Jason Barlow19 March 2014

First drive: Jaguar F-Type Coupe

UPDATE: more thoughts on the F-Type R - Jag's quickest car around the 'Ring - and V6 S. They're good...

Ah, the F-type with the roof. Make much of a difference, does it?

Just a bit. The F-type coupe is the stiffest car Jaguar has ever made. In fact, the more engineering savvy among you will appreciate that a figure of 33,000Nm per degree makes it one of the most rigid cars ever. The F-type convertible is as solid as convertibles come. This thing is twice as stiff. It's a proper prize-fighter, an impression that’s firmly underlined with the addition of a roof. The convertible is the image builder, and with more than 10,000 sold since it arrived a year ago it’s doing the job for Jaguar. But this is the one we’ve been waiting for. It also looks mighty, particularly as your eye arrives at the rear end. 

So how does it feel?

Uncompromising. Jaguar let us loose on a circuit called Motorland, deep in the northern Spanish wilderness. It's an FIA level one approved track, 3.2 miles long, and a MotoGP venue. It’s also extremely tricky in places with the sort of hard-to-sight apexes and blind crests that challenge the driver and punish a wayward chassis. The F-type R - coincidentally Jag's fastest ever car round the 'Ring, with a 7 min 39secs lap time - is stupendously good. Turn-in, grip, and overall balance are all top drawer, suggesting that this is a Jaguar that is as happy tearing up a track as it is on the road. There haven't been too many of those. Go for the optional carbon ceramic brakes and the special order Continental rubber on forged wheels and it nudges impressively close to GT3 levels of interactivity. Clever torque vectoring uses the brakes to kill understeer, and the R’s electronic differential maximises traction. Turn everything off, though, and the R’s 542bhp turns traction into a theoretical commodity. There is enough performance to reposition bits of your anatomy – 186mph all out, 0-60mph in 4.0secs – which is Porsche Turbo baiting stuff for a lot less money.

OK, so that's the R. But it's still a thumping 95 grand or so with the carbon brakes. Tell me about the V6 now, please.

It's good news. You might remember that the V6 S was TG's choice when we drove the convertible last year. Well, this time round we'd take the R - that roof makes a big difference - but the 3.0-litre supercharged S (£66,330) has 375bhp and 339 torques, and flows very sweetly down the road. Its steering is linear, full of feedback, and though the eight-speed 'box isn't as smooth shifting as a dual-shift job, it's pretty good. The long and the short of it is, you can make extremely rapid, highly enjoyable progress. Almost enough to displace the R from your mind... The driver-centric cabin feels even more focused with a proper roof above your head, too. 

Is it the full-on driver’s car Jaguar promised?

Yep. Even with 375bhp, you do still have to take the V6 S by the scruff of the neck and wring it out to its 6500rpm red line to get the best from it. It’s equally tasty on tight hairpins where its brakes (380mm steel discs upfront) and steering allow you to plant it exactly where you want it. On faster flowing roads, it has grip to spare and impressive poise. Most importantly, it does it all in a way that differentiates it from its rivals. One word: character. 

Issues?

There are some. Oddly for a Jaguar, the F-type Coupe - in S and R guise - pitches and bobbles on choppy road surfaces, rather than flattening the imperfections out in the traditional Jaguar manner. It's actually sufficiently jarring at times to give your lower back real grief. That and the rather firm seats disrupt the Coupe's ability to slip into its other main role as a long-distance GT cruiser. Perhaps it's the price you pay for the super-stiff body, but a 911 is more compliant overall and less likely to have you on a hotline to the osteopath. 

Is it as lairy as it seemed when TG first drove it?

No. On a wet road, the F-type coupe is still a handful, almost like a more civilised 2014 TVR. But after 24 hours and 500 miles or so, we'd say this is a well-judged, accessible junior supercar. And, of course, it still sounds like Brian Blessed gargling whiskey-infused mouthwash. A Jag source admits there's more 'headroom' with the engine, so look out for a 600bhp RS in the fullness of time. That one might redefine the concept of 'sideways'...

Verdict?

Both the F-type V6 and V8 R turn the dial right up to deliver a full-on Jaguar sports car that’s happier when it’s being pushed than when it’s dawdling. It's surprisingly old-school, in fact. 

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