Durban, South Africa – While Jaguar has seen its sales increase by 19 per cent (doubling since 2011) across the globe, the brand has enjoyed not only increased growth in the local market but also, in the process of capturing 36 per cent of the sportscar segment with the F-type Roadster, welcomed many new customers into the Jaguar fold. In fact, Jaguar Land Rover SA managing director Kevin Flynn says up to 75 per cent of F-type Roadster owners are new to the brand. With this in mind one can imagine that the introduction of the hard-top version of the F-type (expected to outsell the Roadster by two to one) is an exciting prospect for the brand.
While I share Jaguar’s excitement towards future sales, it’s some of the figures associated with the new Coupé that got me particularly animated ahead of the local launch drive.
Not only is the (one piece) all-aluminium tin top version, on average, 20-kilograms lighter than its sibling – it is also a staggering 80 per cent more rigid. And that’s quite a bold claim considering that body flex was never a criticism levelled at the Roadster.
The advantage of this “newfound” rigidity, of course, is sharper turn-in and handling characteristics compared with those of the still impressive soft-top. Armed with this knowledge Jaguar has seen it fit to increase the damper ratings (4,3 percent in front, and 3,7 percent at the rear to be precise) on the more sure-footed Coupé.
In Coupé configuration an (optional electric) tailgate opens to reveal 407 dm3 worth of luggage space.
Having only previously sampled the V8 S Roadster I was looking forward to driving both a V6 S example (available in both Coupé and Roadster) and also the mighty new 405kW/680Nm supercharged 5,0-litre V8 Coupe R flagship.
Aware of what a handful the top-of-the-range Roadster was during a wet Cape Town test period with CAR, the sight of the tight and twisty (let alone bumpy) historic Roy Hesketh race track on our Durban launch route schedule, though welcome, gave me pause.
And, while that initial anxiety meant a somewhat cautious opening lap this hesitation faded as an impressive chassis, a near perfect 50:50 weight distribution, fat 295/30 R20 tyres, a new active electronic differential and brake-led torque vectoring (and my respectful right foot) combined to help keep the Coupé R in line. Make no mistake, this is still a vehicle that’s very capable of punishing an over-zealous driver but somehow I felt a little more confident, despite the power surfeit, behind the wheel of the Coupé R than I thought I would.
On road too the R allows you grace to learn its limits with the adaptive dampers, three-stage stability control and a drive mode selector that’s configurable to suit prevailing conditions. I was impressed with the way the default suspension setting, despite being on the firm side, dealt with most road imperfections while the standard eight-speed ZF transmission, in auto or manually operated via paddles, performed admirably.
Best of all though, is the soundtrack. While I prefer the E-Type mimicking central mounting of the V6 S’s tailpipes, it’s the Rs quad pipes that deliver one of the most brutish and savage exhaust notes, complete with crowd-dispersing overrun pops and crackles, of all stock-standard cars currently on the market.
Having driven the slightly tamer V6 S model on both road and track I believe this package, in either Roadster or Coupé guise, to be the sweet spot in the range (it currently accounts for 60 per cent of the approximate 300 units that have been sold to date). It’s certainly quick enough to be entertaining (and has a glorious supercharged V6 soundtrack of its own), yet processes less of the white knuckle “edge” that its big brother holds.
At R1 534 200 the Jaguar F-Type Coupé R is positioned squarely against the Porsche 911 and its equals. While the 911 ultimately delivers more poise than the Coupé, there’s no denying the drama and sheer presence that the Jaguar delivers. What I am most sure of is that, much like the E-Type in the 1960s, the new Coupé’s easily the best the British manufacturers currently have to offer. Sorry James.