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Driving the Jaguar F-Type R Coupe

  1. A year into its life, the Jaguar F-Type Convertible is still fresh as a daisy. It’s a very pretty thing all the way from ground level up to roughly the height of your belly button. Above that, the only bits that were designed by Jaguar are the windscreen and headrests, which are functional necessities, neither of them admitting a lot of creative freedom. The rest of the view is of whatever lies beyond. Range of mountains at a blazing sunset: good. Oil refinery in the wintry drizzle: less good.

    Now we’ve got the F with a hard roof, this new Coupe, and it fills a larger vertical space with its own beauty. Ian Callum and his team have been able to express themselves even more fully. But there’s more to this car than looks alone. You might have noticed the little R badge on the rear right rump. Since the roadster arrived (and indeed this won’t change for the time being), the F-Types with a V8 have been called S. And S means 488bhp. But R means 542.

    Pictures: John Wycherly

    This feature first appeared in Top Gear magazine

  2. Now, never for a moment have I mumbled quietly to myself, while flooring the throttle of that Convertible and struggling to referee the occasionally messy brawl that’s going on between its rear tyres and the tarmac, “What this thing - ooops - really needs is - gulp - another 54bhp.” Still, Jag reckons to have done clever things to make the thing more manageable. We will see.

    It might have supercar power, but it isn’t quite supercar size. It doesn’t look stretched-out like a Mercedes SLS, for instance. Because the volumes aren’t overblown, the surfaces can be beautifully uncomplicated yet still make sense. It doesn’t look plain, even though there’s very little adornment, just graceful purpose. The roof sweeps its way over into a hatchback. Set into the hatch is a rear windscreen that tapers down and back, emphasising the width of the gently rolling hills of the rear wings. It’s a classic rear-drive power signifier, but done with a lovely elegance. From the side, the glazing envelope takes an upward kink, again reinforcing the sweep of those haunches.

  3. There’s sense to go with the beauty. The sloping tail encloses more volume than the Convertible’s flat bootlid, and the bulk of the folded canvas roof is also absent here. So, in place of the Convertible’s hilariously tiny rear glovebox, you’ve now got a proper boot. At a stroke, this kills the main criticism of the roadster. The Coupe is a proper GT, rather than a car reserved for people who don’t balk at buying new clothes whenever they arrive at their overnight stop.

    From the driving seat, it’s much like the roadster. The whole architecture embraces you snugly, like a sports car should. The R gives you the deep bucket seats that are options on other F-Types. They hold you properly when the forces get lateral, as they surely will. It’s stylish in here too, except for the navigation-info-configuration screen, which is standard JLR stuff, a system that’s now beyond pensionable age. Apart from overly complex menus and sluggish response, it has ugly, coarse graphics that are a betrayal of the designers’ work all over the rest of the car.

  4. Anyway, via that screen, you can configure the settings that kick in when you toggle the bronze key on the transmission tunnel. You’re given four separate choices over whether the key sharpens up the throttle travel, firms the damper programme, speeds the gearshift or weights up the steering some more. Even on the track, we’d honestly suggest leaving the throttle pedal at its least aggressive. You still get full power, it’s just that less of it cascades out of the engine at small pedal excursions. This engine is so immense that you sometimes don’t want to find yourself with the whole nine yards - six might well be what you want, and seven an embarrassment of riches.

    The R’s engine doesn’t feel more peaky than the S’s. The torque curve is better-fed everywhere it matters - the S is 460lb ft, the R 502lb ft from 2,500rpm up. So you can take a corner a gear higher than you expected and then teleport down the straight. It’s a fabulous engine to use. Supercharging the V8 gives it instant answers, all the time. It also squeezes your chest with a pounding barrel-chested exhaust noise like a low-level historical aircraft flypast. It makes bystanders duck.

  5. But to stop the noise rattling around inside the Coupe’s closed cabin, it has more rear-end soundproofing from tyre noise, and its exhaust bypass valves open at slightly different times than the Convertible’s do. Seems to work, though a track isn’t the best place to find out.

    We’re confined to a track because this is a prototype, a fact we promised we’d mention. But the engineers say it drives like the production car will. Apparently, the main thing that still needs sorting is the fit of the bootfloor trim. So if you see a photo of the bootfloor, I am contractually obliged to ask you not to cancel your order on account of the imperfect fit of its carpet.

