Back in the original Glory Days of two-seater sports cars, choices were actually pretty limited. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, most came as convertibles with a standard engine mated to a manual transmission. Early options on some models included a single more powerful engine and an automatic transmission. Some later ones were offered only as hardtops.
Today, a few manufacturers are offering throwback sports cars with such limited choices at bargain prices. But most sports cars are now expensive models that are available with a staggering number of options, ranging from multiple engines, to rear- or all-wheel drive, and convertible and hardtop versions. And they are all luxury models, with such features as leather interiors and high-tech infotainment and safety systems standard, with upgrades.
One of the best is the Jaguar F-Type, which is a reimagined version of the original E-Type that epitomized Swinging London and captured the hearts of sports car fans worldwide in the 1960s. But the 2019 incarnation is available in 24 configurations, with engine choices ranging from a turbocharged four-cylinder engine to two supercharged V8s. There are also two different automatic transmissions with multiple drive modes, along with the AWD option and a choice between drop top and hatchback models.
Given such choices, it's easy to say just pick the one you can most afford, since such a car is a luxury anyway. But we say there's a best model this year, the limited-edition F-Type 400 Sport. It comes with a 400 horespower supercharged 3.0-liter V6, a set of huge "Super Performance" brakes, plus configurable settings for throttle response, transmission shifting, steering assist, and shock absorber damping. Topping it off are unique 20-inch wheels fitted with slow profile sport tires.
OK, the T4 might get better mileage and the V8 versions might be faster, but seriously, the most powerful version of the supercharged V6 makes the 400 Sport plenty fast, especially in the "Dynamic" mode. And the high-pitched shriek from the exhaust is even more exciting than the deeper roar from the V8 versions.
The 400 Sport is available in coupe or convertible bodies painted in silver, black, or white only. Our test coupe was all black, except for a small "400" in yellow on the low front air dam and reat end. The interior was all black, too, except for yellow stitching.
The result looked menancing, an impression confirmed when the exhaust snarled every time the engine snapped to life. But, in a week of day-to-day driving, the F-Type 400 Sport proved remarkably easy to live with. It crawled along smoothly in bumper-to-bumper downtown traffic, merged without drama into heavy freeway traffic, and passed slower semi trucks with ease.
But, when the roads were clear, the powerful Jaguar proved it could be driven like a more expensive supercar. The accelaration from a dead stop was breathtaking, accented by a screaming exhaust that was even louder when electronically set in the performance mode. Shifts came too quickly to count, but the brake package kept everything from getting out of control. The V8 versions might be faster, but not enough to justify the additional money, to my way of thinking.
Of course, being a genuine sports car, there are some drawbacks. They include restricted rear views, especially in the blind spots, which make the safety systems a must. Trunk space is also limited, though not as much as in the rear seats, which are nonexistant. But everyone who loves sports cars already know that.
Other luxury manufacturers make similar cars, and some are newer than the F-Type, which is five years old now. But it's hard to argue that any of them are clearly better than Jaguar's reimagined icon — or have as much character.
2018 Jaguar F-Type 400 Sport
Base price: $92,500
Price as tested: $99,275
Type: Sports car
Engine: 3.0-liter supercharged V6 (400 hp, 339 lbs-ft)
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
EPA estimated mileage: TBD
Overall length: 176.4 inches
Curb weight: 3,514 pounds
Final assembly: Birmingham, England