This is a comparison test between not the Porsche 911 and not a Porsche 911. That rear-engined German coupe may continue to be the elite-level sports car benchmark, but not everyone falls for its evolutionary shape and nor can most afford to buy one.
The facelifted Jaguar F-Type 400 Sport and new-for-2017 Lexus LC500 unite as design leaders from across the globe, or the United Kingdom and Japan respectively. Where an auto-equipped 911 Carrera can quickly ascend to $250,000 plus on-road costs with only a few options ticked, this duo arrive fully loaded for around $200K.
There is indeed a unique place in the world for these low and wide two-door coupes that each aim to blend Grand Touring (GT) grace with sports car pace. Just 2mm separates the body width of the F-Type 400 Sport and LC500, while both offer near-identical performance and they arrive on-test costing within $5000 of each other.
Now all we have to do is find out whether Jaguar or Lexus makes the better ‘not 911’.
Jaguar F-Type 400 Sport
Price: $183,800 plus on-road costs
Engine: 294kW/460Nm 3.0-litre supercharged V6
Transmission: eight-speed automatic
Fuel use claimed: 8.6l/100km | tested: 13.7l/100km
Price: $190,000 plus on-road costs
Engine: 351kW/540Nm 5.0-litre petrol V8
Transmisison: 10-speed automatic
Fuel use claimed: 11.7l/100km | tested: 14.8l/100km
Previously an F-Type S Coupe asked just over $150,000 plus on-road costs. With a minor mid-life update, however, Jaguar has given its 3.0-litre supercharged V6 engine more power (up 14kW to 294kW, plus an unchanged 460Nm of torque) and extra equipment to create the F-Type 400 Sport priced from $183,800 (plus orc).
New 400 Sport highlights over the old S include sinewy 20-inch alloy wheels, larger brakes, a bodykit with adjustable spoiler, fresh LED headlights and performance seats as standard. Meanwhile, carried over for the rear-wheel drive model are a limited-slip differential (LSD) with torque vectoring and adaptive suspension.
The LC500 lobs for $190,000 (plus orc) and would seem to have an advantage thanks to the 5.0-litre naturally aspirated V8 engine’s 351kW of power and 540Nm of torque. However, the two-plus-two-seat Lexus weighs 1935kg, or 215kg more than its two-seat rival, meaning its 4.7-second 0-100km/h claim is only two-tenths faster.
The Japanese contender also needs a $15,000 Enhancement Package – as fitted on-test – to match its rival’s LSD, active spoiler and sports seats, while it further adds four-wheel steering and a carbonfibre roof. Conversely, though, the British challenger needs $18,530 in luxury and active safety options to match the standard kit of its foe.
Just when you think the F-Type remains pegged at its standard pricetag, the options list arrives. Indeed, when equipped to match the LC500, which as-tested costs $205,000 (plus orc), it suddenly soars to $202,330 (plus orc).
Where Lexus includes a 918-watt Mark Levinson audio system as standard, a 770W Merdian sound system costs $7260 extra on the Jaguar. The latter only has an 8.0-inch touchscreen – versus a 10.3in screen– but it then also asks $2465 extra for app connectivity and remote services, and $620 for a digital radio included in its rival.
The 400 Sport also needs a blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert and lane-keep assistance ($2270 combined), a panoramic glass roof ($2060), even a rear-view camera ($1035), dual-zone climate control ($1010), front parking sensors ($690). auto-dimming electric-fold door mirrors ($780) and auto high-beam ($340) to become an equipment match. As aforementioned, that’s an $18,530 options total.
With the options game levelled, though, it’s game on with lineball equivalent pricing.
The LC500 ultimately delivers the more boutique and finely crafted cabin. The driver and front passenger are positioned low, with a proper sports car seating position, and they are surrounded by gorgeous high-grade leather and Alcantara.
The ‘floating’ cabin door handles rate as a particularly special touch, and although the rear seats may be for children only, this is fine for a family’s second or third car.
