We’ve been here before with Jaguar and Porsche’s compact sports cars. Germany won the first couple of CarAdvice battles, when the Boxster S pipped the F-Type V6 S convertible in 2013 and the Cayman GTS defeated the F-Type S coupe two years later. Honours were then even in October 2016 when we couldn’t split the 718 Boxster and F-Type V6 S.
Here, however, the Brit is searching for its first victory with the lightest and most affordable version of the F-Type yet: the $107,012 entry-level coupe that’s been created by slotting one of Jaguar’s Ingenium turbocharged petrol engines under the bonnet.
That makes for a perfectly matched engine contest, of course, after Porsche in 2016 replaced the Boxster/Cayman flat-six engines with four-cylinders also positioned horizontally (while 718 to the badging).
Pricing and features
Pricing is closer than ever before, though the gap has widened with the Cayman’s $110,000 entry price rising to $115,300 for MY18. The good news is that the PDK auto version costs $117,160, whereas previously the dual-clutch transmission was a $4990 alternative to the standard manual gearbox.
Straight out of the box, the base F-Type’s standard features include 18-inch alloy wheels, sports seats in grained leather and “suedecloth” with six-way electric adjustment, steering wheel with heating and electric positioning, Active Sports Exhaust, paddleshift levers, 8.0-inch Touch Pro touchscreen system, and 380W Meridian audio.
Porsche asks extra for a branded audio system – $2650 for a Bose or $8790 for a Burmester – though the Cayman has several small wins: dual-zone climate, power/heated side mirrors, dimmable ambient lighting, tyre pressure monitoring, digital radio, heated seats, heated steering wheel, and front sensors are all inclusive, whereas together they would cost $5520 on the Jag. Its sports seats also have more adjustability (14-way), and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included but not available on the F-Type.
Both our test cars were heavy with options, pushing them past $140,000.
Presented in R Dynamic trim, the F-Type immediately jumps $7800 by adding LED headlights (instead of bi-xenons) and daytime running lights, manually selectable Active Sound Exhaust, 19-inch alloy wheels, gloss-black exterior trim details, and R Dynamic treadplates.
The as-tested sheet for our $150,002 F-Type needed an entire page for the list of options. They included some of the aforementioned items needed to match the Cayman, while both the Jaguar and Porsche charge for keyless entry and rear-view camera that should perhaps be standard. (The same could be said for the $1160 needed for the Jag’s auto-opening hatch.)
If the Jaguar’s options – such as the $4720 premium leather interior pack and $1020 carbon-fibre centre console – influence the way the F-Type looks inside, many of the extras that took our Porsche to $143,270 as-tested have an effect on the way it drives.
There’s electronically controlled variable damping with 10mm-lower ride height (Porsche Active Suspension Management, $2710), Porsche Torque Vectoring ($3190), 20-inch Carrera S wheels ($4840), and a Sports Chrono Package that brings launch control and a more aggressive Sports Plus driving mode.
To be fair, the Cayman has been a sensational sports car regardless of spec or variant ever since it debuted in 2006, and nothing changes here. The Porsche provides its driver with staggeringly high levels of confidence through its meaty steering, unflappable balance, mighty grip and stupendously good brakes.
The Cayman’s compact frame envelops you in the snug cabin, your body feels impossibly low to the ground, and all the major controls – steering and pedals – feel absolutely natural in their weighting and almost instinctive in their response. The driver feels like an extension of the car – almost as if fused to the chassis itself.
With the Jaguar XK long gone and looking unlikely to be resurrected any time soon, the F-Type must try to cover off both of Porsche’s sports cars – Cayman/Boxster and 911 – despite being strictly a two-seater. Hence, its body is more than 10cm longer and wider than the Cayman’s, with nearly 15cm of extra distance between the axles.
With a 1525kg kerb weight, the F-Type carries a 160kg penalty over the Cayman that inevitably hinders its dynamic cause comparatively. Yet, with the four-cylinder F-Type shaving 52kg from the V6 variant, with the majority of that lost over the nose, the agility gap has at least been closed. The sharper front end is more than an incremental improvement for what was already a hugely capable and enjoyable chassis.
