Manual gearbox gives the Jaguar F-Type driver more control and interaction, but most will probably prefer the auto, especially given the emissions penalty.
In the Metal:
Hopping aboard the silver F-Type S Coupé (an unfamiliar colour on this car, but one that really suits the shape), I followed the diktats of habit and pressed the brake while thumbing the starter button. And nothing happened, a fact that momentarily bamboozled me until I remembered - this is the first F-Type with a manual gearshift, the first Jaguar sports car to have one since the E-Type in fact. So then I nudged my left leg into action, engaged the clutch and the engine fired into its familiar rolling bark. Entertaining as ever and now with a new dimension.
It's a funny thing offering a manual gearbox in a prestige sports car these days. Ferrari and Lamborghini have stopped doing so entirely; Porsche is increasingly building more PDK semi-autos than it is manual shifters and you'll find only paddles and buttons in all but a handful of Aston Martins.
Kudos then to Jaguar for at least offering the option. Many enthusiasts will aver that stirring the gears yourself is the only way truly to drive a car, matching revs to wheel speed with little jabs of the throttle and not relying on computers and torque convertors to do it for you. Me personally, I'm not so sure, feeling that the slick and fast actions of the F-Type's eight-speed automatic is a perfect match to its mighty engines, so this manual has some work to do.
It gets off to a good start by being both compact and light - Jaguar has worked hard to reduce the size of components like the oil reservoir and the shifting rods to keep things as featherweight as possible and the throw between cogs is a mere 45mm, so shifts should be pretty quick.
Beyond that, this is the familiar F-Type Coupé - gorgeous almost beyond words, comfy of cabin (and now with a new and far easier to use 'InControl' infotainment system) and hedonistically feisty of engine note. Many will say that this 380hp V6 S model offers the best balance of F-Type performance, nose and usability and I wouldn't disagree for a second.
The news here is almost entirely good. As with the new Jaguar XE saloon and the rest of the revised '2016 MY' F-Type range, Jaguar has put a lot of effort into the car's '50-metre' feel - in other words the sensations you get from opening the door, firing up the engine and feeling the steering for the first time. The new Electric Power Assisted Steering (EPAS) system, which is debuting on both the F-Type and the XE (and the development of which was shared between both models since as far back as 2008) is a paragon of feel, response and weighting. It was inevitable that eventually, car makers would overcome the artificial feel and weight of electric power steering and Jaguar has certainly done so here - it feels and responds as well as, if not better than, an old-school hydraulic system.
With the engine roaring and growling away in its semi-comical way, it's time to find out what the gearbox is like. Well, for a start, once you're rolling at anything above a brisk walking pace, you could effectively use it as an automatic. Third gear will take you easily from in-town pottering to high-speed cornering thanks to the wonderful 3.0-litre supercharged V6 engine's hefty 380hp and 460Nm of torque. Only on the motorway will you really require a higher cog and only a lower one when negotiating traffic lights.
OK, surely that's not the point; time to stir the cogs a bit and see what's what. The result is mostly good; perhaps with a little tweaking yet to do, (these cars were last-gasp prototypes, with final adjustments to be made to the gearbox before it enters production next month...). For the most part, the shift action is how you'd want it to. Fire changes through from the left elbow and they are lighting fast, with Jaguar's claim of the pedals being ideally spaced for heel-and-toe down-changes seeming entirely valid. Wind back the pace a little and shift with your fingertips and the gearbox does that rather nicely too, albeit when you're doing this the lever can feel a touch tall.
Where it does fall down (and again, the Jaguar people were at pains to point out that these things are not yet in their final form) is in the movement across the gate. OK, so I don't claim to be the world's best driver, but I did find that occasionally it was easy to grab the wrong gear or hit the gate edge and bounce back into neutral. It was also a little too easy to slip the lever over into the reverse plane when looking for second: my ham fists or a gearbox in need of a little final development? We'll see when the production version becomes available.
Still though, it was lovely to have full, unfettered control of that wonderful engine and the ability to leave it on the overrun in second and third, with the engine ripple-firing bullets of unburned fuel down the exhaust, was just aural sexy time.
The F-Type remains a tremendous thing to drive from a chassis point of view. Aside from the new steering, there's also the now standard fitment to all F-Types of the Torque Vectoring by Braking system, initially fitted only to the 550hp V8 R version. This uses light touches of the brakes on the inside wheels in a bend to help you trim your cornering line when braking or on a trailing throttle; its action is very, very subtle but the extra poise it brings is noticeable. Ride quality remains a strong point, even over vicious surfaces, aided by seats that are broad enough to be comfy but bolstered enough to be supportive.
What you get for your Money:
Wow, you really do have to pay for your manual pleasure. You see, the eight-speed auto is so efficient that there is, wait for it, a 31g/km penalty for going manual, plus a 4mpg rise in fuel consumption. That will be enough to double your annual motor tax bill and will doubtless far outweigh any price advantage that the manual might otherwise offer over the auto. To be honest, I had to double take when I saw the figures.
The extra sense of control and interaction that comes from driving a manual F-Type is lovely and the feeling engendered when you absolutely nail a heel-and-toe downshift and hear that amazing engine roar in appreciation is enough to make your ego soar. However, the fuel economy and CO2 emissions penalties make it seem not quite worth it.