Fear not, the red leather is a no-cost option, as are black and beige. Either way, the sweeping and expansive dashboard provides more than a hint of GT cruiser, yet the sporty seats, small steering wheel and edgy chronograph-style dials spell racer. The attention to detail is very impressive, the ambience brimming with tension.
There are some downsides, however.
Lexus carries over its infotainment and active safety system technology from cheaper models, including most buttons and graphics, and in all ways they operate as though they are from mainstream sub-$100K models rather than a $200K-plus sports car.
The screen graphics are mostly impressive, but using a centre console-mounted touchpad to control an on-screen cursor is ergonomically frustrating. It might be fine to control Windows from a workstation, but it’s distracting and tricky on the move.
Several functions are also disabled at speed, inexplicably, such as accessing a smartphone contact list or entering a navigation address. The blind-spot/lane-keep/forward collision warning systems are also conservatively tuned, and they illuminate a Christmas-tree-light smorgasbord of bright green icons in the driver display – shared with Toyota products – merely to advise that they are switched on.
Such detail inconsistency is thrown into sharp relief by the Jaguar.
The F-Type 400 Sport immediately feels less expansive and more generic in its design. The seats are likewise fantastic, the leather-trimmed dashboard similarly providing an element of luxury offset by some aggression from the yellow stitching.
However, beyond the centre air-vent pod that hides within the dashboard and then electrically raises when the climate controls are switched on, there isn’t the same sense of occasion. There is an analogue speedometer and tachometer with a simple colour screen in between, and a relatively plain centre touchscreen. There are few other controls, too, bar exhaust and Sport ESC buttons, and a Dynamic Mode toggle.
If the initial impression is one of underdone ordinariness, though, then the lasting verdict instead transcends to be one of superb ergonomics, utter consistency and a less-is-more approach that emphatically puts several exclamation marks after ‘more’.
Unlike the LC500, all showy and fiddly, the Jaguar just does everything easily. The touchscreen allows a driver to enter a nav address on the run and flick through contacts lists, and you could change the whole exhaust/ESC/Dynamic mode equation on the fly without entering sub-menus that Lexus blocks out anyway.
The F-Type’s larger 310-litre boot, complete with liftback practicality, also trumps its rival’s tiny 197L cavity, which also features among the narrowest lid openings of any vehicle at any price. Buyers will need to weigh up whether a big boot is a better trade for ‘occasional’ chairs in the rear, but objectively it’s a draw behind the front seats.
All of which leaves the more harmonious and ergonomic British coupe to trump its more finely crafted but inconsistent Japanese foe in round one.
ON THE ROAD
Jaguar previously sold a 325kW/625Nm 5.0-litre supercharged V8-engined F-Type for $201,945 (plus orc). The 4.3-second 0-100km/h, rear-wheel drive ballistic missile has since been dropped, however, replaced by a 404kW/680Nm version with the same engine and teamed only with all-wheel drive. But it costs $264,712 (plus orc).
Leaving the Lexus aside for a moment, then, an early on-road question is whether the 3.0-litre supercharged V6-powered F-Type 400 Sport is good enough to fill the position left by its old bigger brother. With a 4.9-sec 0-100km/h claim it isn’t overly fast. An outgoing V8-engined Commodore can match that for a quarter of the price.
Beyond numbers, at least, this really is a gorgeous engine. Initially defined by its flawlessly connected throttle response, thanks to that supercharger rather than a turbocharger, the English unit then soars to 7000rpm with hard-edged enthusiasm.
With peak torque from 3500rpm until 5000rpm, and peak power at 6000rpm, there’s response everywhere while never overwhelming the chassis (or driver) by throwing a heavily boosted 550Nm of torque to the back wheels at 1800rpm. We’re looking at you, snappy and unfriendly BMW M3/M4...
Here is where the LC500 makes ground, however. The Jaguar engine is joyous, but the Lexus unit is more lovable than most others regardless of price. It revs so quickly to its 351kW power peak at 7100rpm, with the most glorious, throaty snarl that makes belting it around town as addictive as doing so on a backroad.
