new Jaguar F-Type

Behind the wheel of Jaguar’s new F-Type R Coupé

Gentleman’s Journal takes the British carmaker’s latest offering for a trip around the winding, cliff-side roads of Portugal

At the centre of Portugal, we’re getting to the heart of the matter. Atop a high hill in the province of Beira Baixa — the ‘Centro Geodesico de Portugal’ — Jaguar‘s Vehicle Integration Manager Tanmay Dube is explaining why the brand’s new F-Type R Coupé is only available with a four-wheel drive system. He gestures past our fleet of bright yellow, brand new F-Types, over the precipice and out at the ribbons of roads below.

“That’s why,” he laughs, tracing the tight bends and turns with his finger. “With the old F-Type, lots of people who bought the R wanted to take it on roads like these. And, with all that power, the rear-wheel drive option had to deal with a lot. It just makes sense to make it all-wheel drive when it’s this powerful. You’ve seen what it’s like on those roads!”

We certainly have. In fact, after a morning heading south west on Portugal’s fabled N238, we’re more than convinced of the benefits of a four-wheel drive system. Through pine forests and around curving cliff-top turns, this latest purring, snarling F-Type may feel animalistic, but always secure — hunkered to the road despite its blistering speed.

Satisfied by Dube’s explanation, it’s time to hop back into the car and blast off back towards Lisbon — pushing that four-wheel drive stability and security to its limits. Streaking along yet more winding roads, there’s a lot to like from the new Jaguar. Its steering, for one, is wonderfully weighted and so intuitive that you don’t feel even a flinch of apprehension throwing it around hairpins. The finely tuned adaptive dampers also control any would-be body roll handsomely.

It’ll imbue you with confidence, driving this new F-Type R. But there’s still a frisson of danger burbling away under the bonnet — not that that’s a bad thing. That’s exactly what you want from a sports car. You want it to feel safe enough to chuck around without losing control, and to snap you back into your seat when you find a road straight enough to open its taps. And the new F-Type drives this line.

So how has this F-Type changed? When the first iteration hit roads in 2013, anticipation levels were high, and the British carmaker mostly delivered with its first two-seater since the long-standing XK. It was a spiritual successor to the legendary E-Type, and had Porsche quaking in its clinical, German boots. Largely, this new model just delivers more of the same — but with some key updates.

There’s been a complete recalibration of the electronically-assisted power steering; giving a more taut, responsive driving system. The suspension has also been overhauled — trimming the fat and soft luxury feeling from the car, and giving us a more roots-returning solid sports experience. Those new Pirelli P-Zero kicks are also specially developed — and 10mm wider than the old tyres. The eight-speed ZF transmission has also benefitted from Jaguar’s fearsome XE SV Project 8 — the most powerful road legal Jaguar in history. And you can feel its DNA here, coursing through the veins of the new F-Type in an albeit more refined way.

Design-wise, it’s a similar story. Jaguar’s new design director, Julian Thomson, has done a masterful job taking the carmaker’s new ‘face’ and transposing it onto the F-Type. Muscular, assertive and snarling, it’s another pivot away from the sumptuous, sweeping lines of the E-Type and original F-Type — instead shifting gears to give us more of a punchy presence and visual impact.

There’s a new front bumper, a subtly enlarged grille and beefed up rear haunches to enhance the F-Type’s inherently dramatic, purposeful form. The lights blaze in strips of LEDs, and the whole thing just looks a little more pinched. It’s a twitchier proposition than the previous iteration — and all the better for it. With the first F-Type, Jaguar arguably tried too hard to resurrect the spirit of the E-Type. This time, there’s no shoehorning in of any style cues — and instead the car looks like it drives; fast.

Inside, it’s just as exciting. Swerving through the Douro Valley, it’s a long drive to Lisbon — but one made undeniably more comfortable thanks to the F-Type’s updated cabin. There’s the traditional Windsor leather we’ve come to expect from the carmaker, but modern touches include satin-finish Noble chrome and a 12.3-inch reconfigurable instrument cluster that brings everything bang up to date.

We particularly like the deployable air vents — ones that rise dramatically out of the dash when they need to stabilise the in-car temperature. And, down by the driver-focused gearshift, is one of the new F-Type’s most innovative features; a ‘switchable exhaust’ button that lets you effectively put your car in silent mode so you don’t wake your neighbours every morning.

That’s not to say that this is a quiet car. The distinctive crackle and pop on the overrun — a hallmark of the F-Type — remains, and the supercharged 5.0 litre V8 in the R Coupé will roar when you want it to. It’s got a maximum speed of 177mph, can reach 0-60mph in just 4.4 seconds and has earned its place at the top of the new range (you’ve also got a P300 Convertible, P300 First Edition Coupé and P450 R-Dynamic Convertible to choose from).

There wasn’t a lot that could have gone wrong with Jaguar’s latest — it is a heavy facelift rather than a brand new car, after all — but it’s still a relief that one of Britain’s greatest sports cars is still driving fast and looking good. And our concerns that Jaguar has forgone the rear-wheel R Coupé this time around? Unfounded, as it happens. This F-Type is every bit as exciting — and then some — as the last.

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