SAN SEBASTIAN, Spain
– What a ride.
I’m having such a difficult time describing the experience, that even months later those three words are my best summation of what it felt like.
Picture it: a two-day drive through the Pyrenees mountains that straddle the border of France and Spain behind the wheel of one of the world’s most powerful sports cars, the Jaguar F-Type. And not only that, but the driving menu includes coupe and convertible models both powered by supercharged V8s. Sound perfect? It was, pretty much.
Now, there are caveats because nothing can be perfect. First, the drive was in mid-March, so it was a bit cold, even at elevations below the range’s 11,000-foot peak, and secondly, it only lasted for two days. I would have loved to have spent the past two months driving these cars all over Europe, but alas, our time with the F-Type was brief. Which is fitting, I suppose, given how little time the car has remaining in Jaguar’s lineup.
Ah yes, the proverbial elephant in the room, and Jaguar Land Rover’s rationale for inviting small groups of journalists to Spain to drive the F-Type in the first place: the car is going away at the end of the 2024 model year. As you may have heard by now, Jaguar will shift to an EV-only brand beginning in 2025. So, this is it for the F-Type as we have known it since it debuted in 2013.
Here we have one last dance, one last blast through two-lane twisties that wind through cavernous mountain passes and cacophonous stone-lined tunnels, rolling past idyllic small towns, and sunny (but cold) pastoral landscapes that make up our south to north trek from Barcelona to San Sebastian. When the invite arrived to participate in such a milestone trip, I was giddy with excitement. I thought it would be among the highlights of my career thus far, and I wasn’t wrong.
The invite billed the trip as an opportunity to drive, “the final internal combustion engine Jaguar sports car,” which coincides with, “75 years of Jaguar sports cars.” To mark the occasion, the cars we would be driving are F-Type 75 models.
The 75 and R 75 are the only 2024 F-Types available for Canada, and both are powered by a 5.0-litre supercharged V8, paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission and standard all-wheel drive. Of note, some markets, including the U.S., will offer the 444-horsepower 75 in rear-wheel drive, but the more powerful 567-horsepower R 75 is available in all-wheel drive only, regardless of address.
Chassis highlights include continuously variable dampers, 20-inch wheels (forged alloys for the R), optional carbon ceramic brakes (R only) and staggered Pirelli P Zero tires. Both cars also come with unique front fender 75 badging.
Day one began early in Barcelona with a staged photo op featuring a spotless white XK120 roadster parked nose to nose with an F-Type 75 finished in Giola Green, a new colour for the latter. The XK120, first introduced in 1948 and produced through 1954 was the first Jaguar sports car, and it began a lineage that would eventually lead to the E-Type in 1961, followed by the XJ-S in 1975, the XK8 in 1996, the XK (X150) in 2005, and finally the F-Type in 2013.
I am not a Jaguar aficionado but seeing the first Jaguar sports car sitting next to its descendent, with the gleaming Mediterranean in the background was quite striking. Decades haven’t dimmed the XK120’s opulence, and while it bears little resemblance to the F-Type, its regal British character remains, and it feels woven into the F-Type’s soul.
After the photo shoot wrapped, we were set loose on a nearly 800-kilometre journey that wound through many small towns and villages before finishing in San Sebastian in the heart of Spain’s Basque region. The changing topography on the route was one of the most breathtaking aspects of the drive.
The Pyrenees, as any Google search will reveal, is truly breathtaking. Literally. Our group stopped to take photos in one mountain pass, and the elevation (several kilometres above sea level) combined with the 10C temperature, overcast skies, and howling winds, made breathing more challenging than it would be otherwise.
I drove a matte black R 75 coupe on day one, followed by the Giola Green 75 convertible on day two. My drive partner (a JLR Canada rep) and I tonged both cars quite hard on a mix of roads that felt as if they were purposely designed to squeeze the most out of these cars. I can’t recall how many stone and metal-lined tunnels we drove through, but the loud exhaust button was pressed each time, as was the accelerator pedal.
Each car screamed with delight as we launched them up and down on two-lane mountain roads, through sweeping and hairpin turns and on flat country roads with vanishing points that extended to a distant horizon.
It’s tempting to say the R 75 was more fun to drive but given the choice between a hard top and a drop top, even if the latter is a bit down on power, I’ll take the open sky version. Both cars are fabulously powerful, stuck to the road, and incredibly comfortable to drive, but the convertible is the more emotional and engaging option for pure driving pleasure. And yes, it was quite cold, but we dropped the top anyway and, in good Canadian tradition, cranked up every heat source available.
I’ll also note the 75 we drove was RWD which, when combined with undulating roads and a slight decrease in power, made it more enjoyable to wring out. For yours truly, it felt a smidge more responsive, more engaging when getting the power down while cornering, and a bit wilder overall. Plus, its green and light brown colour scheme, with black wheels and trim looks just smashing.
Parking the green 75 for the final time in Bilbao, the location of our final lunch stop, and overnight stay was bittersweet, as it mirrored the car’s inevitable end.
Jaguar’s global head of PR told our group the brand will reveal its first new car since 2018 next year, which will officially begin the brand’s EV-only transition. It’s rumoured future Jags will be priced closer to Bentley than current models that have tried, and mostly failed, to compete with BMW and Mercedes.
Here’s hoping Jaguar finds success positioning these new electrified models further into luxury’s outer reaches, but I hope some room can be made for an F-Type successor that thrills as much as the incumbent has over the past decade.