Few new cars have carried such a crippling burden of expectation as the F-Type roadster. There's the name, for a start; it immediately invites comparisons with Jaguar's greatest ever hit, the 1961 E-Type, which wasn't directly replaced when production ended in 1974.
The message is clear: the F-Type is supposed to represent nothing less than the company's return to the business of making sports cars after a gap of 39 years. And there's something else, too. The F-Type is only expected to sell in small numbers but it has to play the leading role in defining what Jaguar is all about.
If the F-Type hits the mark, thousands of buyers will feel better about buying an XF, an XJ or one of the new Jag models in the pipeline. But if it doesn't generate the right sort of magic, it will have failed, even if it meets its sales targets.
Jaguar has also raised the stakes by stoking interest in the F-Type to fever pitch with an almost two-year extended tease of a launch that kicked off with the unveiling of the C-X16 concept car at the 2011 Frankfurt Motor Show. At least we've known from the start that the F-Type is a stunning looker, an outstanding effort, which, like other recent models prepared under the leadership of Jaguar design chief Ian Callum, manages to capture the grace and power of past Jags without the slightest hint of retro.
AS GOOD AS IT LOOKS
Now, I am pleased to say, we have at last had the chance to drive the F-Type and can finally say that it really is as good as it looks. In particular, it sounds as good as it looks; as soon as you press the starter button, you are rewarded with one of the most appealingly fruity and characterful engine notes to be found on any modern car. Subjectively, it's pretty loud, an impression that's apparently created partly by making other noises the car produces quieter.
Strictly speaking, the F-Type offers a choice of soundtracks, rather than one, because each of the three engines on offer - two 3.0-litre V6s and a 5.0-litre V8, all supercharged - has its own distinctive aural character, but they all sound great.
Each of the three engines provides pretty decent shove as well. If you came to the base 250kW V6 after trying the more powerful 280kW version or the 364kW V8, you might feel slightly short-changed but by any normal standards, they're all very quick indeed.
One area of pre-launch doubt, Jaguar's decision to offer the F-Type only with an automatic transmission, is banished once you experience the eight-speeder's super-quick sporty paddle shifting. In terms of the rest of its on-road behaviour, the F-Type is certainly a proper sports car, taking up a nice sweet-spot somewhere between Jaguar's own softer XK roadster and hard-core alternatives such as Porsche's 911.
IN A LEAGUE ABOVE
Hopes that it would be priced against cars such as the Porsche Boxster or BMW Z4 turned out to be incorrect, but when you drive the F-Type, you immediately understand that it belongs in a higher bracket with a price to match - although it's still usefully cheaper than a 911.
In short, the F-Type is a triumph. One thing it isn't, though, is a supercar to take on much pricier Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Bugattis and the rest.
Jaguar did have plans in that direction with its fascinating but now cancelled C-X75 project; perhaps the success of the F-Type will give the company the courage to have another go. -The Independent