Jaguar F-type coupe review, test drive
27th Apr 2014 3:30 pm
The coupé is arguably the better looking version of Jag's two-seat sportscar. We've come to Spain to see if it drives as well as it looks.
We're in Spain on a rather rainy day to drive the new hard-top version of Jaguar's stunning looking F-type, and the excitement begins right at the airport. Straight off a charter flight and into a Coupé S – the mid-range model, powered by a 375bhp supercharged V6 – that's parked alongside the taxiway of this tiny airport, I am soon pointing the long nose down an empty motorway. It's easy to stretch the Jag's legs; it's a happy cruiser in the normal driving mode, with the gearbox set to auto, although the pin-sharp steering takes a little getting used to. There's no slack around the straight-ahead position, it feels alive in your hand as it transmits every contour of the road, and on long sweeping bends, you tend to overcorrect. You soon learn that it’s best to guide the F-type with fingertip control.
The 3.0-litre engine is quite a revelation, feeling so much quicker than Jaguar's claimed 4.9-second 0-100kph time would suggest. The sensation is heightened by its rev-happy nature and the delightful soundtrack from a painstakingly tuned exhaust. You also have to give credit to the now-ubiquitous eight-speed ZF automatic. In Sport mode, it feels more alert and makes sure you’re in the right gear at the right time. Use the paddles and it feels like a manual, allowing you to hammer against the rev limiter and downshift at high revs too.
We get off the expressway and onto a single-lane road that winds its way up through the hills, a route I think the event managers deliberately chose to highlight the ride comfort of the F-type coupé. Despite the low-profile tyres and 19-inch alloys, the ride is remarkably compliant for a full-blown sportscar. You can feel the firmness of the dampers, but there’s a nice supple edge which eliminates any harshness from the ride, although the story will likely be different on our abysmal roads.
Snaking into the hills, it’s time to select the most aggressive Dynamic mode and press the Active Exhaust button. Under full throttle, the throaty rasp is loud and fierce, but lifting off is equally dramatic, with a delightful symphony of crackles, pops and burbles playing out on the overrun. Immense grip from the front tyres and a quick steering make it quite a ‘pointy’ car, yet the overall balance is quite neutral.
After a long morning’s drive in the mountains, we arrive at Motorland Aragon circuit, which with its variety of corners, is possibly the best track I’ve driven on after the Nürburgring. A quick guided tour of the circuit with a pro instructor later, it’s my turn to have a go – and since we're on a track, I've shifted from the V6 S to the range-topping 543bhp supercharged V8 R. These few hot laps are on-the-limit stuff for mere mortals like me, even in Dynamic mode with traction control on. The front-end grip is superb, but the rear fidgets about every time I mash the throttle. The brakes are absolutely brilliant with eye-popping stopping power, and with each passing lap, the instructor coaxes me to brake later and later. The Motorland circuit just highlighted how utterly involving and engaging a driving experience the F-type Coupé can deliver.
For the final phase of the drive, it's time to hit the rain-soaked roads once again, but this time in the F-type V8 R Coupé. The less-than-perfect conditions only highlighted how involving the coupé is to drive, although out here, I'm still working myself up to the added performance of the V8 R over the V6 S. It's not the power, or the 298kph top speed, or the 4.2sec claimed 0-100kph time – they're all pretty much par for the course these days – it's the way the performance is administered. Responses to every tiny input are so immediate and accurate, they make you feel wired directly to the car, and if you want to really push it, you'd better be concentrating.
Still, going up a narrow, uneven mountain road, I flip it into Dynamic for sharper throttle response, quicker shifts and tighter handling. It also backs off the traction control a little, letting you mildly drift the car before the electronics clamp back down; it'll make you feel like a bit of a hero, at least for a few moments. But if, like today, the road is wet, it can get a bit overwhelming even with the electronics on, so like the V6 S, it's best to drive the V8 R with carefully metered throttle and steering inputs.
Overall, the coupé’s driving dynamics certainly feel more precise than the convertible’s, thanks to an exceptionally stiff body shell. This aluminium structure is the stiffest Jaguar has ever produced, and torsional rigidity is up from the soft-top by an incredible 80 percent.
The coupé’s cabin is similar to the convertible’s, but it feels a bit more snug because of the fixed roof. The chunky steering, switchgear and finely stitched leather ooze quality. There are no half measures in here, except perhaps for a few buttons, which look like they’ve come from a Ford parts bin. The seats (with inflatable side bolsters in the V8) are, by default, set quite low and short drivers like myself have to max out the seat-height adjustment to peer over the twin-hooded dials. The stubby gear lever is perfectly placed and the grab handle for the passenger also gives the driver a sense of separation.
The other benefit of the hard top is the dramatic improvement in looks. The convertible is gorgeous to begin with, but the coupé looks even better. It’s the one that comes closest to the iconic E-type, with the same classic proportions – long bonnet, sloping roof and bulging rear haunches. An added bonus is a 407-litre boot which, to put it in perspective, offers more luggage space than most compact sedans.
In either guise, the F-type Coupé is a car that sucks you into the action, puts you on your toes and tests your reflexes when driven hard. It might be a bit too tail-happy for some and, in India on our bumpy surfaces, I suspect the V8 R would struggle to put all its 69.3kgm of torque down cleanly. The truth is that the more manageable V6 S is all you need in India. It costs a substantial Rs 50 lakh less than the V8 R and with the money saved you could buy an XF to keep the rest of the family happy.