Jaguar F-Type 400 Sport (2017) First Drive

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We were given the first crack at the new Jaguar F-Type 400 Sport, a 2017 limited model. The catch was, we had to report to Knysna and race it in this year’s Jaguar Simola Hillclimb.

Okay, it wasn’t really a catch, but still, it’s not your average first drive of a new vehicle. The F-Type 400 will only be on sale for 2017 and has a few extras that caught the eye of many a spectator at the event. The easiest bits to notice are the 400 badges on the front splitter and rear bodywork. This references the 14 kW hike in power the 400 Sport gets that takes it to 400 horsepower (294 kW). Acceleration to 100 kph remains the same, top speed is limited to 275 kph and you get the choice of rear or all-wheel drive.

Inside line


Yellow stitching and 400 badging on the bottom of the steering wheel are unique to the 400 Sport.

Jump inside and there are more details to look at. Yellow stitching runs along the dash as well as the doors and steering wheel. Special sports seats have been installed with ‘400 Sport’ embossed in the headrests. It’s a luxurious place to sit with soft touch leather and aluminium combining well. The updated infotainment system from the F-Pace has been installed and is standard with navigation and a Meridian sound system. Specific to the 400 Sport is the GoPro Rerun app that will connect to your GoPro camera and overlay data from the car onto your videos.

Power struggle


400 denotes 400 horsepower or 294 kW. A 14 kW increase over the V6 S.

The 400 Sport is only available with a V6 engine but beefed up with some extra vooma. There’s a sneaky exhaust button on the centre console that will clear the throat of the F-Type and let the full rasp of the V6 be heard properly. It’s not as brutal or crackly as the V8, but it’s smoother and more tuneful to listen to. The supercharger also provides lightning fast throttle response without the ultimate kick of power that a turbocharger deploys.     

Warm-up lap

We picked up the F-Type 400 Sport at George airport, complete with just 411 km of mileage on the clock. The hour drive to Knysna was all we would have to acclimatise to the rear-driven V6 before sending up the hill at full tilt. The choice of rear or all-wheel drive makes an interesting quandary. If you were buying the V8, there would be no doubting that the all-wheel drive car is the one to have, but in this V6, rear-wheel drive makes more sense. The chassis copes with the power better and it isn’t as tail happy as the V8 when you put the power down.  

Our model had been especially specced for the Hillclimb with carbon ceramic brakes, a carbon fibre roof and a fixed rear wing. It’s about as race-ready as you can spec the 400 Sport.

Race run


Turn 2 requires a touch of brakes and then being as early on the power as you dare.

After a sighter run up the hill in a pedestrian 53 seconds, it was time to start pushing the 400 Sport’s boundaries. Two runs later and we were in the 47-second range, in a huge tussle with a more powerful, torquier and lighter BMW M3 Competition Pack. The F-Type loses 8-tenths of a second to the M3 in the 0-100 kph battle, but we were making up time in the corners.

The F-Type showed impressive turn-in at turn one, a right handed flick that’s done at nearly 140 kph. It never missed the apex there and then, when tasked with handling a boot full of throttle on the way out, delivered no more than a small slide from the rear end. The slightest amount of countersteer and the rear would hook up again and continue sprinting up to turn 2.

 

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With the temperature in the front and rear tyres better, turn 2 is all about braking late and getting the front into the apex early and back on the power as soon as you can. The bumps in the braking zone make it harder than it sounds but the carbon ceramics bite hard when prodded and throw a tonne of weight onto the front end, allowing the tyres to dig into the tarmac and provide maximum grip. Quick turn-in is key, but the real time is gained by jumping on the power early here. You can’t see the exit, but you have to take a guess and leap of faith that you’ll still be on the black stuff when you straighten the wheel. You carry this bravery in the form of extra speed all the way up the hill until the final section of corners.


Heading out of turn 2 on the way up to the esses. Nothing to do here but flatten the throttle.

The esses as they’re called. Be as brave as you can through the interleading right, holding it as tight to the right as possible before dabbing the brakes and swinging it left through the first part of the esses. Being hypercritical of the F-Type, it might not change direction as quickly as liked, probably down to its portly 1.7-tonne kerb weight but it does remain neutral and easily controllable when swung from one side to the other. From here, it’s flat out, plotting the path of least resistance to the finish.

Summary

In the class final, we lost out to the M3 by a mere 2 tenths of a second, running a 47.5 to the M3’s 47.3. Not bad, considering the deficit we had to make up off the start. It was great fun, with the F-Type proving a blast to push hard. It feels like a great sports car on the circuit, but when we get it back to test properly, we’ll see if it’s just as good on the road.


The final section of the climb, the esses can make or break your run. Be smooth and be wary of oversteer as you crest the finish.

The F-Type has worn a ‘handle with care’ badge in the past, especially the V8 R models that prove an absolute handful in rear-driven format. This V6, with a touch more power (400 Sport example) feels like it may just be the sweet spot in the range if you don’t have the bucks for an AWD R or an SVR.

That said, with the spec in this 400 Sport, it comes in at 1.7 million (including options), which isn’t all that far from the AWD R at R2 million and the SVR at R2.3 million.

Watch the Cars.co.za 2017 Jaguar Simola Hillclimb highlights video below:

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