Jaguar F-Type VS Lotus Exige
- Natural handling
- Punchy engine
- Fun to drive
- No reversing camera
- Some absurd options
- Small boot
- Unassisted, unadulterated steering (at speed)
- Beautiful balance and stiff chassis
- Sheer impracticality
- Heavy steering (at low speeds)
- Getting in and out of it
There's an old automotive saying that says “only milk and juice comes in two litres”, but that’s not the case anymore. Now, you can get liquid fun in a 2.0-litre mechanical package, too.
That’s because of cars like this, the new 2018 Jaguar F-Type, which has seen the addition of a new four-cylinder engine that still packs plenty of power and torque, is lighter than its big-engine siblings, and – perhaps best of all – in base model guise, is more affordable than any F-Type to date.
Sounds promising, huh? Well, there are some really convincing parts to this car – but also some things that are downright questionable.
Allow me to explain…
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Driving naked is ill-advised, and possibly illegal, but taking a spin in the Lotus Exige 350 Sport is as close as you'd ever want to get. It's not so much that you feel you've left your clothes at home, but that the car has shed its accoutrements, and indeed its very flesh, leaving you with a kind of skeletal vehicle; just bare bones and muscle.
What this punishingly hard and fiercely focused machine does to your bones and flesh is best described as extreme chiropractry - in particular the stress of ingress and egress - but fortunately it makes up for the moans, bangs and bruises by fizzing your adrenal glands in a big way.
The question is whether the fun is worth the suffering, and the $138,782.85 price tag.
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The 2018 Jaguar F-Type in four-cylinder spec is a very intriguing option in the sports car segment.
It’s clearly not without its faults, but the entry-grade engine offers a thought-provoking alternative to the pricier supercharged V6 and V8 versions.
Would you consider a four-cylinder Jaguar F-Type? Let us know in the comments section below.
To say the Lotus Exige 350 Sport exists at the very pointy end of motoring is a sharp understatement. It is, in essence, a track car that you’re somehow allowed to drive on the road, which means it's hugely compromised in various ways as a vehicle for day-to-day use, yet it's not really fair to criticise it for those failings, because commuting was never its intended purpose.
While it would obviously shine in its natural environment of a race circuit, the fact is you could also enjoy it enormously between track days if you pointed it at a suitably smooth and winding bit of country blacktop.
The performance, handling, steering and stopping are all fantastic, in the right conditions, and you can see how someone might justify it to themselves as a far cheaper version of a ($327,100) Porsche 911 GT3. The difference being that a Porsche doesn't make you fold yourself up like a pocket knife every time you get in.
The Lotus, then, is a car for the extreme enthusiast, only. And possibly for nudists, too.
Would you put up with the Lotus's hard edges for the thrill rides? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
The most interesting thing about the F-Type four-cylinder model is that it’s almost indistinguishable as being the most affordable version in the range.
I mean, unless you know that the trapezoidal central tailpipe is the only real giveaway (and the noise that comes out of it, for that matter!), you’d be hard-pressed to notice a difference. That’s because most F-Type buyers add heaps of styling options.
For instance, the cars we drove at the launch of the new model were all the R-Dynamic version, which exchanges the newly developed 18-inch light alloy wheels for bigger, heavier 19s. And then—why not?—those 19s were changed again for a different looking set of 19s, but still wore Pirelli P-Zero tyres.
It still sits low and looks mean, and the newly added LED headlights with LED daytime running lights are quite fetching, even if their addition has meant the front-end looks less cat-like than before.
It’s still a stunner, though – even more than four years after its launch.
The Lotus philosophy is summed by this slightly absurd mission statement: "Simplify, then add lightness". In the words of the great Barnaby Joyce "you don’t have to be Sigmund Freud" to work out that lightness is not something you can 'add', but you get the idea.
Everything about a Lotus is focused on the power-to-weight ratio, and this 350 Sport version takes the Exige to the ultimate degree, weighing in a full 51kg lighter than the S version, at just 1125kg, and with its hefty 3.5-litre supercharged V6 it is capable of lapping the company’s Hethel, UK test circuit a full 2.5 seconds faster.
