Paul Horrell12 January 2014

First drive: Jaguar F-Type Coupe

Gorgeous Jag gets a hard top and even more powerrrrr. Paul Horrell mans up to take on the 542bhp two-door

Less than one year in, and it's time to get excited over the Jaguar F-Type all over again. What we have here is the new Coupe body. If that's not enough, we've also got the R badge. With that, the supercharged 5.0-litre engine is cranked up to 542bhp, as opposed to the 488bhp of the far-from-unexciting V8S Convertible.

But first, let's just look at it. We all know the Convertible is a shapely article to begin with. But the Coupe has even more to offer, because the designers' canvas extends above the waistline. And they made the most this extra scope for their artistry.

The roof arches over to a hatchback with a sharply tapering window. The side glass isn't just a bare triangle but has an upward kink that emphasises the sweep of the wheel-arches. Best of all, the whole cabin narrows to give a deep and meaningful rear haunch.

The tail slopes higher than the Convertible's horizontal boot lid, and there's no need to make space for the folded soft top. This means this is the first F-Type that doesn't demand you send your spare underpants ahead by courier. The boot isn't big but it's perfectly OK, with a useful extra bin beneath the flat floor too.

Never mind your bags, what about you? Well the cabin is nice and snug, but there's enough headroom, and the pillar-less design means you can see back over your shoulder at junctions.

The silhouette is largely clean of obvious aero trickery, but at 70mph a spoiler pops up from the trailing edge of the rear screen. There's no positive downforce, but it kills any lift.

The hard roof makes the car nearly twice as rigid, though the cloth-roof version is hardly soggy. The windscreen pillar and side rail is a very clever single-piece hydroformed extrusion. Even so, it's not obvious why this all-aluminium two-seater is 200kg heavier than a steel-and-aluminium 2+2 911.

Don't be fooled by the stickers saying this is a prototype. The engineers say it drives like the final thing. All that seemed to be awaiting a last fettle was the boot carpet.

As it sits in the pit-lane of a dry racetrack, with my name on it, I'm prepared to overlook the boot carpet.

Straight out of the traps, there's a different quality to the sound versus the bombastic V8 roadster. Because the rear screen would reflect rear-tyre and exhaust noise right to your ears, the engineers had to be careful to staunch the volume more. So there's extra padding, and the exhaust doesn't open its noisy-flaps until higher up the revs. Result is, when you're driving with some moderation, the car is a little more civilised.

But crank it up and here comes the familiar brutal V8 howl, and the spitting on the over-run as you pull the down paddle and it chews through the ratios.

The R's extra power doesn't make the engine feel peaky. That's because it comes with extra mid-range torque too. So you've basically got a car that's scalded-cat fast from about 3000rpm upwards. It does 0-62 in 4.2 sec, and that's definitely traction-limited. Point of fact, it's often better to go round corners a gear higher than you expected, making it easier to keep the tyres on the right side of traction. High revs plus low gears generally means wheelspin.

That said, the Coupe seems more benign than the Roadster. They've recalibrated the rear e-diff and the adaptive dampers (same hardware, new calibrations). The springs are very slightly stiffer, to take advantage of the new body stiffness. The car isn't supposed to ride any more firmly (we'll have to get it on the road rather than track to find out) but there's better traction. At the limit, you can ease the tail out. Under the same circumstances, the V8S roadster tends to zap out like a flick-knife.

The R Coupe turns in slightly more faithfully too, by gently brushing its inside brake for a torque-vectoring effect. Have to say I didn't notice. But I did get more steering feel mid-corner than I remember from the convertible. Maybe that's the stiffer body allowing better precision and feedback - it's the sort of thing lap times don't measure but humans feel. And adore. The whole car feels sharp and adjustable and confident - more so than the Roadster, and that beat a 911 cabrio when we had them together.

Jaguar has lined up with the opposition and is now offering carbon-ceramic brakes. The iron ones might have been getting tired after a morning on the track, but they still seemed to be doing the job. Then I switched to a carbon-braked car and at the end of the first straight I had to accelerate again before the corner because they'd pulled up so soon. So the carbon jobs are the smart choice if you drive your F-Type at tracks (probably few do) or down mountain passes (maybe more).

The R gets standard race seats and other spec goodies that are optional elsewhere on the range, so it's the dearest F at £85,000. That's the same as the 911 Carrera S PDK. Which has 100bhp less.

For the F-Type V6 and V6S, the Coupes are cheaper than the Roadsters. So the lovely 380bhp V6S Coupe is about the price most people pay for a mildly optioned Cayman S. People once said the F-Type was expensive. This might shut them up.

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