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Can the new 2018 2.0-litre Jaguar F-Type variant pose a serious threat to the likes of say downsized Porsche’s Cayman or Boxster? We travel to stunningly beautiful Norway to find out and return more than impressed

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The sports car segment which has seen a lot of action in the past now braces for its future in a new direction mostly dictated by considerations from the market, lawmakers and manufacturing practices. Call it an emerging trend or savvy marketing, a lot of the new breed of sports cars are being sold now come with downsized powertrain set-ups but also with the promise of scintillating performance, unmatched economy and most of all affordability for new consumers. While purists may not be the most impressed lot when it comes to buying these packages, but manufacturers are nevertheless confident about its prospects.

While wholehearted market acceptance will take its time, the fact that car makers like Jaguar Land Rover are confident of achieving success is the application of its high tech and state-of-the-art technologies in their cars and innovative ideas like the UK-built all-new Ingenium family of four-cylinder engines. In the JLR line-up, both diesel and petrol Ingenium engines are being introduced phase wise in the group’s models successfully and the latest model to benefit from this application from the Jaguar portfolio is the F-Type sports car which has been in the market for almost five years now.
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When the F-Type was launched, Jaguar said it created the two-seater to rekindle the brand’s enthusiasts’ interest in its illustrious heritage and from a marketing perspective also to take on the entry-level Porsches – the Boxster and Cayman in particular besides the other German premium brand offerings. As of now Porsche seems to be realigning its model portfolio hierarchy by swapping the slots occupied currently by the Boxster or Cayman. And the new 718 Series from Porsche is a clear cut indication of the Porsche mindset and how things are moving forward in the segment. Porsche has also joined the downsizing bandwagon and it was a matter of time other players would follow suit.

So how does such a move bode for players like Jaguar? Actually, if one did a SWOT, the F-Type has certain inherent strengths and also its share of weaknesses as with others. But, any disadvantage of the past has the potential to be written off if Jaguar plays its cards well. And that is exactly what will happen to the F-Type when it is launched with the Ingenium powertrain package.

While we were in Norway checking out the all-new Range Rover Velar mid-sized SUV, the intensive two-day programme also included a half-day slot with the F-Type four-cylinder 2.0-litre turbocharged mill. In theory, any sports car losing two of its precious cylinders may be considered sacrilege by purists, but the same group of purists are also beginning to realise that small engines can be big on performance too.

While the profile and stance of the low slung car is typical F-Type, it’s the detailing that gives the standalone stance and character with the new engine set-up. To begin with, the headlamps are newly designed and is an all-LED set-up with signature DRLS. The lower valance design is slightly altered to optimise aerodynamics necessitated by the 52kg weight reduction up front due to the lighter all-aluminium Ingenium engine. Meanwhile, the rear profile remains mostly unchanged with the exception of the tail lamp which has a new design and signature illumination. The external giveaway that it’s a four pot is the single exhaust tip and bespoke 18in alloys.

Inside the cabin which was considered a bit cramped by taller drivers, a bit more space has been created by redesigning the sports seats. The contoured seat back is thinner and uses a lighter moly casting. The body hugging seat does free some more space for the benefit of the taller occupants in particular. Other feature upgrades include the introduction of the company’s new TouchPro Duo multimedia entertainment and communications system.
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Under the bonnet, placed slightly behind the front axle is the forced fed four-cylinder engine mated to eight-speed gearbox. The Ingenium family 2.0-litre force fed engine is endowed with some interesting adaptations to ensure it delivers the performance as expected in a sports car. Among the first time technologies applied is the throttle management system which is quite unique. Instead of the throttle body controlling the fuel mixture into the engine, there are special hydraulically operated valve lifters that control the intake. This cutting-edge technology enables variable valve lift, so load control is managed primarily by the intake valves rather than the throttle. This arrangement reduces pumping losses and provides flexibility and control over airflow into the combustion chambers and as a result there’s improved output and torque, with added benefit of fuel efficiency and reduced emissions.

In the past, several automakers have used similar technologies like Honda with its i-VTEC system, but JLR engineers claim that this system is much advanced and for the F-Type helps produce 300hp at 5,500rpmand 295 lb-ft of torque between 1,500-4,500rpm. Meanwhile, the gear and axle ratios are also modified in this application.
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Rest of the mechanical hardware is unchanged with the exception of marginal shift of weight from the front axle to rear axle. The ratio now stands at 49:51 front:rear and to offset any performance negatives, the front valance has been tweaked slightly to ensure the car remains planted as before when on the move.

Driving impressions

Any sportscar enthusiast will tell you his or her favourite bit in this type of car. First would be acceleration, handling and with top up or down [depending on roadster or hard top coupe configuration] followed by exhaust notes and accompanying blips during gear changes.
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At the Norway event, we got the perfect opportunity to experience all of the above which are evaluative parameters. The winding and twisty mountain roads and flats, the extra long tunnels, the ferry ride and most of all perfect weather – all contributing to a delightful and sonorous experience with this car.

Before we took off, we just made a mental calculation of a couple of things. So how does one get extra performance in a sports car? Well, there are typical arguments. Take as much of mass out by stripping non-essentials, ensure a good chassis with state-of-the-art management, perfect 50:50 axle weight ratio and driver friendly features like low profile wide aspect sports tyres, ventilated performance disc brakes et al. Well, this scenario in the F-Type is replicated to some extent, but the good part is that it hasn’t been stripped of essential features.

The drive was arranged in the mountain/Fjord region of Molde in Norway. The drive route seemed to be tailored specifically for this car and included the usual array of fast and slow corners, straight stretches, country roads and B-roads and some highway patches and not to forget the extra long tunnels. The half day long stint was good enough to give us a proper feel of both the coupe and convertible in its natural environment.
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Considering the fact that the F-Type chassis can withstand the rigours of a 5.0-litre Supercharged V8 and 3.0-litre V6 or more in the say SVR variants, the 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder variant is clearly aimed to please and we think even the diehard will appreciate its reasonably quick responses to the tap of the accelerator pedal, the lightening fast gear shifting, the planted feel, perfect weight of the electric steering and its point and shoot character of this 1,525kg car.

The engine mapping ensures that there’s ample power at low revs and most drivers will appreciate that power availability comes with virtually no turbo lag. The engine can be pushed and one should appreciate what’s on offer rather than comparing with its high-performance and bigger engine siblings. Excellent torque delivery means that the grunt of a sports car is there and is the part which delights most besides the opening of the exhaust baffles at higher revs. The car also appears agile, partly due to its softer suspension settings and lighter overall weight. At times it even felt faster than its official 0-100km/h sprint time of 5.7secs. As expected, braking power is pretty impressive and distances short.

Apart from the blissful driving experience, we also check out the customisable home screen and 4G LTE data connectivity. The map includes pinch-and-pan zooming functionality which makes life a bit easier. Heads-up display would have been a nicer option as one has to look away to get the information on screen. The only niggle we could feel was the old fashioned and slow display and some of the not-so-logically placed functions.

Verdict

An entry level F-Type with decent performance to match makes good business sense for buyers looking at the brand. Jaguar has succeeded in engineering the repackaging of the approximately five-year old model and there’s no reason not to shy away. It has got its heritage intact, timeless design and appears distinguished enough. But the real job will be with the marketing pundits as the segment gets crowded with a variety of offerings which offer various configurations and price points. How these ingredients are presented and bought will ultimately determine the fate of this variant. We are confident that this will be quite possible to achieve despite the difficulties in the current economic scenario worldwide.
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