Hands-on: Jaguar F-Type Coupe review
This is it: the Jaguar F-Type Coupe has arrived. Arguably the most eagerly anticipated car of 2014, it's one that's tantalised us for over two years, ever since it was first shown in concept form as the C-X16 at the Frankfurt Motor Show 2011. And it's a car that's taunted prospective F-Type buyers since then with this one big question: was the Coupe worth waiting for?
Well, the wait is over, and we were whisked away to sunny Spain to find out the answer to that question. Over two days we've tackled wonderfully twisty bits of tarmac just south of Lleida in Spain; made all the more wonderful behind the wheel of an F-Type R Coupe. Oh yes.
The R model is the absolute pinnacle of the F-Type range. Below it sit the £51,235, 335bhp F-Type Coupe, and the £60,235, 375bhp F-Type S Coupe, both of which feature supercharged 3.0-litre V6 engines. But both pale in comparison with the F-Type R, with a supercharged 5.0-litre V8 that produces a thumping 542bhp. That means it can propel the Coupe to 60mph in four seconds dead - nothing short of junior supercar territory.
It's priced that way too, at £85,000, placing it slap-bang in the middle of the Porsche 911 Carrera S and the Aston Martin V8 Vantage. There's another question to answer here, too: can a Jaguar really mix it in among such established company?
If looks could kill
Of course, performance isn't all the Jaguar F-Type Coupe is about. Even if it drove with all the dynamism of a concrete block, people would still buy it for the way it looks. Because it looks gorgeous.
Such things are always subjective, of course, but even if you talked to a thousand people, you'd probably struggle to find one who didn't agree. There isn't an angle on it that's questionable, from its gently raked-under prow, through the taut roofline and back to the E-Type-esque tapering rear screen and gym-bunny buttocks. And that stunning shape is enhanced by some beautifully-judged detail touches such as the LED strip that runs along the lower border of each rear light, and the door handles donning Jag logos that fold flush into the bodywork.
Inside, there's the same sense of surprise and delight. There are central vents that reveal themselves by popping up from the centre console automatically as and when more air is needed, and a driver-focused dash that offers the passenger nothing but a grab handle and another vent.
As lovely as it is inside the tech in here is starting to look a little dated though. Jaguar's infotainment system is capable enough, but it lacks the slickness and ease-of-use you'll find in, for example, the latest systems from Audi and BMW. Nevertheless, it has all the functionality you'd expect: satnav, DAB radio, Bluetooth connectivity and, of course, control of the dynamic modes for throttle, steering, gearshift and suspension. It also features a G-meter - because everyone wants to know how much G-force they're pulling, right? - in addition to a lap timer and a screen that shows the levels of accelerator and brake being used.
How much these will actually get used by the F-Type's buyers will depend on how good it is to drive. And as you'd expect, it's the F-Type R which gets the best driver-assisting tech to help you get the most out of it all.
First, there's the adaptive dynamics system, which also comes as standard on the V6-powered F-Type S. This monitors each damper over 500 times a second and adjusts it to suit, helping to minimise body roll, pitch, and vertical movement. You also have a manual override with which you can stiffen things up yourself, should you so wish.
Then there's Torque Vectoring by Braking - for the first time on a Jaguar - which dabs the inner wheels' brakes in a corner to help pull the front end around and reduce understeer. This then gives way to the Electronic Active Differential if needs be, which uses sensors to detect slip at each rear wheel and electronically-actuated clutches to send the power to the one with more traction.
All well and good, but does it work? Put simply: yes. And then some. As demonstrated when we take the F-Type R out on track at Motorland Aragón.
Jaguar says the Coupe's body is a staggering 80 per cent stiffer than the drop-top's, thanks to some clever structural engineering - and it shows. Throw it at a fast corner and what strikes you first is its tenacity; thanks to the incredibly clever tech, the pace you can carry into a corner, even in the wet, is astonishing. The steering is light, lively, and wonderfully quick, and it's nigh-on impossible to tempt the nose into understeer. Instead, it bites and darts toward the apex, exactly where you want it, each and every time. Squeeze the power on gently through the turn and the rear feels rock solid too, the differential finding the grip until it runs out, when the back end sweeps wide progressively and deliciously controllably.
Out on the road, this astonishing balance and stability become even more noticeable. The grip the F-Type R can find is faintly unbelievable. Of course, there's a point at which the sheer amount of power will cause the rear tyres to break traction, but it takes far more provocation than you'd expect - and until that point the car simply hunkers down and drives you round the bend. There isn't quite the razor edge of a 911 here, but so close does the F-Type get that only the most devoted of Porsche fans would miss it.
But, believe it or not, the handling isn't the most striking thing about the F-Type R. It's the noise.
It's impossible to resort to age-old cliches about bassy burbles or banshee wails here, because the sound the R makes when you press throttle to carpet is unreal. This thing doesn't so much growl or scream, more splits the air in two. It's so raw and visceral, it pretty much overloads your senses with a sound so addictive it's impossible to resist breaking into an asinine giggle every time it fills your world and hits you in the pit of the stomach. And it isn't done when you lift off the throttle either, crackling and spitting like someone's set off a whole pyrotechnic display at once back there.
Even when you're coasting, feet far from the right pedal, the F-Type R gurgles quietly to itself as the gearbox drops down a cog, muttering disparagingly below its breath about its driver's lack of commitment. So it's hard to resist the chance to give it what it's looking for the next time the opportunity presents itself.
The result is a truly startling whack up the backside as the supercharged V8's 502lb/ft of torque is delivered in an enormous, sledgehammer wallop, whatever the revs. This isn't a car you have to wind up to experience the best of; it doesn't demand that commitment, like some rivals.
Rather, the F-Type hits you with it whenever you go near the throttle, laying it on in quantities deeper and greater the longer you keep your foot planted. There's no let-up, not even through to the next gear, so rapid is the standard 8-speed auto's shift. Each change is accompanied by a fraction of a second's worth of woofle from the exhaust, too, doubtless engineered in but enormously gratifying all the same.
If all this sounds rather lyrical, it should, because the F-Type R really is one of the most exhilarating and capable cars Jaguar has ever produced. But it isn't perfect.
Jaguar will tell you that this is a new kind of Jaguar sports car, and the company is right - it's one that values driving dynamics above comfort, which is something that's never been the case before.
The majority of the time, the F-Type lacks the cossetting isolation from the road surface you'd find in a Jaguar XK. Instead, it's firmer and very obviously connected to the tarmac. In short: this is a far more sporting Jag than any Jag that's gone before. Whether that's a good thing or not will depend on your point of view. Traditionalists might find the drive hard to swallow, but on the other hand the Porsche 911 buyers that Jaguar is gunning for might not find it such an issue.
But while you can apply the sports car defence to the F-Type's stiffness the majority of the time, there are occasions when it becomes unacceptably jarring, namely more sudden ruts and poor surfaces that cause the F-Type to jolt and jostle unpleasantly. It's the one part of the driving experience that doesn't feel entirely polished.
But it's a small part, compared with the F-Type R's towering ability in most other areas, and many will live with it for this car's extraordinary capacity for providing instant gratification and sensory overload at the drop of a hat. Or indeed, for its glorious looks, because this is arguably the Jaguar design team's finest work for decades.
The F-Type R really is a sensational thing, and every bit the junior supercar it purports to be. It was worth the wait, then? Well, put it this way: if it'd taken five years to come to fruition, let alone two and a bit, then the answer would still be a resounding yes.