  6. Moving swiftly on. I mentioned changes to the chassis. The springs are stiffer, just by a tiny amount. But you do feel that there’s more precision and feedback in the Coupe, mostly because its body is vastly stiffer (even though the open-top version is pretty good for its kind and never noticeably wobbles). The hardware of the dampers, the brakes and the electronically controlled, variable diff lock is all unaltered. But it’s in the nature of car development these days that the car really feels different, thanks to alterations to the electronic control of the adaptive dampers and the e-diff, plus the use of fiddle-braking to turn the car into a bend. Even when you think you’ve ‘turned the electronics off’, in this sense, you haven’t - and it’s the same with most other modern sports cars.

    You might have turned off the ESP and you can skid, but the events leading up to the skid, and your chances of moulding it into the neat drift you were aiming for, definitely remain within the remit of those clever little binary streams.

  7. So here we go. First up, the ESP is in Track mode, and it’s a very quick way to get about. As ever, the F turns into a corner with vivid enthusiasm and intensity.

    Apparently, the new torque-vectoring system is supposed to make it even more resistant to understeer, by dragging the inside rear wheel if necessary. Well, hey-ho, the Convertible never felt like it had a problem there.

    But mid-corner, the R Coupe does seem more precise and confident than I remember; the back and front ends seem more in tune with one another. Even with the ESP not fully off, you can play with the thing, get the power down and edge the tail out, and, when it goes, it’s gentle and kind and you will likely catch it before the ESP feathers the power. Switch the ESP right off, and it feels quite happy to have its tail hung waaay out without the snake’s-tongue suddenness of the V8S roadster.

  8. Of course, when a journalist has been told there’s a difference between a new car and an existing one by earnest engineers, and when that journalist has been dispatched to fill pages of a magazine, there’s a natural tendency to talk up the differences. The previous car, up until that point heralded as something exquisite and unsurpassable, is suddenly painted as something old and sloppy and to be driven only by people entirely out of the loop.

    But the Jaguar F-Type V8S Convertible isn’t that bad, never was - in fact, it’s brilliant. It’s just that, as we said at the time, it gets a bit antsy at the limit (in a way the lower-powered six-cylinder S doesn’t, by the way). The R Coupe is better. Good news is, changes to the diff programming and the torque vectoring will be passed from Coupe to Convertible.

  9. And I’m sure there’s more steering feel than in the V8S roadster too, which is the sort of thing instruments can barely measure, but people feel. It comes from the added stiffness of the body. In degree, it’s a small matter, but, with all the other changes, you get a car that makes the heart sing.

    So, soon, we’re up to a rhythm and loving hauling the R around for lap after lap, using some extremely smart speeds. The brakes aren’t exactly going away, and if you hit the braking point, you’ll get around the corner, but the pedal is a little long. OK, let’s swap into another car.

  10. There’s a carbon-ceramic option for the F-Type R. Recognise it by yellow calipers, different wheels (because the calipers are a different shape as well as colour) and some extra venting in the front splitter. OK, up to speed in this one, and at the end of the long straight, somewhere at 150mph-ish, hit that same braking point again. The pedal firmer at the top, and I need to brace my arms harder against the steering wheel, and… oh… we’re down at corner-entry speed and the corner’s still some way off. I need to get back on the throttle if I’m not to
    crawl into it like a granny. So those things work, then.

    And keep working. They also cut 21kg of unsprung weight so should be good for the rough-road ride, but there was no telling on this smooth track.

  11. You don’t need to go to the extremes of an £85,000 R to have a Coupe. There are Coupe versions of the 335bhp V6 and 375bhp V6S, too. They’re quick, fully equipped and lovely-looking machines for the dough - about £7k less than their open-top versions.

    It’s probably too early to tell, but the Coupe could well be the definitive version of the F-Type. It’s often the way that when a car comes as both roadster or coupe, one or the other clearly gets the upper hand. With the old Jaguar XKs, it was the roadsters. Ditto the MGB, the late-Sixties Ferrari 330 and 365 GTSs. For the Fifties Mercedes SL and the current SLS, the Gullwing coupes were the ones that got everyone’s imagination (even though in both cases the roadsters were better cars). An open F-Type might be glamorous, but the closed one is the more distinctive and for the moment the faster and the better to drive. The definitive F-Type.

    But what was the definitive Jaguar? The E-type, and that’s the F-Type’s blessing, and its curse. The resonance of the E’s heritage shines a spotlight on the F, yet at the same time casts a shadow over it. So avoid the paradox. Be in no doubt the F-Type R is good enough to face any rival from anywhere in the world right now. Which, given the opposition, is an epic achievement. And let’s separate that happy reality of the present from a celebration of the past.

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