10 contestants in last year' Best Driver's Car because of the fear of constant oversteer. Frank Markus describe it as "Carl Lewis in stilettos," one of the all-time most appropriate metaphors. The Salsa Red long-term Coupe R I have stewardship over is currently quarantined in our garage because after 13,000 miles the rear tires are so worn down that they no longer hold air. Obviously, something had to give.
Jaguar never came out and admitted it, but the F-Type, especially in crazy powerful V-8 form, doesn't handle the way it should. It certainly doesn't handle as well as the Porsche 911 or the Chevy Corvette, the Brit's most obvious competitors. AWD cures this particular disorder and that's why starting with the 2016 model year, all Rs will be AWD. Notice I didn't just say all Coupe Rs, as the V8 S is no more. In 2016 the V-8 convertible gets the R badge and motor and all the (550) horsepower that entails. I got to drive both the hard and soft-top R models, as flat-out as I could on a track I've never been to before, and my conclusion is thus: Hallelujah! All-wheel drive is just what the doctor ordered, even though it adds 175 pounds of weight. Nissan's GT-R has shown us time and time again that worrying about lightness is overrated. As Randy Pobst is so fond of saying, the F-Type R finally "puts the power down!" Sure, smoky burnouts are a thing of the past, and maybe, just maybe, existing V-8 cars have a shot at becoming highly sought-after collectors' items. Hey, I said maybe! I should also mention that on the track, the carbon-ceramic (and quite expensive) brakes are noticeably better. Not just in terms of fade, but stopping power, too.
Let's summarize: Come 2016 Jaguar will have 14 F-Type variants to sell you. Coupe and convertible V-6 models in two states of tune (340 or 380 hp), with either RWD or AWD, and your choice of a manual transmission, as long as you opt for the RWD V-6. You can also get the tarmac-stomping R model in either Coupe or Convertible form. That adds up to 10 variants. Meaning that similar to "Battlestar Galactica," there are four more to be revealed. My guess? Something akin to a GT3 competitor, similar to the XKRS-GT. Just a hunch. All F-Types are switching over to EPAS, which improves mileage and lowers the weight with no noticeable "feel" penalty. It's hard without the two versions side by side to say that one type of steering is better, but I can say it would be a hair-splitting victory either way. Also, the hood has been redesigned for pedestrian safety standards, and there are some new optional body kits called Sport Design Packs -- essentially a new front fascia, sills, and rear diffuser cover. They look pretty good. More importantly, the F-Type remains as gorgeous as ever. The real takeaway is that in regards to the F-Type, Jaguar has embarked on a path of continuous improvement. It seems unwilling to leave good enough alone. That's wonderful news, and similar to how that one car company in Zuffenhausen takes care of business.