Thursday, October 3, 2013

Test Drive: Jaguar F-Type V6S vs Porsche Boxster S Head to Head

Picking a convertible can be a very emotional undertaking. You want to find something that is fun to drive, offers great flexibility, yet is not likely to to present too many reliability challenges. Recently, I did back-to-back tests of the newest entry to the luxury convertible class, the Jaguar F-Type, and the class standard bearer, the Porsche Boxster S. The Jag, with its sensuous shape and screaming exhaust system is a hot car and should serve as further indication that Jaguar is serious about a comeback after years of being relegated to the also-ran category. Its recent efforts, starting with the introduction of the XF sedan, the revised XJ, and now the F-Type definitely cemented Jaguar's place back in the minds of luxury buyers. However, is this new effort a good enough car to knock off Porsche, still one of the most beloved brands among car buyers in the US? Porsche's Boxster and 911 are frequently touted as being the ideal of what sports car owners look for in their rides, can the F-Type, which is aimed squarely between the two P-Cars, deliver a solid enough blow to keep it in contention?

Jaguar, as the newcomer in this category, opted for a strategy that allows it to use one car to attack two different models in Porsche's line-up. The V6 powered versions of the F-Type are priced to be competitive with the Boxster S and the V8 powered versions add enough grunt and equipment to pursue the venerable 911. While my drive was in the more affordable V6S model, I honestly would be hard pressed to understand why anyone would need to step up to the eight-cylinder. With just the supercharged V6, the F-Type has torque all over the rev range and is a beast of a car already. Its motor, while certainly not as smooth as the Porsche flat-six, offers heaping gobs of torque, which are a necessity given that the curb weight of the Jag is several hundred pounds heavier than the bantam-weight Boxster. Still, both the Jag and Porsche motorsare full of character and are fantastic in their own distinct ways. Both exhaust systems offer soul stirring soundtracks, though Jaguar's turns the volume up to 11 and then some.

However, that extra weight that the Jag is carrying around places a huge penalty on the car when comparing the handling between it and the Boxster. There is no question that the super lightweight Boxster offers a great deal more immediacy of turn-in and just feels more nimble at any speed. Couple that to the fact that the Boxster's motor is entirely located between the two axles, there is simply no contest, the Boxster is the benchmark for handling in this price class, bar none. Of course, that does not mean that the Jag handles like a hippo. In fact, the Jaguar handles quite well, offering good turn-in and a willingness to rotate. Driven on its own, the Jag would feel like a fantastic drive, playing the role of a willing dance partner in the twisty stuff, but driven back-to-back with the Porsche highlights the disadvantages of the extra weight.

That disadvantage of the extra weight also carries through to acceleration and braking. The Porsche makes do with just 315 hp and 266 lb-ft of torque from a naturally aspirated 3.4L flat-six engine. Of course, that still runs it up to 60 mph in about 4.5 seconds and it is still able to hit the quarter mile in about 13 seconds. Braking is typical Porsche with impressive pedal feel and no drama. The heavier Jag, with its 3.0L supercharged V6, makes only slightly more horsepower at 340 hp, but a substantial amount more torque at 332 lb-ft. That gets the big cat up to 60 mph in about 4.8 seconds and through the quarter mile in just over 13 seconds. Stopping is handled by some beefy looking calipers and serving plate sized discs that offer excellent stopping power, great brake feel, and no noticeable fade, despite the extra weight. All that to say that, despite its weight disadvantage, the Jag does not give up much to the Porsche in straight line acceleration or deceleration.

The extra weight does offer the F-Type a big advantage in ride quality with the extra weight seeming to settle the car more across bumpy roads and helping the Jag to offer a more compliant ride quality overall. The Porsche can feel a touch skittish going over rutted roads and does not feel as settled in crosswinds, definitely a result of the lighter weight. Not to say the the Porsche feels dangerous in any way, just that it is not nearly as composed as the Jag if the road surface is anything but glassy smooth.

There is a dramatic difference between the two cars in their interiors, however. Jaguar definitely wins a lot of kudos here for using high quality materials and a driver focused design that is pleasing to the eyes and the touch. It may not be the most audacious design, but incorporates that extra touch of drama in the form of Jag's A/C vents that rise out of the dash when the system is turned on. Porsche, on the other hand, follows the adage of form follows function and offers an interior that is extremely functional and easy to use, but is a bit less stylish. Sitting in the two cars back to back, the Jag is just a more pleasant place to spend a long drive, especially given the much greater level of adjustability of its seats.

Too bad that drive is going to have to start and finish at home because there is one thing that the Jag fails miserably at, which is be anything remotely more than a toy. The miniscule sliver of trunk space is utterly laughable and anyone who wants to take a weekend trip with a companion had better be planning on spending the weekend naked or traveling there in separate cars. Why Jag made the decision to include a trunk at all at this point is beyond me. The Porsche, on the other hand, offers cargo room in spades, with both a regular trunk as well as a fairly deep frunk. While you will not be bringing golf clubs along, there is plenty of room even if your companion packs mulitple wardrobe changes for every single day. When it comes to taking a road trip, the smoother driving Jag just does not make the cut.

Empirically, the Porsche Boxster S is the better driver's car. It's quick, agile, and engaging. The fact that it has usable trunk space, is rock solid as far as reliability, and has a long history of providing exceptional cars means that it is the logical choice. However, it simply does not evoke the same kind of emotion that the Jag does. Yes the F-Type has its faults, like the tinny trunk, Jag's spotty reliability record, and the extra $10k of the pricetag, but there is an emotional connection that cannot be denied. That soul-stirring exhaust sound, the gorgeous body shape, and coddling interior evoke lust that the Teutonic sensibility of the Boxster S simply cannot. My brain tells me that I should prefer the Boxster's better driving dynamics, but my heart tells me that the Jag would be so much more satisfying driving around every day.

In the end, I think my wallet would win out and the extra $10k for the Jag would simply make it hard to accept its shortcomings. Still, I suspect that every time I would drive by the F-Type, I would have a hard time not looking at it longingly, wondering if perhaps it was the one that got away.

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