While there’s less grunt than V6 or V8 F-Types with which to exploit the chassis, pushing more aggressively on the throttle with the Jag loaded on corner entry can prompt the need for a brief application of counter steer. This is a thoroughly planted rear end, though (and the near-full-size spare wheel that sits in the boot over the rear axle doesn’t hurt stability or traction).
Engineers slightly softened the four-cylinder F-Type’s spring rates with less mass to support, and the Jaguar proves to have an extra degree of suppleness over the Cayman.
Both sports cars are expertly damped, though the Cayman has the edge. It’s the most nonchalant in dismissing bigger bumps, while over crests the Jaguar’s rebound control takes a touch longer to settle the car, whereas the Porsche urgently flattens things before the suspension has seemingly had a chance to complete full compression.
The F-Type’s steering also needs to be in Dynamic mode for its best weighting and precision, otherwise in Normal it is slightly fuzzy and overly light for spirited driving (though Normal is well suited to city driving).
The Cayman’s also-electric steering is more naturally weighted, and the more communicative, regardless of mode.
Dynamic mode (or a dedicated exhaust console button for R Dynamic models) also opens valves in the F-Type’s exhaust, eliciting crackles on the over-run. The Jaguar sounds its best during flat-to-the-floor acceleration, though generally can’t match the fruitier aural flavours of the V6 and V8 F-Types. At least buyers have the option of a bigger engine if they have the money.
Cayman customers are stuck with a turbo four. And it just doesn’t inspire the eardrums like the old howling flat-six. At low revs, you could even accuse the Porsche of sounding somewhat agricultural.
There’s some fair compensation, though. Comparing the base Cayman old and new equipped with PDK and the Sports Chrono package, the 718 is nearly a second quicker from launch to 100km/h: 4.7 seconds.
Rolling performance is arguably even better. With torque ramped up by more than 30 per cent to 380Nm – from just 1950rpm – the baby Porsche delivers greater punch from more areas of the rev range. It simply allows you to extract more from the Cayman’s phenomenal chassis more of the time.
Striving for the sports car’s highest crank speed is still a worthwhile effort, and the noise there, while not spine-tingling, at least allows you to pretend you’re competing in a fictional Porsche Cayman Cup Targa comp.
With official fuel consumption dropping from 8.2 to 6.9 litres per 100km, even the most ardent flat-six fan would struggle to deny the advances brought by the forced-induction four-cylinder.
Jaguar’s 2.0-litre runs out of puff a bit earlier than the Cayman – its peak power halting at just 5500rpm, whereas the Porsche goes for another 1000rpm – and can’t overcome a heavier weight in the 0–100 sprint. The F-Type trails by six-tenths or a full second depending on whether you’re comparing a Cayman with or without launch control.
It feels a much closer match once both cars are up to speed, though, as the Ingenium motor plays to its mid-range strengths, with 400Nm produced between 1500 and 4500rpm. Fuel use is only slightly higher, too, at 7.2L/100km.
There’s no manual gearbox option for the four-cylinder F-Type as there is with V6 versions, which is a shame as it seems the most obvious candidate in the range for a self-shifter.
The eight-speed ZF auto suits the F-Type, though, even if it gearshifts can’t match the speed of the Porsche’s (optional) seven-speed PDK auto whether you are leaving the respective transmissions in sports modes or are flicking up and down ratios via paddle levers. The ZF is smoother around town, though, and also quieter, even if the PDK’s mechanical noises add to the Porsche’s racy character.
Refinement is generally advantage Jaguar, especially its ability to quell road noise compared with the Cayman cabin that can at times be overwhelmed with tyre roar on coarser surfaces. Neither sports car is perfectly pliant in the city, as would be expected, yet both ride with a commendable comfort level that asks virtually no compromise in return for superb handling.
As the bigger sports car, it’s no surprise the F-Type’s two-seater cabin feels the roomier. Perception of quality is on a par with Jaguar’s XJ limo, though we have to remind ourselves that options contributing significantly to our test car’s look/feel run to nearly five figures.
These include Performance seats (nestled neatly into scalloped bays) wrapped in supple Windsor leather along with sections of the doors, console and instrument hood. There’s a mix of orange and black stitching, and a bit of theatre is provided on start-up when the central vents rise automatically out of the dash.
