MAR 21st 2014

First drive: Jaguar F‑Type R Coupe

New Jag is a Spanish flyer

It may be ‘good to be bad’, but I’m not sure if Jaguar’s latest ad campaign has run in the policía de tráfico’s staff newsletter. So exploration of the F-Type R Coupe’s propensity to attain v-max on the E-90 toward Lleida is curtailed a little shy of the advertised figure.

But crikey, this beautifully-fashioned new machine from the Jaguar stable doesn’t half go. Squeeze the pedal against the carpet at any ‘ordinary’ road speed and it takes off like a scalded cat. Minus the screeching though, as ferocious acceleration is accompanied by a bellowing, snorting, muscle-car roar from the 542bhp supercharged V8 that makes the hairs on your neck tingle. Lift, and there’s a cacophony of popping, banging and general angry rumpus that leaves you in no doubt the R is ready for more. So bang… hit the throttle again for a repeat performance, and whoaaaa, hang in there if you dare!

Jaguar F-type R Coupe 2014 050

Actually, that last bit’s a little misleading. As a paid-up member of the 300km/h club (that’s 186mph, but we’re in a LHD euro-registered car with ‘k’s on the clock), the F-Type R coupe feels nothing but relaxed, stable and unfussed when you want to pile another 100km/h (for the sake of argument…) onto your indicated (let’s say…) 180km/h (111mph) motorway cruising speed.

It’s only on fast A and B roads that it all begins to feel ever so slightly loopy – the possible consequences of mismanaging the car’s explosive punch being thrown into sharp focus as you take gargantuan bites out of slower traffic queues, and hurtle between corners at anything vaguely approaching the F-Type R’s phenomenal potential.

The only acceleration figures I can find in the launch info pack are 4sec dead for the 0-60mph sprint, and 2.4sec for 50-75mph, but right across the board this car is massively, shockingly quick.

It’s addictively easy to access the performance too, and the deserted roads of the ‘empty quarter’ west of Barcelona (‘empty’ in late March, anyhow – perhaps the place is jam-packed in summer?) make an ideal playground for this supremely agile mountain cat. Long, languidly sweeping dual carriageways with race-track smooth surfaces, connected by twisting switchback passes… It’s an inspired choice for the on-road launch of a genuine Porsche 911 rival which in top-most ‘R’ spec features the marque’s first foray into the world of torque-vectoring and also boasts an advanced electronic active diff (EAD). Jaguar F-type R Coupe 2014 067

The two systems work in tandem to provide immense security in potentially untidy cornering situations. Pitch the car in with too much enthusiasm and the additional twisting moment provided by an automated dab of braking on the inside wheels will have you clipping the apex instead of washing-out wide.

The Electronic Active Differential provides a similar security blanket on the way out of corners, measuring out the torque between the rear wheels with such precision that you can get stand on the power unfeasibly early and slingshot out with improbable impunity. There is a limit to available traction, of course, but in the dry – and certainly on the road – you’ll need to push extraordinarily hard to find it.

Active adaptive damping keeps the body well-controlled without undue jarring, although in truth the surprisingly smooth surfaces of the local road system provide nothing like the chassis work-out this car is going to face at home. That’s going to be interesting, and the same goes for tyre noise which on our Spanish test route varied from barely perceptible 95 percent of the time to quite intrusive for the other 5 percent… it’s possible that Britain’s presently dreadful roads may challenge that result. We look forward to finding out!

There’s a selectable Dynamic Mode which weights up the steering, firms up the damping a little, and loosens the leash on the traction control. It also sharpens up the gear-changes, but it doesn’t automatically flip the auto transmission into Sport mode, so you need to nudge the shift lever across the gate for a truly committed approach… or use the paddles to shift ‘manually’, of course.

A few laps of the challenging Motorworld circuit at Aragon more than adequately prove the electronics concepts, and also demonstrate the relentless stopping power of the optional carbon ceramic matrix brakes. The 1.7km (1.05-mile) straight at Motorworld ends in a rather tight hairpin, and it takes a certain amount of conviction to keep your foot in the throttle until reaching the twin cones that mark the braking zone. Our F-Types stop straight and true from upwards of 150mph all afternoon, with no sign of fade or weakness, and in hard road use too they remain reliably progressive and powerful.

The steering is nicely weighted and direct, and in the modern manner isolates the driver’s fingertips almost entirely from any sense of how the road surface ‘feels’. The rim itself is nice to hold, but the smallish paddles operating the superb 8-speed gearbox could do with a more positive feel – I felt.

The gearbox, which incidentally has to cope with a massive 500lb ft of torque, operates seamlessly in cruising mode, but engages its closely-stacked ratios with a rewarding little kick when you lean on it in Sport mode. If it’s one of those engineer-induced characteristics designed to accentuate a heroic feel, it works a treat.

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I’m less enamoured of the selectable twin settings for tailpipe noises (and I’m firmly against the principle), but in my view the gimmick works more successfully in the R Coupe than in the V6-powered versions (the silver car in our pictures). There, the engine note can occasionally become as tiresome as that DIY-obsessed neighbour cutting MDF sheets with a band-saw on a quiet Sunday. The R’s V8 burble is harder to pick fault with at either intensity, and is easier to enjoy in the noisy setting. Fortunately it comes on by itself when Dynamic Mode is selected, so at least you can pretend you’re not an awful show-off…

The massively quick R provides more of that desirable Jaguar ‘duality’ than either of the supercharged V6 versions can muster, too. Neither of the smaller-engined variants could be described as under-powered – in fact with 335bhp and 375bhp respectively the regular Coupe and Coupe S are both very fast cars in their own right. What they lack (partly as a result of the over-bearingly vocal exhaust set-up), is the R Coupe’s relaxed loafishness when you’re not in the mood for utterly monstering the road ahead – but that’s not to say all models aren’t refined and comfortable, as well as impressively rapid.

The starting point is multi-adjustable seat/steering wheel relationship which provides a great driving position, and ensures everyone gets to enjoy the view over that long bonnet.

Headroom is good too, but if you’re over 6ft 3in and want to wear a helmet on track days, you’ll welcome the extra inch or so garnered by choosing the glass roof option – which incidentally comes with a 12kg weight penalty, but has no impact on body stiffness as the metal roof panel is bonded in like the glass one, and neither are load bearing. (Body stiffness being provided by a pair of hydro-formed aluminium tubes running either side of the roof, additionally supported by bracing struts behind the seats.) The blacked-out glass looks pretty good too, giving the car a more contemporary, sharper look, particularly when paired with the black chrome window trims. Jaguar F-type R Coupe 2014 112

Interior fixtures and fittings are attractively presented, and the dials are a model of clarity. It’s a pretty nice place to be cocooned, although with all the excitement offered by the driving experience I confess to having forgotten entirely to explore any of the on-board ‘infotainment’ systems… which has to be a good sign, right?

In summary, the supercar performance offered by the R version makes it the most desirable of the F-Type Coupe bunch, although the £85,000 price tag means it’s likely to account for just 25 percent of sales. But don’t despair if you only have £50k to spare, as the supercharged V6s offer plenty of reasons to be cheerful too.

But if this new British coupe is really going to cut the mustard as a Porsche 911 rival, hadn’t someone better take it racing…?

Top speed: 186mph
0-62mph: 4.0sec
Power/weight: 328bhp per tonne
Engine: 5.0-litre V8, supercharged
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Wheels: 20in front and rear
Power: 542bhp at 6500rpm
Torque: 501lb ft at 3500rpm
Economy: 25.5mpg
CO2: 259g/km
Price: From £85,000 (for R Coupe)
On sale date: Now

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