The monsoons may have had a slow start, but on this evening in early August, it’s pouring buckets. From my vantage point inside Jaguar Land Rover’s very swanky corporate showroom in Worli, Mumbai, all I see is an opaque sheet of rainfall. The flooded conditions seem apt to put any of the Land Rovers on display to the test, not the 543bhp (and 69.3kgm), rear-wheel-drive rocketship I have just been handed the key to. I’m itching to drive, but better sense tells me to hold out. I just can’t let impatience and unnecessary bravado cut short my week-long stint with what promises to be Jaguar’s most exciting sportscar in decades. A lot of Jaguar literature and a few coffees later, I notice the downpour has reduced to a mild drizzle. Visibility is better and traffic seems to be in motion too — that’s the green signal I’ve been waiting for. I want to make a fast getaway, but quickly realise I’d need the equivalent of a racehorse’s blinkers to keep me walking straight to the car’s door. It looks just so damn hot, I simply have to stop to take one hard look at it. Eventually I peel my eyes away from the F’s shapely form, making a mental list of all the details I’d like to see up close later on. Like the door handles that pop out as you press the unlock button on the key fob, which is such a neat touch.
It’s quite a drop into the cabin, but the beautifully contoured bucket seats offer a comfortable landing. On the outset, frontal visibility seems good and I’m quite taken by the welcome gesture or Jaguar handshake. It’s performed by a platform hidden atop the centre console that rises to reveal the air-con vents, a bit gimmicky but literally a very cool touch. Starter button depressed, the engine rumbles to life to settle at a gruff idle. Gear lever clicked to D, and I’m off. But I’m not in the clear — rush hour has begun and traffic is thickening. All plans for an initial joy ride are cancelled and I decide to call it a day. It’s on the journey home that my right foot gives in to temptation and I weigh down hard on the accelerator at the first opportune moment. What follows has me thrilled and petrified at the same time. The Jag’s tail momentarily steps out of line as the Pirellis struggle to put down all that power on the wet surface. Meanwhile, the exhaust roars loud enough to alert every living being in the vicinity that there’s a big cat on the prowl. This is going to be a very fun week. . .
The first few hours with the Jag go in plotting waypoints for the proper ice-breaking drive later in the night. I’m marking places with smooth surfaces, low traffic and two-wheeler-free stretches. And, of course, tunnels. With no rain expected till the morning, the weather gods seem to approve of the route too. So at the dot of 11pm, the F-type’s quad-exhausts break the silence of the night. The roof screen is pulled back to reveal the panoramic glass roof and the 14-way adjustable seat is set for the right amount of side bolstering. Unfortunately, the reverse camera has fogged up, so the blurred image in the central screen and limited view out the sloping rear window are of little help on my way out. This apart, the list of things I like quickly grows. The weighty flat-bottomed steering is nice to grip and feelsome, the eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox is prompt and even that supercharged, 5-litre V8 under the hood doesn’t seem to mind a relaxed pace. But on the relatively slow initial bit of the drive, it’s the F-type’s ride quality that really has me amazed. Sure, the Jag doesn’t go over the rough stuff like a magic carpet, but for a stiff sportscar riding on 20-inch wheels, it’s thoroughly impressive. What’s more, the big cat doesn’t scrape its belly on the numerous speedbreakers either. Ground clearance is sufficient, but to use off-roading parlance, the Jag’s ‘approach angle’ is compromised by the front splitter that extends far out. It’s easy to ground the chin when exiting steeply angled ramps. Still, it seems like a relatively easy sportscar to live with. But I soon experience the F-type’s core competence — it’s in delivering big thrills.
I’ve reached the Eastern Freeway and it’s here that the real F-type experience begins. What immediately sucks me in is the way it sounds. The soundtrack starts with the supercharger’s deep induction noise that’s followed by an angry growl, which finally builds into an almighty V8 roar near the 6600rpm limiter with the accelerator pinned deep into the carpet. What happens when I lift off the nicely sprung throttle pedal is equally glorious. The exhausts pop, crackle and sputter as if to intimate me of the engine’s displeasure for backing off. But for me, lifting off the throttle is as much fun as flooring it! The sounds get amplified and angrier still when I press the Active Sports Exhaust button. This feature electronically opens bypass valves in the exhaust system to take the aural drama to a whole new level. Perhaps now you understand why tunnels are an important part of my route. The good folk who tuned the Jag’s exhaust deserve a Grammy.
