WINDING ROAD n.154-16.07.14
Driven: 2015 Jaguar F-Type R Coupe
By Bradley Iger / July 14, 2014
We've spent some quality time with the convertible version of the Jaguar F-Type over the past year or so, and while that car in both V6 and V8 flavors delivered some pretty divine open-top motoring and, in the case of the V8 model, offered one of the most compelling exhaust notes we'd ever heard in a production car, we were anxious to get behind the wheel of a hard top F-Type and see if the coupe's added rigidity would translate to a substantially more capable F-Type.
When Jaguar unveiled the F-Type Coupe at the LA Auto Show late last year, they exceeded expectations not only with the sumptuous form of the fixed roof car, but also upped the performance ante from the V8 S convertible with the R Coupe, which added more horsepower, an uprated suspension system, and revised software dynamics.
While that all sounded promising, we knew we'd need to get behind the wheel for ourselves and see if Jaguar really had a viable alternative to the established players in the sports car segment. And that would require a drive through the San Gabriel Mountains on the way to Willow Springs raceway, where we'd also have to run fast laps around the Big Willow road course. An arduous way to spent a day, we know.
What is the idea behind the Jaguar F-Type R Coupe?
In 2008, Indian manufacturing giant Tata Motors purchased Jaguar Land Rover from Ford and almost immediately began heavily investing in the British car maker as part of a multi-phased plan to revitalize the company and bring new products to market. Since then, record-breaking profits as a result of successful new vehicles like the Range Rover Evoque bolstered Tata's confidence in JLR, and in turn they were rewarded with more development capital, part of which has resulted in the F-Type. In a break with typical new product launch tradition, Jaguar chose to roll out the convertible F-Type a year before giving the public a look at the hard top, likely in a bid to give themselves a bit more time to dial in the recipe for what is a noticeably sharper and more sport-oriented version of the car in R Coupe specification.
Jaguar has made it no secret that the likes of the Porsche 911 and the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray are in its crosshairs with introduction of the F-Type, and the coupe indicates that Jaguar is taking the challenge seriously. While the convertible F-Type is a great car in its own right, it lacks a bit of the finesse of its competitors when things get twisty. History has shown that a great body and a winning personality can make up for some of that, and the F-Type certainly doesn't lack either of those. However, to really get a foothold in the hearts and minds of enthusiasts, Jaguar needed to sweat the details to make the coupe a contender amongst the well-established standards.
Who might want a car like that?
If you're in the market for a two seater, high performance sports car, the aforementioned Porsche 911 and C7 Corvette are the usual suspects, along with slightly more practical options like the BMW M4, Mercedes Benz AMG C63 and the Audi RS5. The Jag's design is certainly up to par with all of them, and to some may be the best of the bunch. Now with the R Coupe's bolstered performance and incredible soundtrack, the F-Type now makes a compelling argument even among the most dyed-in-the-wool sports cars available today.
How does the drivetrain of the F-Type R Coupe perform?
The R Coupe uses the same 5.0-liter supercharged V8 found in the V8 S convertible, but here it's been tweaked to add 55 more ponies for a total of 550hp to go along with the 502lb-ft of torque, up 41 pound-feet from the V8 in the drop top. In a car this size, the power is intoxicating, quite frankly, though we must admit that part of the charm is almost certainly related to the fantastic active exhaust system, which will probably sell more than a few of these R Coupes before potential buyers have even gotten the car out on the road.
Since Jaguar chose to go with supercharging rather than turbos, the V8's immense pull is on tap seemingly from idle, and the boosted 5.0-liter continues to pull throughout the rev range. Coupled with sharp throttle response in the Dynamic driving mode, the R Coupe is an absolute riot when you drop the hammer.
That generous level of grunt is sent to a ZF 8-speed automatic gearbox which can be manually manipulated through either the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters or the SportShift lever on the center console. This unit is still the best automatic gearbox we've used to date, which likely explains why we're finding in everything from BMWs to Jeeps these days. Shifts are crisp, made without protest, and are almost up to par with the fastest dual clutch units available today.
With that said, we still lamented the lack of a manual gearbox option on the F-Type back when we drove the V8 S earlier this year, and it looks like we weren't the only ones. While there's no option officially on the table as of now, it appears that Jaguar may have been listening.
We had recently heard a rumor about the possibility of a manual gearbox being added to the roster of options for the F-Type in the near future. As implausible as it sounded given the trend of sports cars moving away from manual transmissions, if the Jaguar is going to truly go toe to toe with the likes of the 911 and the C7, they need to offer enthusiasts who like to row their own gears the option to do so, so we dug a little deeper.
We managed to corner Kevin Richardson, Jaguar's sports car product manager, with hopes of finding out if the rumors were indeed true. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Kevin wouldn't confirm the rumor, but crucially, he was quick to make it clear that he wasn't denying it, either. At this point, it's fair to say that there's a strong possibility that the F-Type will be offered with a manual gearbox within the next model year or two. Score one for the three-pedal fanatics.
How does the F-Type R Coupe handle?