Lap times, rather than road manners, are what this car is all about, and as such there are no creature comforts of any kind.
The Exige is an eye-catching beast, though, looking a bit like Darth Vader's helmet strapped to a skateboard. Everything about it is a statement of intent, and while the interior is as bare as Barnaby's brain, the gear lever, with its exposed workings and shiny silver knob, is a thing of strange beauty.
You don’t buy a Jaguar F-Type if you’re after the last word in practicality. It’s not a pragmatic purchase – but for its, er, type, it’s a reasonably practical space.
The F-Type still has some useful elements to the cockpit, including a decent centre console bin between the seats, a small mesh pocket above that, two cupholders, and a reasonable glove box. The door pockets have bottle holders, and a little extra storage besides.
As it has been made clear before, the F-Type has a boot that is almost small enough to rule out a long weekend trip, particularly in the convertible. The drop-top’s boot capacity is 196 litres, and is interfered with by a spare wheel, while the coupe has up to 407L of space (if you’re going beyond the parcel shelf; otherwise, it’s a 315L hold).
It’s purely a two-seater, so there are no top-tether or ISOFIX child-seat anchor points. If you’re particularly tall, you might find yourself a bit cramped.
Believe it or not, vanity mirrors are optional. I mean, I know the slimline visors are pretty hopeless, but sheeeeeeesh.
Both the words 'practical' and 'space' have no place in a road test of this Lotus, so shall we just move on?
Oh, all right. There is no shoulder room to speak of and to change gears you have to fondle your passenger's leg. You're also in danger of breathing into each other’s mouths accidentally, you’re sitting that close.
Speaking of impractical, the door apertures are so small, and the whole car so low, that getting in or out is about as much fun as attempting to hide in a child's suitcase.
Cupholders? Forget it, nor is there anywhere to put your phone. There are two tiny oddment storage holes just near each well-hidden door handle, and a kind of slidey, slick shelf where a glove box might be, on which it’s not safe to leave anything.
Put things on the floor and they will slide under the super low seats and never be seen again.
The Lotus people pointed out a parcel shelf behind the seats, but I think they imagined it, and there is a tiny boot at the rear, behind the engine, which is smaller than some actual boots.
Price and features
The entry-grade F-Type four-cylinder models are priced at $107,012 for the coupe, while the convertible model adds $18,000 to the asking price ($125,712). Both are automatic – there’s no manual option.
To contextualise that, if you want the supercharged V6 engine instead, you’ll need to spend $126,212 for one with an automatic transmission (there’s a cheaper manual version, which is five grand less).
Standard equipment for the four-cylinder model includes new light alloy 18-inch wheels, LED headlights with LED daytime running lights, part-leather sports seats with electric adjustment, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, aluminium interior trim elements, keyless ignition and auto headlights/wipers.
A lot of premium brands are adding heaps of equipment to their cars to keep sales ticking over. Jaguar, though, continues to take buyers for a walk down to path to the old Ripoff Pool in terms of optional extras.
Believe it or not, Jaguar asks you to spend more for dual-zone climate control ($1040), keyless entry ($1200), and even a reversing camera. Yes – you read that right: a modern-day car company has the audacity to ask buyers to option a potentially life-saving reversing camera, and at a cost of $1080, too. Rear parking sensors are standard... which is something.
See the safety section below for more disgust on that.
If you’re looking at a Jaguar F-Type, other vehicles that could be on your shopping list include the Porsche 718 Boxster convertible and Porsche 718 Cayman coupe, the Alfa Romeo 4C and the Lotus Exige – all of which arguably have a harder edged sporting intent to them than this car.
The question of 'value' is a tricky one when you’re looking at a $138,782.85 car that’s about as useful in day-to-day life as a matchbox-sized handbag. But you have to consider what people buy a Lotus for, and the answer has absolutely nothing to do with practicality.