Given that the automatic has 10 gears to choose from, the 540Nm of torque made at a high 4800rpm also becomes a disguised issue. Indeed, the auto also surpasses that of its otherwise excellent eight-speed auto-equipped rival because in either Sport or Sport+ mode it segues from being calm to crisp in a near-flawless way.
Does the F-Type need a V8 badge on its rump to better challenge its rival for engine honours here? Yes, it does.
Moreover, the LC500’s carbonfibre- and aluminium-intense chassis is a great one. Despite being a seemingly big and bluff GT with a hefty kerb weight, the four-wheel steering is light and incisive to help shrink the coupe around its driver.
The way the adaptive suspension hides the effects of the enormous 21s is stunning, too, and only in Comfort mode does some bobbing and bluster occur. Even around town, Sport is the preferable choice. Critically, it never becomes harsh and, being a Lexus, it’s also more hushed than its rival.
An equal surprise is the way the Jaguar rides on 20s, though. In its standard mode it feels more soothing than its rival, while being markedly more controlled. Its steering is a little heavier but perhaps even tighter, and there’s feel and feedback in spades.
For ride quality and steering there really is nothing between these two. Each does, however, tread a different – but in some ways equally appealing – handling path.
Despite generally riding well, the LC500’s suspension keeps its front-end pinned mostly flat through corners. There is a greater push towards understeer on turn-in than a what a smaller, more lithe coupe might deliver – like the F-Type, as it were – but it’s kept in check by the top damping and superb Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres.
The Lexus does demand more of a point-and-shoot driving style, though. It can deliver delicate balance and it becomes keen to shift its weight off the front end, but electronics hobble proceedings. There is no Sport mode for the electronic stability control (ESC) and the system frustratingly undercalls the chassis’ ability. By miles.
Just as the F-Type’s cabin ergonomics provide sharp relief after the finicky Lexus, so too does its chassis. With more nimble turn-in than its rival, it encourages a driver to quickly apply throttle and balance it between its axles.
Very quickly the driver feels as though all four tread patterns are being massaged into the surface with greater ease, fluidity and calm than its rival, which sits flat, feels pushier, yet ultimately clings to greater grip than the Jag’s Pirelli P Zero tyres offer.
The 400 Sport’s standard ESC never feels intrusive, yet it also offers a Sport setting to provide greater interaction with the LSD. The back axle feels connected and malleable, whereas Lexus’ electronics lock up its LSD in a safe, never to be used.
We’re not talking lairy and inappropriate oversteer here, but tightening a sports car’s cornering line on the throttle and feeling engaged in the driving experience, is simply a must for a $200,000 sports car. And only one two-door delivers on that here.
With its concept-car looks and huge wheels, the LC500 was the only coupe to draw out fingers and pull down jaws from people passing by on the street. The fact this is a Lexus with incredible quality and customer service, an epic V8 engine yet with smooth and serene ride quality, leaves it as a commendable way to spend $200K.
However, particularly when a buyer is deep into six-figure territory, the devil of detail becomes more prominent with every increasing dollar. Whether it’s cabin ergonomics or graphics, active safety tuning, or ESC intrusion, the Oriental option just doesn’t quite become the sum of its parts, especially when weight is factored in.
Even without the ESC issue, the F-Type handles with greater authority, while riding with even greater aplomb. It lacks rear seats, it can get noisy on coarse-chip roads and its supercharged V6 isn’t quite a match for its V8 rival.
Yet the Jaguar feels cohesive and complete. It is stylish to look at from any angle, while being effortless to use inside, and utterly rewarding to drive in every situation. It can be used as a smooth-riding, hot-looking coupe to take your better half out to dinner in, then when alone as a backroad weapon that always has the driver’s back.
With fewer options and a lower price, the 400 Sport could garner an even higher score here, because it really is that great. We hate to say it, though, but at $200,000-plus it really does start to become a bit too close to a Porsche 911.
Jaguar F-Type 400 Sport – 4.0 stars
Lexus LC500 – 3.5 stars