LLEIDA, SPAIN: Jaguar Cars has been on a roll of late. The fabled British brand which once produced some of the most desirable cars on sale was found wallowing at the end of the last century with products that were either outdated or didn’t match up to the competition. But in recent times, the firm has experienced a real turn around.
Free from the shackles of Ford ownership, Jaguar has flourished. In just the last few years, we’ve seen the debut of the XF range (recently facelifted), an all-new XJ, a few striking concept cars and most recently the sexy F-Type roadster. And now, I find myself in Spain to drive, arguably, the most important new model in 2014 for the brand: the F-Type Coupe.
Hey, good looking!
Undeniably drawing from the E-Type, considered by many to be one of the sexiest shapes to roam the streets, F-Type is a sportscar with classic proportions. The shape has been faithfully translated from the C-X16 concept car, first seen in 2011, to within a few millimetres.
The visage is identical to the roadster variant, so there is very little to differentiate the two from the straight ahead. Of course, that changes when viewed in profile where the sloping roofline is clearly evident. This arc leads your eyes to the bulging rear haunches (which remind me very much of those of the older Aston Martin Vanquish), which make it seem as though it’s moving even when standing still.
Choose a light hue and, with the contrasting panoramic roof in place, the F-Type almost has two appearances. The glass roof blends into the glass hatch, which tapers towards the rear. Metal-roof cars have a slightly different outward appearance.
Regardless of where your automotive allegiances lie, you cannot deny the beauty of the F-Type’s shape. It looks good from any angle in any light and in any colour; not something other cars can easily boast.
Inside the cabin, the Coupe and drop-top models don’t differ. There is the same level of perceived quality, including some iffy plastics on the facia. With the optional glass top, the cabin is bathed in ambient light that seeps in via a light tint, so you don’t necessarily have to lather on the sunscreen.
Unlike some of its nearest rivals, this is strictly a two-seater, there’s no room for little ones or your luggage aft of the passenger seats. Bags, ideally of the soft variety, can be stowed under the hatch. Jaguar claims 407 litres of boot volume, which is enough to accommodate the all-important pair of golf bags.
Under the (long) hood
Not dissimilar to the roadster range, there are three models on offer. First up is the V6, simply denoted by the title F-Type Coupe, with its supercharged motor that produces 250 kW and 450 N.m. Next up is the F-Type S Coupe model with the similar powerplant in a higher state of tune, a maximum of 280 kW is dished up with 460 N.m of twist action.
At the very top of the pecking order is the F-Type R Coupe. The big-daddy of the range packs a supercharged V8 that cranks out 405 kW and 680 N.m of torque. It is an engine that we’ve experienced before in the XKR-S and XFR-S models.
All models deliver drive solely to the rear wheels via an eight-speed transmission with a sport setting or driver-selectable shifts also on offer; more on this later.
On the road…
The southern part of Spain is well-known for its great driving roads and the route chosen by the event coordinators did not disappoint. From the little airport in Lleida, we made our way along a highway and then a byway before getting onto mountain passes to our midday stop. For the opening leg, we were provided with an S model.
The S showed a good deal of pliancy, despite the large alloys and low profile rubber. In regular driving mode and the transmission handling its own shift patterns, the Coupe is a relaxed open road tourer, a GT car if you will.
Playing around with the adaptive-dynamics systems showed that the more focussed dynamic mode firms things up a great deal. It was this latter option we ticked as we ascended into the hills above Lleida.
This was my first taste of the V6 engine in this guise (I’ve previously driven a V8 S roadster) and what a revelation it turned out to be. This engine has an appetite for revs and sounds delightful in the process. The soundtrack isn’t dulled by the fitment of the blower in any way.
There is a creaminess that is underlaid with a harder, racecar-like edge, as though it means business. Each shift by the fast-acting eight speed transmission is punctuated by a flat brrraaappp and the tailpipes do a pretty decent impression of a popcorn maker on a trailing throttle.
Speaking of the transmission, it really is very good. The regular torque converter item displays traits similar to that of a dual-clutch unit, and you’d guess as much if you hadn’t been told otherwise. In sport mode, the transmission is alert and will always dishes up the correct ratio as needed. Opt for driver selected gears and the control is all yours, right up to and including the rev-limiter, which it will hammer incessantly until you ask it not to.