A car like this Exige 350 Sport is purely purchased as a toy, a track-day special that you can, in theory, drive to the circuit via public roads. Franky, if I was rich enough to have one I’d still transport it there on the back of a truck.
Relatively speaking, you could have a far more practical and infinitely more comfortable Porsche Cayman for $30K less, but the Lotus is $30K cheaper than the similarly track-focused and brutal ($169,990) KTM X-Bow.
In terms of features, you get four wheels, an engine, a steering wheel, some seats, and that’s about it. You can buy a circa 1993 removable-face two-speaker stereo, which you can't really hear over the engine and road noise, for $1199. Oh, and they do throw in air conditioning, which is also noisy.
Our slick-looking metallic black paint was also $1999, the 'full carpets' another $1099 (expensive floor mats, basically), the Alcantara trim pack $4499, cruise control (really?) $299 and the hilarious optional 'Sound Insulation' $1499 (I think they actually forgot to fit it). All up, our press car’s price climbed to $157,846, which, I have to say, is no one’s idea of good value.
On the plus side, the local Lotus people - Simply Sports Cars - do offer features a buyer would love, like regular Lotus Only Track Days, a chance to take part in the Phillip Island 6 Hour and the Targa High Country event, and various other racy experiences.
Engine & trans
The F-Type’s 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine is one of the more potent engines of this type out there, with a solid 221kW of power (at 5500rpm) and 400Nm of torque (from 1500-4500rpm).
It is only available in rear-wheel drive, and only with an eight-speed automatic with paddle-shifters. For reference, the supercharged V6 can be had with a six-speed manual and rear-drive, while the supercharged V8 is auto and all-wheel drive only.
Jaguar claims a 0-100km/h time of 5.7 seconds, which is sprightly, if not manic, and a top speed of 250km/h… not that you’ll ever find it in Australia.
In the past, Lotus engineers were satisfied with the power they got from tiny four-cylinder Toyota engines, but this Exige 350 Sport is a Very Serious Car and thus has a relatively whopping 3.5-litre, supercharged V6 shoehorned into its backside, which makes 258kW and 400Nm, and that's enough to fire this tiny machine from 0-100km/h in just 3.9 seconds, although it feels, and sounds, a lot faster.
The six-speed gearbox feels like it's been stolen from an old racing car and is an absolute joy to snick shift at speed.
Jaguar claims fuel consumption of 7.2 litres per 100 kilometres for the F-Type four-cylinder model, which is more frugal than the supercharged V6 and throbbing V8 models by some margin.
Over our loop, which involved a good stint of spirited driving, some freeway cruising and some Sydney traffic, we saw 9.9L/100km. I think that’s totally acceptable.
While I might have some serious qualms about the brand’s priorities in terms of specs and standard safety kit, there’s no doubt you get what you pay for in terms of performance.
Wait, you could read that the wrong way… I’m not saying that because you’re choosing the most affordable F-Type that you’re getting the most budget-feeling drive experience. This is still a truly sporty car – in fact, it’s more of a purist offering than the muscle monsters that are the supercharged V6 and V8 models.
That’s because it’s lighter, and it truly feels more agile than those cars.
With 52kg less weight to contend with, the four-cylinder is more pointable in corners, and that lower kerb weight makes for a natural driving experience.
In the gruntier models you can spend time trying to catch the car’s balance in the bends, but not in the four-cylinder – it has beautiful balance, holding a line very nicely. That’s enough you make it feel like you’re sewing a smooth ribbon through a series of corners, where in the V8 model you might end up making a zig-zag stitch. It goes well, and stops terrifically, too.
The ride is firm, but it’s a sports car, so that’s excusable. You will notice more of the bumps in the convertible, the body of which has been stiffened up to deal with the lack of a fixed roof. And while you will notice big lumps in the road, and you’ll hear and feel potholes, it’s never annoyingly uncomfortable.
After spending a few hours in the car, I think it’d be the ideal coastal cruiser… you just might have to make it a day trip rather than a weekend away because of that teeny-weeny boot.
