Angry Canada geese kept interrupting Jaguar design chief Ian Callum's commentary on his masterpiece, the brand's first new two-seater sports car in 51 years, the F-Type.
The car's public introduction was to follow this week at the Paris Auto Show – a more controllable venue where the public takes a gander rather than ganders gambol – but this was a preview at a private house Jaguar rented on the Thames.
Two roadsters thundered out of the darkness into the floodlights of the presentation platform, moments after Callum declared it was important to see the car in motion. They were spectacular. Their thick muscularity exuded power. The blat of their tuned exhausts, though, maddened the waterfowl in the adjacent river.
No design chief has ever spoken above such a din. "Excitement across the car is something we do with great intent," he described the flare of the rear fenders, amid a wild honking from the adjacent river.
He soldiered on. "Barrel doors take the waist of the car to the back, removes bulk," and so on with the tapered tail and other particulars, as the racket was really quite incredible. Callum said in an aside when he was done, "That was very strange."
Very strange, but clearly of significance to automobile aficionados and for Jaguar, gaining traction and stature after four years of Tata Motors' Indian capital enabling British engineering and design. The C-X16 concept car Toronto auto show goers saw in February was closely related to this production car, but its appearance here, and its going on sale late next spring, confirms a dynamic new direction for the company.
The F-Type's predecessor, its inspiration, was the E-Type introduced at Geneva in 1961. Enzo Ferrari famously declared it the world's most beautiful car. To this day, surviving E-Types raise pulses wherever they're seen. The E-Type is one of but six cars in the collection of New York's Museum of Modern Art.
The obvious question is, does the new sports car have the same impact? Our vote is nay – today's safety standards demand too much bulk. What matters more is the collective reaction out of the Paris, and the numbers when it goes on sale.
Jaguar sees the F-Type as a love letter to the luxury car market, pledging innovation and sports-car-like performance across the full range of Jaguar sedans.
"Up to now, we've been catching up to our competitors in what we offer," said Adrian Hallmark, global brand director. "Now we've got the diesel engines we need in our sedans to compete [although not in North America]; our new turbo four-cylinder petrol engine is important as is the new 3-litre V-6, and all-wheel-drive is available on XF and XJ sedans worldwide.
"In Europe, 25 per cent of cars sold are shooting brakes [station wagons] and we did not have one. At Geneva this year, we introduced our XF SportBrake. We needed to get all this done just to catch up."
As for the F-type, "Jaguar is a founding member of the sports car category. For us not to be selling a sports car seems as wrong as for Porsche not to be offering sports cars," Hallmark asserted.
Of course, Jaguar's ongoing XKR and especially XKR-S Jaguars already have impressed their buyers as high-performance sports cars. But they have back seats, albeit vestigial, and Callum, Hallmark and company now assert that a two-seater is a finer piece of sports car pie.
"We really think of the F-type as a one-plus one," Hallmark elaborated, playing off Porsche's 911 being known as a two-plus-two. "A driver-oriented car, with near 50-50 weight distribution with two people in the car."
The curb weight of the all-aluminium F-type is 1,597 kilograms, down 156 kg from the XKR-S, yet this car is far more rigid with lateral stiffness increased 30 per cent, torsional 10 per cent. A Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet does weigh less, at 1,450 kg.
But stiffness was the word heard most often in the presentation, as being the key to "precision and immediacy in response," as Ian Hobin, vehicle line director, put it. Whether discussing the chassis, steering rack, suspension or pillar castings, stiffness was golden.
Save for ride quality. Jaguar's trademark supple ride (the XKR-S's being an exception) was the goal of a comparatively long wheelbase and variable damping. Whereas the F-type and the Porsche 911 are virtually equal in length, Jaguar chose a wheelbase 170 mm longer. "Crucially longer," Hobin said of the advantages sought in stability and ride.
Three distinct models are to form the initial lineup.
The F-Type begins with a 340-horsepower, supercharged, 3.0-litre V-6 said to be capable of accelerating to 100 km/h in 5.3 seconds, with a top speed of 260 km/h. The same 3.0-litre with additional supercharger pressure in the S model advances those figures to 380 hp, 4.9 seconds and 275 km/h. Hobin identified the V-6 S's 127 horsepower per litre as the highest of any Jaguar production engine.
The supercharged V-8 F-Type – with 495 horsepower, 4.3 seconds to 100 km/h and 300 km/h top speed – is the most powerful, but Jaguar points out that the lineup introduced here is only a start. A coupe is to follow in about a year. More power is a given – the 2012 XKR-S already boasts 550 hp.
Significantly, all F-Types are to be equipped with stop watches and g-meters, catering to those customers likely to sign up for lapping at race tracks, not to mention thrill seekers.
And all will be capable of maddening Canada geese. "Any sports car must have a great sound track," said Hobin. "In the case of the V-6 S model, two valves in each exhaust system work together to exaggerate the crescendo."
A crescendo? Worth noting, surely, in the event of a large flock of geese flying overhead, is a final performance claim. The F-type's top car requires but 12 seconds for protection, should the heavens open or worse.
2013 Jaguar F-Type
Type: Two-door convertible (coupe to follow)
Base price: Not available at time of writing. According to Jaguar, less than Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet ($106,900), more than Porsche Boxster S ($69,500). Guess-timate: $87,900
Engine: supercharged, 3.0-litre V-6 or 5.0-litreV-8
Horsepower/torque: 340 hp/332 lb-ft; 380 hp/339 lb-ft; 495 hp/NA
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): Not available
Alternatives: Porsche 911 Carrera, Chevrolet Corvette, Audi R8