What also has me hooked is the way it goes. There’s something decidedly old-school about the F-type R’s large V8 and big supercharger setup. Thrust, and I mean thrust, is relentless right from the word go. There’s just no let-up in power, so on the empty road I’m driving on, the pace at which I catch up with the lone car in the distance is just mind-boggling. To give you an idea of how fast the F is, here are some numbers of interest: It does the 0-100kph dash in 4.16 seconds (there’s no launch control here!) and 0-200kph takes all of 13.69 seconds. Even the in-gear acceleration times are wildly quick. The Jag just makes all roads on my route seem a lot shorter than I remember them to be. I’m not complaining and head home with a mental map of other roads for the nights to come. My body clock will have to adapt.
I make another happy discovery on the otherwise mundane morning commute to office. And that’s that the F doesn’t require silly speeds or much road space to exhibit its wild side. Small gaps in traffic are enough to get the exhausts to bark and the tail to do a little jig. In fact, with so much power, it’s easy to unsettle the rear tyres even in the relatively sedate rain/snow setting for the traction control, gearbox and engine. Thrilling? Yes. Scary? Not once you are used to it, because the overwhelming feeling is that this car and its electronics have been set up to allow a certain degree of playfulness. Dull moments, then, are restricted to traffic signal halts and, ahem, petrol pumps. But more on that later. The office parking lot is abuzz with activity today. There’s a ceremony in progress, so I gingerly (and quietly) manoeuvre the Jag into the designated parking slot. While I do so, I notice there’s a small crowd gathering around the F. That’s expected. What isn’t is that the crowd comprises priests who have paused their proceedings just to have a closer look at the car! I’m sure they’ll be praying for this one!
Colleagues join in and together we just ogle at the car. The smart headlamps with the J-shaped LED running lights, squared-out Jaguar grille and sharkfin inlets work well up front, but they aren’t half as interesting as the bits aft of the front wheels. I don’t want to sound uncultured, but man, what a backside! The way the roof flows into the powerful haunches and that stubby cliff-faced tail is simply stuff of design genius. Even the slender LED tail-lamps that wrap themselves around that wide posterior are a sight to behold. Aesthetic value aside, the coupé’s roof has made its all-aluminium body stiffer than the famed British upper lip. It’s when I open the doors that we all seem to agree that perhaps Jaguar’s designers exhausted their creativity by the time they got to the interiors. The dashboard looks sporty, for sure, but the layout and design isn’t what you’d call particularly unique. It’s also in the light of day that I can tell the cabin quality is good, but not exceptional. The plastics over the deep dish dials, for instance, are hard and the steering adjust knob seems plucked from a budget Ford. Even the graphics on the touchscreen for the infotainment system look a bit last-gen. I’m nitpicking, yes, but then you do expect the very best when your car costs close to Rs 2 crore. On the positive side, there’s plenty to like too. The knurled climate control knobs with in-built LED displays, for one, look spectacular.
I also like how handy the passenger grab handle sprouting out of the centre console is. Other classy touches include the contrast stitching on the seats, dashboard and door pads, and I really like the fighter jet-like toggle to operate the drive modes. Why the latter, like the gearshift paddles and starter button, is finished in a gaudy shade of copper, I don’t quite understand.
A few distracted hours of work later, it’s time to head back out. The Jag’s been ferrying excited passengers for joy rides since the morning, so I’m mentally prepared to see the fuel level significantly lower than what I left it at. What I’m not prepared for is a near-empty fuel tank. A quick look at the fuel records reveals that on average the Jag has guzzled a litre of petrol every 3.3 kilometres. 3.3kpl! That means fuel bills for a day of enthusiastic driving can equal the EMI on a small car, especially if you fill the recommended 97 octane. I gently inform Haymarket’s money police that there’s going to be a lot of activity on my credit card this coming weekend.
