2016 Jaguar F-Type First Review: Manual, AWD added
When we last left Our Hero, the Jaguar F-Type roadster was in prime form, battling against upscale sports cars like Porsche's 911 and winning a fair number of converts. Last year, the British automaker augmented the F-Type range by introducing a gorgeously Rubenesque coupe, underlining its connection to the legendary E-Type. For 2016, Jaguar broadens the F-Type's appeal by adding manual transmission and all-wheel drive options. The latter smartly opens up cold-weather markets for the car, while the former is likely more important on a philosophical plane than it is to Jag's bottom line.
With sports cars, it's imperative to woo buyers on a gut emotional level. And while the F-Type has always delivered, its surprisingly portly curb weight and a lack of a do-it-yourself gearbox have naggingly whispered that it's as much a grand tourer as it is a proper sports car. It's almost as if Jag bean counters aren't quite ready to give up on XK customers. Yet the truth is that even the paddle-shifted 8-speed automatic F-Type is a tail-wagging, tire-immolating, whisky-voiced companion that delivers big on a visceral level.
A manual for enthusiasts only
Does the addition of a manual transmission further stir our enthusiast loins? Somewhat. Available exclusively on rear-wheel-drive 340- and 380-horsepower V-6 models, the six-speed is...not bad. It's a nice sensation to be able to work the gearchange in an F-Type, but the ZF unit in question isn't the sweetest. Its throws aren't quite short or direct enough, though clutch engagement is nicely linear and properly weighted. Jag has purposefully omitted rev-matching electronics, so your own heels and toes will have to provide the magic. As a bonus, going manual saves about 22 pounds of curb weight and leaves $1,500 in your wallet.
The new-for-2016 feature more likely to put F-Type on consumers' shopping lists is all-wheel drive. The system variably sends up to 50 percent of the engine's torque to the front axles when necessary, defaulting to a rear bias under most circumstances. Unfortunately, the automatic-only option also adds 176 pounds to an already porcine proposition.
Making the cat more surefooted
Available on all three models this spring (base V6, V6 S and top-drawer 550-horsepower R), AWD makes F-Type much more tractable in anything short of 9/10ths driving. We sampled it on Portugal's Estoril circuit and on a wetted-down cone course, and it's much easier to get the power down, whether blasting from a launch-controlled standstill or slingshotting out of a corner. For drivers used to the RWD F-Type's drift-happy antics, it'll come as a bit of a shock how early one can safely tromp on the throttle. While ultimately not as engaging for sports car purists, AWD undeniably makes for safer and quicker progress.
Regardless of whether your 2016 F-Type of choice comes with manual or AWD (or neither), it will eke out modest fuel savings thanks to new electric power steering, a system with surprisingly good feel and accuracy. While not perfect additions, we love that Jaguar continues to expand F-Type's bandwidth. Now, about that stripped-down clubsport model...