If it were my money and I was set on a F-Type four-pot I’d buy the coupe, because it is more resolved on patchy road surfaces and has a bigger boot. If you want the wind in your hair, just wind down the windows.
It's rare to find a car that is such an improbable mix of furious fun and infuriating annoyance. The Lotus is rattly, noisy, hugely firm to the point of punishing, with seats that offer encouragement but not support.
It is the opposite of comfortable and so hard to see out of that driving it around town, in any sort of traffic, feels borderline dangerous. There’s also the distinct sensation that you’re so low and so little that all those people in their SUVs won't see you.
Throw in the fact that it's so painfully, stupidly difficult to get in and out of and it's definitely not the sort of car you take if you're heading to the shops. I got so sick of its hard-edged annoyances at one stage that I became too grumpy to even take people for joy rides in it. I just couldn’t be bothered with the hassle, but then an inner-city suburb with high kerbs and even higher speed humps is not the Exige's natural environment.
Making it even more of a challenge around town, at low speeds or in parking situations is the steering, which isn't so much heavy as wilfully obtuse. Doing a three-point turn is the equivalent of 20 minutes of bench pressing your own body weight. At least.
Out on a winding bit of country road, however, the steering becomes one of the best things about the car, because its pure, unassisted weighting feels so alive in your hands. There’s a sense of actually wrestling, or finessing it around corners that makes you feel a bit Ayrton Senna.
Indeed, the whole car comes alive, and starts to make some kind of sense, once you're on a smooth, perfect piece of tarmac. It is fast, noisy, thrilling, utterly and overtly involving, stiff of chassis and firm of ride, with brakes capable of pulling you up with indecent haste. It’s also, thanks to its low centre of gravity and mid-engined layout, beautifully balanced.
The gearbox is a thrill a minute, as is the engine, particularly once you explore the upper rev ranges, at which point the scenery really does become a scary blur out the ridiculously small windscreen.
Sure, you can't see anything behind you other than the engine, but what a lovely sight that is, and nothing is going to catch you anyway.
It does feel edgy, of course, and sharp, and it’s not as easy or refined to drive as some cheaper sports cars; an MX-5 makes for a far more pleasant companion. But this is an extreme Exige, a machine built by and for genuine enthusiasts.
And, above all, for the sort of people who will take it to a race track, which is where it both looks and feels completely at home.
Unfortunately, on public roads, it would be annoying more often than it would be thrilling, but the truly hardcore Lotus aficionados would never admit such a thing.
This is a hard criterion to score it against. There has never been a Jaguar F-Type flung against various objects at different speeds to ascertain a safety score, so we can’t give it a hat-tip for a strong ANCAP or EuroNCAP score.
And the lack of a standard-fit reversing camera is one of the most absurd things we’ve encountered in a high-end car for a bloody long time. But it's not unusual - you've got to pay for a reversing camera in a Porsche 718 Cayman or Boxster, too.
For what it’s worth, you can option the further safety of lane-keeping assist and driver fatigue monitoring. Blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert are optional as well – you can get all of those bits in a pack, if you like, for the sum of $2210.
But honestly, a reversing camera being a $1080 option is simply disgusting on a car that has rearward vision as poor as this one does.
F-Types come with six airbags in the coupe and four in the convertible.
Unsurprisingly, considering it will sell fewer than 100 cars in Australia, Lotus has not had the Exige ADR crash tested, so there's no star rating. You do get two airbags, passenger and driver, as well as ABS, 'Hydraulic Brake Assist', 'Lotus Dynamic Performance Management', driver-selectable ESP with three modes, cornering brake control and EBD.
The standard warranty offered on the Jaguar range is three years/100,000km, and it includes roadside assist for that period. There’s the option of an extended warranty up to five years/200,000km in total, too.
The F-Type attracts Jaguar’s free servicing campaign – so, according to the company’s website, you won’t have to pay a single dollar for standard scheduled servicing over the first five years/130,000km. Maintenance is due every two years or 26,000km.