On the weekend
The grand plan for the weekend is to drive out to the hill station of Lavasa some 200km away, where our TV crew plans to shoot. The Jaguar and I will be joined by a ‘few’ colleagues who’ve ‘selflessly’ volunteered to help out with the remaining photography and ancillary tasks. I know the real reason they’ve sacrificed their Saturday. Anyway, they’ll be coming in our trusty Renault Duster. Just as well, because I need some place to dump my luggage. The F-type’s brochure says boot space is 407 litres. Perhaps Jaguar should add a disclaimer saying all of that space is taken up by the space-saver tyre stowed there. There’s really no space for anything more than a briefcase. The drive out of Mumbai is uneventful, which I take as a good thing. Speedbreakers and broken patches of road are dealt without much fuss and soon enough we’re on the Mumbai-Pune expressway. First of the day’s notes to self: the F-type is a pretty good GT, but I can feel a bit of harshness on expansion joints apart and hear some tyre noise too. However, the suspension handles the bumpy expressway’s surface really well and cruising in the region of 100kph with the engine spinning at a lazy 1000rpm, the engine sound is perhaps the lowest it’s been in the past few days.
Once off the expressway, it’s frustratingly slow progress on the lunar surface of NH4. I cross Pune, turn off at Chandni Chowk and roll along past the town of Pirangut. Soon enough, things get a lot more interesting. The road up is a beautiful mix of short and medium straights, fast sweepers and tight hairpin turns. At long last, the big cat has reached its hunting grounds. Dynamic mode selected (it stiffens the suspension, adds weight to the hydraulic steering and quickens the engine and gearbox), fingers on the paddleshifters, we blast off; the rapidity with which the F gathers speed on the steep gradient certainly makes it feel so. Seconds later, we’re at the first of many hairpin bends. Then a short straight leads us to the next one. Sweeping corners follow. And so on. What the series of turns do is reaffirm a crucial one of my findings of the past few days — that the Jaguar is not quite a precision tool as, say, a Porsche 911.
There’s a noticeable dead zone just off straight-ahead position on the otherwise delightfully quick steering, and turn-in is also not pin-sharp. But not for one instant do I think the F-type isn’t fun on these roads. It just needs to be driven like the old-school rear-wheel-drive brute that it thinks it is. That involves powering out mid-corner so the rear wheels align with the intended angle of attack. Torque vectoring (that individually brakes the wheels) and the electronic differential make this easier done than said. What’s also nice is that in Dynamic mode, the gearbox doesn’t upshift automatically and it hangs onto each cog even when the engine is bouncing off the rev limiter. Brake feel and strength are super too. And lest I forget, the sight of the rising spoiler filling up the rearview mirror is just incredible. For the umpteenth time this day, I’m grinning from ear to ear. Just wish the transmission tunnel didn’t heat up so much on all-out runs. I can feel it on my left leg and it even heats up the bottle of water stowed in one of the two cupholders behind the gear lever. Once inside Lavasa, the empty, twisty roads leading up to the next township under development present all of us one last opportunity to misbehave before we hand over the Jag to the TV team. Rabid powerslides are the order for the next half hour or so. The G-meter display on the infotainment screen helps settle our friendly dispute over the most controlled driver. Unfortunately, time’s up, but I just don’t want to get out of the car. The high door sill makes that harder to do still.
What a week it’s been! Late night drives, early morning tail-out action and one quick out-of-town getaway, the F-type R Coupé’s seen it all. That it’s lived through without breaking my back and also without any dinks to its underbody speaks volumes about its suspension and ground clearance, and correspondingly, the Jag’s relative suitability to India. It’s one of the main reasons you should consider one over many of the other sportscars available in India.
But to me, the biggest draw here is that this car has soul. It doesn’t feel clinically perfect like the others of its breed and gives you ample room to play around. It trades precision for good old driver involvement and hence scores really, really big on that all-important fun factor. And so, the F-type Coupé R’s gorgeousness is not just skin deep. But if the Rs 1.91 crore (ex-showroom, Mumbai) price tag for the R seems too exorbitant, Jaguar also sells the coupé with hugely capable V6 engines and far lower price tags. Just don’t expect them to feel quite as epic.