When charged to tackle the constantly climbing, smooth strip of tar, the F-Type responded with alacrity and purpose. There is a great deal of front-end grip, belying the front-engined nature of the beast (although the mass split is an even 50:50 across the axles).
With tidy lines chosen, you can deploy the full force of 280 kW with the power being doled out to each rear corner by a mechanical limited-slip differential and the car still maintains its neutral stance. In the S model, the rear end isn’t overwhelmed by the 460 N.m of torque, which isn’t to say it lacks in power, just that there is a great deal of balance and grip on offer.
Even better from the driver’s perspective is that the F-Type engages and draws you into the action. You feel it working with the available grip and not trying to beat the road surface into submission, but rather flowing with it. As the helmsman, you learn to lean harder and harder onto the rubber, trusting the sensations being fed back via the seat of your pants. It’s not an inert driving experience by any means, even if the helm isn’t as communicative as it could ideally be.
…and on the track
After many kilometres of utterly entertaining mountain passes, we found ourselves at the Motorland circuit. Those of you familiar with MotoGP may recognise the name.
The 5,4 km of tar laid into the sun-bleached Spanish countryside is some of the finest I have had the fortune of driving on. Built as a technical centre of excellence, by and for motor manufacturers as well as race teams to test, the track dishes up a variety of challenges from low- to high-speed, opening- and closing-radii corners, a corkscrew-shape all the while following the natural contours of the land. Oh, and there’s a whopping long downhill straight which terminates in a tight hairpin.
For exploration of this FIA Grade 1 approved circuit, we swapped over to the hotter R version. Car launches that include a track driving component can be a bit tricky for the manufacturer in question as any flaws will immediately be underlined in this extreme situation. So Jaguar must have been very confident from the get-go, and kudos to it for doing so.
After a few exploratory tours with a pro-driver instructing, we were let loose – cajoled even, to go faster with each passing lap. I’m glad to say that the R did not disappoint. It is a road car, which must always be kept in mind but that inherent feel initially experienced on the road was highlighted here.
The tenacious front end bite remained. And, as expected, the 680 N.m of torque can easily wrestle control from the wide Pirelli P Zero footwear. But slides are as easily held as they are provoked (see opening pic) thanks in part to the fastest steering rack ever fitted to a Jaguar road car and to an LSD, though in this case an electronically actuated unit.
Thanks to the optional carbon-ceramic matrix discs and matching pads from specialist firm Brembo, the near 1,7 tonne car pulled up with surety and zero sign of fade lap after lap from the far side of 260 km/h at the bottom of that plunging straight.
And all the while there is a grin-inducing rapid-fire crackle from the quartet of pipes on overrun.
Jaguar representatives at the launch openly admit they targeted the Porsche with the famous three digits when creating the F-Type Coupe. It was one of the few models used as a benchmark during development. They did not, however, set about to create a 911 clone, but rather a viable alternative for those who prefer a car that is perhaps less about all out grip and performance, but more about driver interaction and involvement.
To this end, I think that they have succeeded. The F-Type Coupe is a great example of what else you can have for your hard-earned cash, should you not wish to follow the crowd. It is a theatrical car that goes as well as it looks and sounds. The F-Type Coupe has been 50 years in the making, by Jag’s reckoning being the successor to the famous E, and it’s arrived not a moment too soon. Let’s hope the next one doesn’t take as long.
Prices (local launch set for June)
Jaguar F-Type Coupe: R855 100
Jaguar F-Type S Coupe: R994 100
Jaguar F-Type V8 R Coupe: R1 550 400
Model: Jaguar F-Type V8 R Coupe
Engine: 5,0-litre, supercharged V8
Power: 405 kW @ 6 500 r/min
Torque: 680 N.m @ 3 500 r/min
0-100 km/h: 4,2 seconds
Fuel consumption: 11,1 L/100 km
CO2: 259 g/km
Top speed: 300 km/h
Price: R1 550 400
Model: Jaguar F-Type S Coupe
Engine: 3,0-litre, supercharged V6
Power: 280 kW @ 6 500 r/min
Torque: 460 N.m @ 3 500 – 5 000 r/min
0-100 km/h: 4,9 seconds
Fuel consumption: 9,1 L/100 km
CO2: 213 g/km
Top speed: 275 km/h
Price: R994 100
*All manufacturer claimed figures