The triangular passenger grip on the centre console helps to create a driver-focused cockpit, and the driving position, if not quite as low-slung as the Cayman’s, is great. Both cars offer electrically adjustable steering columns.
Everything feels commensurately sized in the compact Cayman cabin – decked predominantly in black in our test car. The centre stack is also compact, as is the touchscreen. While limited in colours compared with the Jaguar’s Touch Pro system, the graphics are well designed and touch response is excellent. Tactility of buttons and switches throughout is also high, as is the sense of quality.
The centre console features separate buttons for suspension, deployable spoiler, and exhaust. Ditto the Jag except for the dampers that only change if a switch is flicked downwards to engage/disengage Dynamic mode (there’s also a Rain/Ice/Snow mode).
Vast head room caters to a range of driver/passenger heights too, though a direct comparison with the F-Type in this respect is tricky as our Jag featured an optional ($2110) sunroof.
For audiophiles, the Cayman’s $2650 Bose is enjoyably bassy, though it plays second fiddle to the F-Type’s $7260 770W Meridian Surround System (a 300W Meridian system is standard). Experience suggests the Porsche’s more expensive ($8790) Burmester would be a fairer match.
Connect Plus, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, is now standard on the Cayman. Smartphone integration of a different variety is offered on the F-Type (if you pay $90 for InControl App), which brings apps such as Spotify, Stitcher or the GoPro-linking Jaguar ReRun.
Autonomous emergency braking is now incorporated into all F-Types, whereas the Cayman continues without. The base-model Brit also comes standard with lane-keep assist, but you need a $2210 Drive Pack if you want to monitor blind spots, fatigue, or approaching vehicles when you’re trying to reverse out of a parking spot.
Porsche also asks extra ($1390) for blind-spot detection (called Lane Change Assist), as well as $2990 for adaptive cruise control – though at least it’s available unlike on the Jaguar.
Practicality is a relative term for sports cars. The Cayman, however, takes advantage of its mid-engine layout to offer luggage compartments both under the ‘bonnet’ and inside the rear hatch opening.
The front section is wide and deep, while the rear section is shallower yet still useful for smaller luggage.
Cabin storage is merely okay. There’s a small, shallow console bin, glovebox, and two narrow door bins on each door, with one a flip-out. Two cupholders pop out horizontally from the passenger-side dash to continue a clever Porsche trend.
The F-Type’s cupholders are positioned in the centre console, though require a slightly awkward bend of the elbow to reach a cup of coffee. Its door bins are singular, small and narrow, and the console bin is tiny.
An auto hatch (a cheeky $1160 option) allows you to access the F-Type’s boot via the key fob rather than an internal button. A full-size spare wheel hogs space, though the boot is a useful size if you order the Jag without it and makes the coupe notably more practical than the F-Type convertible.
In an ideal world, we would be assessing two base-model sports cars in pure form rather than our heavily optioned test cars that were closer to $150K (and exactly that in the Jag’s case) than $100K. Both cars are guilty of being a bit tight-fisted with some of that non-standard gear, with Porsche the slightly more generous.
If you have more than $100,000 to spend on a sports car, though, the Jaguar F-Type and Porsche Cayman are marvellous examples of the breed. They also have the requisite good looks essential for any sports car. Our test drive unequivocally revealed the F-Type as the winner here, though – it simply turned more heads and drew more admiring words than the Cayman.
The Cayman hardly needs to wear a brown paper bag over its dome, but there’s no denying the Jaguar coupe’s stunningly gorgeous, wide-hipped rump and fastback-style profile.
The Porsche has the edge turning corners, though.
The F-Type is a superb driver’s car, and that four-cylinder engine raises its agility by a notch. The Jaguar just feels like a brilliant compact GT when driven back-to-back with the sensational Cayman.
If the four-cylinder turbo sounds like an aural downgrade, it broadens the Cayman’s performance envelope while also reducing fuel use.
And if you’re tackling a long, zigzagging stretch of bitumen – i.e. classic sports car territory – the Porsche remains both an immense and immersive experience.