This is the new Jaguar F-type R Coupe, our first taste of the British maker’s 911 rival in tin-top guise. We’re driving a pre-production prototype at Circuit de Catalunya, but there are no excuses from Jag: it promises that our test car is dynamically representative of those you’ll be able to buy in March.
What are the differences compared with the F-type convertible?
Other than the fact the F-type looks even better as a coupe, the big news is the torsional rigidity – at 33,000Nm/degree, the coupe’s structure is 80% stiffer than the convertible’s. Huge! The roof beams on their own would help that figure, but the coupe’s body side is made from a single-piece aluminium pressing, eliminating multiple panels and joins that can allow flex to sneak in. Like-for-like, it’s also slightly lighter.
The adaptive dampers have been uprated, the spring rates are up 4.3% at the front, 3.7% at the rear, and the steering’s been re-tuned for a meatier response.
Elsewhere, the electronically controlled limited-slip diff is carried over from the convertible, but it’s got a new ECU which, Jag promises, more accurately estimates surface grip and better responds to the driver’s needs, channelling torque from one side of the axle to the other depending on traction.
Torque vectoring by braking (TVB) also makes it debut: if it senses understeer, TVB quickly and subtly nips the inside brakes, helping the F-type to turn into the corner, masking your clumsiness.
>> Click here to watch Ben Barry mercilessly drift the F-type R in CAR's video review
Is the coupe available only as a V8?
No, like the convertible, there are 335bhp/332lb ft and 375bhp/339lb ft tunes of V6, the basic car known simply as F-type Coupe, the punchier V6 becoming F-type S Coupe. And the coupe, you’ll be pleased to know, is approximately £7k cheaper than the convertible in both cases.
When you get to the V8, things become more complicated, because the R Coupe gets the upgraded diff and TVB, and it’s also 54bhp/42lb ft stronger than the V8 S Convertible at 542bhp/502lb ft – hence ‘R’ Coupe and V8 ‘S’ Convertible. That also makes the R Coupe £5k more expensive than the Convertible.
We’re told that the revised diff and TVB will find their way onto the convertible in time, but that the difference in performance will remain. The coupe, then, will always be the range-topper.
What’s the F-type R Coupe like to drive?
Well, we’ve yet to drive it on the road, but our first impressions on track bode very well indeed. Sitting down low on excellent sports seats, cocooned by those high body sides and with an explosive V8 soundtrack, it’s like driving around in a pillbox with a machine gunner at your side – without the weight or fear of death.
The differences versus the convertible are instantly noticeable, and the convertible is already a very good car. The steering has more weight and more precision as you wind on lock, and the body control feels better, so when you point the steering at an apex, the nose follows in one immediate, fluid, slop-free movement.
This is not a car that understeers, instead you point it into a corner and the rest is down to the rear end – either it steps out a little because you’ve gone in so hard on the brakes, or its neutral but just waiting to be throttle-steered through a bend in a slight oversteer attitude that’s both satisfying for the sake of it and because it feels like the quickest way through the corner.
Traction is actually pretty good given the oomph on tap, and if you leave the mid-way Trac DSC mode on, you’ll be able to exploit the F-type’s adjustability without fear of a spin; turn it off and things become hilarious. The F-type loves to powerslide, but even when you’re doing something so juvenile you notice a few things: that there’s a load of steering lock to keep you out of trouble, and that the F-type’s rigidity means it remains stable and grippy and predictable even when you crank it to the most ludicrous angles.
So despite the rear tyres billowing smoke, you can still say, hmm, I’m going to put that front tyre on the apex over there, and then I’m going to smear black lines over exactly 33mm of the exit kerbing. It’s so precise it’s incredible.
Anything negative to report?
Very little. The standard brakes wilt easily on track, which hinders your ability to exploit that agile front end to full effect. The optional carbon-ceramic brakes solve that problem and are highly resistant to fade, but they cost £7.5k (spec them on the V6 S and you’ll need to spend another £1k to upgrade to the 20-inch wheels required to clear the massive calipers) and don’t ultimately have the pedal feel nor the immense stopping power of those you’ll get from Porsche.
Our drive was on a track, so there’s still a certain softness to the suspension. Of course, few are actually going to drive their F-type like a racecar, and we suspect that the set-up will prove a fine compromise for the road and that Jag might just have something up its sleeve in the future. Who knows, it might even be called R-S.
One final gripe: the drivetrain is deeply impressive, but I did trigger a few unintentional downshifts by accidentally pushing through the throttle stop while in manual mode. I prefer the chips to intervene only if I’m travelling too slowly to hold the gear.
We’ve already been impressed by the F-type V8 S Convertible, but the R Coupe makes a giant leap. You can feel its extra stiffness and the precision that brings with it, and the balance it strikes between feeling short and nimble and oversteery, yet not at all nervous, is quite an achievement.
The fact that it looks even more gorgeous, that the 407-litre boot is nearly twice the size of the convertible’s and that you can pay substantially less for the V6 models just seals the deal.
Me? I’d do all I could to justify the R Coupe’s £5k premium to the wife.