Uncork the Babycham and slip on your kitten heels: the Jaguar E-Type is 60 this year. Impossibly glamorous, with a hint of working-class-hero-done-good, the E-Type has come to epitomise the swinging sixties.
It’s also been voted the most beautiful car of all time. Even Enzo Ferrari said so.
Like free love and mind-bending substances, though, the E-Type eventually proved too much of a good thing. Earlier six-cylinder cars feel fresh and vital, like the Beatles playing the Cavern Club. But later V12 models are less focused and way less groovy. Like Wings playing Wembley.
After eight years on sale, you might expect the current F-Type to be settling into middle-aged portliness. In fact, the opposite is true, with the 3.0-litre V6 engine replaced by a downsized 2.0 four.
Badged P300 and priced from £54,030, this new entry-level F-Type takes on the likes of the Alpine A110, Porsche 718 Cayman and Toyota Supra.
Thankfully, the F-Type’s recent update only saw minor changes to Ian Callum’s original design, including slimmer headlights, new bumpers and a broader front grille. It doesn’t define its era like its sexagenarian ancestor, but this remains one of the best looking cars you can buy.
Besides, dwelling on the aesthetic merits of two Jaguars launched half a century apart feels like trying to compare Emma Peel with Emma Watson (or perhaps Sean Connery with Shawn Mendes, for those of the opposite persuasion). Beauty is in the eye, and so on.
Inside, the F-Type now features a 12.3-inch configurable digital display in place of analogue gauges, and its touchscreen media system adds Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, along with over-the-air software updates.
Otherwise, it’s business as usual, with tactile controls, a wraparound feel and quality that’s acceptable at this price – but rather less so if you make the £25k leap to the V8-engined P450.
While four cylinders and 1,997cc sounds slightly undernourished for a sports car, the turbocharged P300 musters a healthy 300hp (on par with a 718 Cayman), plus 295lb ft of torque from 1500-4500rpm.
Driving the rear wheels via an eight-speed automatic gearbox, it reaches 0-62mph in 5.7 seconds and a top speed of 155mph.
I’ve only sampled V8 versions of the Jaguar in the past, and it quickly becomes clear this is a different breed of big cat. While the V8s are ‘muscle cars with manners’, bombastic and occasionally overwhelming, the P300 is a simpler, purer experience. Frankly, on damp winter roads it’s probably also more fun.
One reason for the ‘budget’ F-Type’s impressive agility is a 52kg weight reduction – all of which vanishes from above the front wheels. As a result, the car feels keener to turn-in and better balanced mid-corner.
Passive dampers and an open mechanical differential (the V8s use electronic diffs) are further ingredients in a pleasingly straightforward recipe.
As for the engine, it doesn’t yelp and howl like its bigger brothers, nor does it tempt you to smear number 11s away from every green light. Nonetheless, it sounds surprisingly big-chested, amplified by a central exhaust tailpipe that crackles and spits, while its ample mid-range muscle compensates, in part at least, for less enthusiasm to chase the redline.
Aside from only having two seats, the P300 is also very usable. It rides with real composure, helped by modest 18-inch wheels, and feels comfortable enough for European road trips (sometime in the far-off future, when such adventures are possible again). The coupe’s long, narrow boot also holds 407 litres: around twice that of the decidedly less practical F-Type convertible, and sufficient for two golf bags or a few flight cases.
Anyone spending £50k on a sports car is spoiled for choice. The A110 is the most engaging to drive, the Cayman a close second and a more accomplished all-rounder.
The F-Type is now a more leftfield alternative, and a pricey one after a few options are added. However, if you love its looks – and who doesn’t? – the P300 is brimful of uncomplicated charm. Groovy, baby.
Tim Pitt writes for Motoring Research
TOP SPEED: 155mph
CO2 G/KM: 215
MPG COMBINED: 29.9