Jaguar says that the F-Type Coupe offers a fundamentally different character and purpose than the F-Type convertible. While that might be a bit of a rhetorical stretch, the massive 80% increase in the all-aluminum coupe's structural rigidity, along with tweaks made to the F-Type's stability software and electronically-controlled differential serve to make this a substantially more dynamic sporting instrument than the ragtop F-Type.
That added rigidity is especially evident in the F-Type Coupe's quick turn in and flat cornering, and while the Pirelli P Zeros offer a solid amount of grip on their own, the Jag's freshly revised e-diff, along with a new brake-assisted torque vectoring program, give the F-Type Coupe much more confidence all the way through a corner. Lest you think these software assists have robbed the F-Type of any semblance of fun, we're happy to report that Jaguar has dialed in the system to allow for some rotation before intervening to keep things in line. And all of these assists are defeatable, of course, but for all but the most experienced drivers out there, you'll likely see quicker laps with these systems on just by virtue of differential's ability to distribute the power to each wheel based on how it can best be utilized, along with the added bravery of the torque vectoring that makes the car is less likely to careen backwards into a fixed object at speed.
Steering remains unchanged from the F-Type convertible, with the requisite effortlessness of the Normal driving mode and a nicely weighted feel provided in the Dynamic mode. As the video of our laps around Big Willow with former F1 driver Roberto Guerrero shows below, the sloping hood line and relatively narrow A-pillar provide good sight lines, making corner placement (provided you actually know where to put the car) an easy task.
You'll notice coming into and over the crest at turn 6 we're fairly light on the throttle - an element of the track where the R Coupe's trick adaptive suspension still couldn't hide the F-Type's nearly 3900 pound curb weight. Our previous session through here we'd gone a little harder over the hill, and the initial compression of the suspension under a more generous application of throttle going up the hill made the car feel a bit floatly as it rebounded toward the top of the crest.
Is the F-Type R Coupe fun and involving?
If that giggle at 4:09 in the video above isn't enough, we'll just say it out right: Absolutely. When set to Dynamic mode, the R Coupe is a responsive, communicative and, perhaps most importantly, convincingsports car. Combined with the power provided from that supercharged V8 and its incredible exhaust note, it makes for some blissful driving both on and off the track.
Cornering prowess loses a step or two to cars like the Porsche 911 and the Corvette Stingray, but the R Coupe's handling is far from vague, and the chassis is predictable enough to allow for some throttle-based steering when the situation calls for it. The R Coupe really is the kind of car we never wanted to stop driving.
How comfortable is the F-Type R Coupe?
The R Coupe's adaptive suspension is a well-sorted system, and perhaps even better than the one fitted to last year's convertible, providing more compliance around town in Normal driving mode while navigating pot holes, expansion joints and the like, while still keeping things interesting on the road course in Dynamic mode. Since the coupe is so much more torsionally rigid than the convertible, it also dispatches pavement undulations with noticeably more composure.
In terms of ergonomics and driver comfort, the performance seats fitted to the F-Type R Coupe are carried over from the convertible model and continue to remain some of the best in the business. Comfortable and supportive during our two hour journey from West LA to Willow Springs, but with enough adjustable bolstering to keep us firmly planted in the seats as we navigated the course at speed, they strike a great balance and come ready to accept racing harnesses, should you choose to add them.
It should also be noted that while the active exhaust system of the R Coupe is flat-out rowdy in Dynamic mode, it's as sedate as a typical luxury car if set back to Normal mode. This can be controlled independently of the rest of the driving characteristics by way a button on the center console, so you don't have give up comfort in order to hear that growl (and vice versa).
How are the design, materials and fit when you see the car in person?
Like its open-top counterpart, the F-Type R Coupe is a bonafide head turner, and this one gives up nothing in terms of beauty for the sake of a hardtop silhouette. Equal parts elegant and aggressive, the design of the F-Type Coupe is the sort that gets pegged with terms like "instant classic" and nobody is really inclined to protest.
As lovely and capable as the R Coupe is, prospective buyers may still need a convincing way to justify the $35K price differential between the Jag and a well equipped C7 Corvette, and the easiest method of explaining that might be to just invite incredulous parties to look at the interior.
Despite being a sports car, the F-Type retains the high quality materials and modern design befitting a Jaguar road car, while subtle enhancements, like the red-on-gold accents of the start button and shift paddles, give you the sense that you're sitting in something special.
As much as we loved the F-Type V8 S Convertible, the R Coupe is even more compelling. From a price versus performance perspective among the current crop of sports cars available today, the F-Type isn't exactly a performance bargain, and it's also not the most thoroughly sport-focused, either.
But as a daily driven sports car that will likely spend at least as much of its time traversing the badlands of its owner's daily commute as it will setting lap times on a road course, the R Coupe's execution is masterful.
And personality, as they say, goes a long way. To that end, the R Coupe has charm to spare.
2015 Jaguar F-Type R Coupe
Price: $99,000 (base)
Engine: 5.0-liter supercharged V8
Output: 550hp / 502lb-ft
0-60mph: 3.6 seconds (est)
On Sale: Now