Johannesburg - I’d like to say that Jaguar’s new two-litre turbo F-Type serves as a more affordable, entry-level model for buyers to get into the brand’s super sexy sports car, but with a starting price of R914 202 it just doesn’t feel right.

Sure, there’s just over 100 grand savings to be had over the next priciest variant, which comes with a gutsy supercharged V6, but that hardly seems worthwhile in this neck of the woods. So, just who is targeted with this four-cylinder GT car?

Perhaps the 18 F-Type derivatives with blown V6 and V8 engines in varying states of tune are just too intimidating for some customers. And that would be a fair point. Even the 250kW V6 can be a handful at times.

More likely, it’s been made to cater for those in love with the looks, but who don’t give a hoot about what’s under the hood. Even more likely, however, is that Jaguar is attempting to steal some wind from the sails of Porsche’s base model, and notably cheaper, Cayman and Boxster 718s.

Worthy rival? Yes, in terms of pure performance it holds its ground. Jag has managed to extract decent power from this engine, which also does duty in all sorts of JLR sedans and SUVs, and with 221kW and 400Nm it’s on par with a number of two-litre turbo hot hatches in output.

Our test car, a fairly stripped down coupé (a convertible is also available), was impressively peppy especially in the middle of its rev range where boost comes on strong. The F-Type’s standard eight-speed auto does a good job of keeping the tacho’s needle in its happy place too, though Dynamic mode can sometimes see the motor spinning into an agonised frenzy where it’s making more noise than power.

At our test track the coupé achieved a best 0-100km/h time of 6.5 seconds and it covered the quarter mile in 14.75 - figures that are again comparable with some of the hottest hatches around.

Less impressive is the two-litre’s character. Where this same engine, in a tuned-down state, performs with a refined, more chilled-out attitude in Jaguar’s XE and XF sedans, here it feels and sounds a bit too high strung.

At idle, especially when cold, it resonates with a tinny buzz unbefitting a million rand sports car, and under load it shrieks with a harsh howl. It’s also quite obvious that engineers have tried to disguise the note with a synthesised V8 burble through the speakers, but the effect is far from genuine. It’s all a bit juvenile really. I’m not sure if the R1100 optional exhaust flap will hurt or help. Our test car wasn’t specced with it.

That said, the package does settle down nicely at cruising speeds, where a steadier throttle keeps the noise to a minimum. Like all F-Types, this is a grand tourer at heart and it works best on the open road.

But handling is also a strong suit. Not to say the heavier V6 and V8 models lack in direction changing ability, because they’re all quite sharp, but with less bulk over the front axle the 2.0’s steering is noticeably more responsive. Steering weight is quite light, to the point it’s almost overassisted, but that’ll probably suit this particular model’s clientele nicely.

Our car rolled on standard 18 inch wheels, and though tyre size is staggered front to rear, both ends get enough sidewall profile for a relatively cushioned ride. Optional 19 and 20 inchers with much thinner rubber will look cooler and undoubtedly make for crisper turn in and directness, but will sacrifice some ride quality as a consequence.

As mentioned, our test unit came in bog standard trim, and while ‘rental spec’ is probably an unfair stretch, it was noticeably bare compared to fancier F-Type Ss, Rs and SVRs we’ve driven. Without its standard colour touchscreen to offset the black and grey everything, the cabin would be rather lacklustre.

It is possible to go wild with optional extras to spruce the place up, with niceties like alcantara headliners, fancier seats with added adjustments, coloured leather upholstery (at R75 800!), more hi-tech infotainment systems and some carbon accents.

Likewise the exterior with bigger wheels, a proud fixed wing in place of the standard electrically-raising one, carbon-fibre roof panels and meaner-looking LED headlights. But, once you’ve created your spicier dream model, pricing rises well above what you’d pay for a more exciting-to-drive and better-specced-out-the-box V6 F-Type.

VERDICT

The 2.0 F-Type makes sense in concept, but prices edge too close to beefier V6 derivatives to consider it a budget offering. It also offers similar performance to what can be had for half the price in some hatches, so it’s really just an expensive pretty face. Make that a VERY pretty face.

FACTS

Jaguar F-Type Coupé 221kW

Engine: 2-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged petrol
Gearbox: 8-speed automatic
Power: 221kW @ 5500rpm
Torque: 400Nm @ 1500-4500rpm
0-100km/h (claimed):5.7 seconds
Top speed (claimed):250km/h
Price: R914 202
Warranty: 3-year/100 000km
Maintenance plan: 5-year/100 000km

Drive360

Follow Jesse Adams on Twitter @PoorBoyLtd