FEB 04th 2015

Driven: Jaguar F‑Type Coupe R with new‑for‑2015 four‑wheel‑drive

When the call came to the Estoril circuit at Jaguar’s behest to sample first-hand the hotly-anticipated all-wheel-drive F-Type, ‘please let it be me’ I remember thinking. After covering 1000 of my best miles of 2014 in a Coupe R on last year’s Mille Miglia, I’d have swum to Lisbon to get my hands on the new F-Type. Luckily Jaguar flew us instead.

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We’re no strangers to the F-Type at GRR, having had great fun with one on two hillclimb road tests (both V8S Roadster and Coupé R versions) as well as the aforementioned Mille Miglia experience.

After all that ‘seat time’, we’re qualified to decree that, in a nutshell, the F-Type is a pretty wonderful piece of kit. The engines, handling, styling, build-quality, comfort and price are all good news, and when the only significant stick you can find to beat a car with is that its sat-nav system could be better, you know you’re dealing with a fine machine. It’s indicative of a Jaguar which now finds itself out-stripping German foes in the JD Power survey, that no sooner had the first wave of plaudits rolled in for the F-Type than it was hard at work finding ways to broaden the appeal. The new all-wheel-drive option that’s shortly to be available across the range is one tangible result.

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Whether you fancy the Coupé or the Convertible you’ll need to part with the thick end of five grand over the price of the rear-wheel-drive versions we know and love. That takes the new 550PS Convertible R with AWD to £97,135 and the Coupé R to £91,650. That’s quite a chunk of change to add to the cost of what was already a very good car. So, with the memory of those 1000 epic miles around Italy in the Coupé R still fresh, I headed down the pit lane at Estoril and out on to the track.

Immediately it feels great to be seated again just a few feet behind Jaguar’s epic supercharged V8, as I join the track proper amidst thoughts of Senna’s first win here in 1985 and Villeneuve going around the outside of Schumacher at the last turn in 1996. One lap later and with a little heat in the tyres it was time to click-off a few (sadly less spectacular!) tours of my own to discover the benefits (or otherwise) of the all-wheel-drive system.

The Coupé R still feels indecently quick. You can even skip a gear changing-up with a double-touch on the right paddle, but this does little to halt the F-Type’s inexorable surge down to turn 1. Having afforded myself a slight brush of the ceramic brakes with the left foot before reaching the braking area I then jump on them as hard as I can from about 150mph, the car scrubbing off huge amounts of speed with just the faintest sign of yawing as all the weight is dumped on the nose and we’re back down the ratios to second. At the apex of turn 1 the track begins to climb slightly, just enough to feel a little light as it runs out towards the rumble strip on the exit. That felt really good. Total control; the car not bothering you for any corrective steering input as it accelerates rapidly over the unsteady surface.

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Through each of the corners preceded by heavy braking (that’ll be the slow ones, then) the all-wheel-drive system adds just a whiff of extra safety without feeling intrusive. You can still make the car slide around under power – which is lovely – but seemingly with more scope to correct your trajectory should ‘the force’ decide to abandon you momentarily. Through the higher-speed corners – especially the flat-out kink at the back of the circuit – it feels utterly planted. No more planted than the rear-drive car, mind you …

After just a few laps I’m convinced that the all-wheel-drive system works beautifully and that the ceramic brakes are beyond reproach on the track. But, after that session on a dry Estoril circuit I wasn’t sure if in these conditions all-wheel-drive was actually necessary. 

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This is because, for the most part, the car is effectively still rear-wheel-drive. Jaguar’s ‘Intelligent Drive Dynamics’ (IDD) system controls the centre diff’ coupling and works with the Torque Vectoring system to ‘ensure optimum dynamics’, so feeds oomph to the front wheel when it calculates it’s needed. As a result, the only time I really felt the front wheels contributing to the motive force was in the second half of a corner when being (deliberately) impatient with the throttle. Sadly a back-to-back test with a rear-drive Coupé R wasn’t possible, but a brief-but-hard session on-track concluded that in the dry it was hard to see the need for an all-wheel-drive F-Type.

So, if you live in (say) sunny West Sussex or even California, the rear-drive F-Type is probably the one to have. However, if you do most of your driving in somewhere like up-state New York or up in Yorkshire then perhaps the all-wheel-drive derivative could be the answer. In fact, while Jaguar says all-wheel-drive will ‘extend the performance in all conditions’, in truth AWD will extend the F-Type’s market reach in parts of the world where you might think twice about laying-down your hard-earned on a rear-drive coupe with 550PS.

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So to properly understand the F-Type’s all-wheel-drive we needed to experience low-grip conditions. Luckily, Estoril has a skid-pan which remained properly saturated all day and it was here that the all-wheel-drive system really showed its worth. For the skid pan sessions, we were in V6 F-Types with all-wheel-drive. Granted, not an ideal situation having been on-track in the V8, but still the results were incontrovertible. With the car lined-up and at a standstill on the shiny surface I mashed my foot to the floor. The car cared not. Without so much as a peep from any of the car’s systems the F-Type rocketed towards the first turn with nothing less than 100 per cent traction in borderline-monsoon conditions. Impressive.

I was still marveling at that when I hit the brakes hard and shifted down a few gears for the first turn. The steering response in soggy conditions was more crisp and confidence-inspiring than I’d have expected… by a factor of around three. Mindlessly slam your foot down mid corner and you feel the IDD doing its thing and making an effective job of reigning the car in and allowing you to think about where you’d like it to be next. It’s not quite a get-out-of-jail-free card, but it does do an impressive job of masking ham-fistedness. In a real-world sudden loss of grip scenario (diesel, mud, gravel etc) it would have a far more valuable effect …

https://grrc.goodwood.com/road/drives-and-rides/jaguar-xe-2Jaguar is keen to point out that the new system doesn’t  detract from the F-Type thrill, and that it is ‘still very much a pure sports car.’ Whilst that holds true, all-wheel-drive does not in my opinion transform the F-Type Coupé R into a brilliant car, because it already was. What it does do is make the car a brilliant proposition if you live in parts of the world where conditions are often tricky. Also, it happens to give you an alternative if you’re in the market for an all-wheel-drive Porsche, and a reason why you might divert yourself from your trip to put a deposit down on a Mercedes AMG GT…

As with the XE we also drove recently, the cars we tested were prototypes and as such may differ slightly from the final full-production versions, but the news is that the all-wheel-drive and IDD work together very well indeed. We might just have to do a re-run of our F-Type Coupé R versus Porsche 911 Turbo test … 

 

 

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