Jaguar F-type R 2020 | First drive review | A more potent rival to Porsche’s 992?
Curious thing, the Jaguar F-type. In the brochure and in the metal, it looks like the kind of object people should be scrambling over each other to buy, but sales have pottered rather than galloped. And on the road, it’s never been the Cayman or 911-beater its broad pricing structure suggested it could (or should) be, though a second-place finish in eCoty 2014 for the F-type R highlighted the appeal of its wilder side. In India, the Jaguar F-type has been launched in as many as nine variants with prices ranging between Rs 95.12 lakh to Rs 2.42 crore, ex-showroom.
For 2020 Jaguar has implemented a few changes, which could bring some focus to the range at a time when sports cars, and particularly slow-selling ones, are getting harder and harder to justify. Outwardly these changes bring the car into closer step with the rest of Jaguar’s line-up – arguably much needed because the recent end of XJ production means the F-type is now the oldest car in the range.
You could also argue that with the I-Pace gathering plaudits and catapulting Jag into the third decade of the 21st century, the F-type is no longer Jaguar’s flagship model. This might be why one of the most obvious changes for 2020 is a front-end restyle that closely mirrors that of the electric hatchback, rather than setting its own trend. The old stacked headlights are out, with slimmer, LED-laden horizontal units now taking their place. Design director Julian Thomson (a man best known for the shape of one of our favourite cars, the S1 Lotus Elise) says the new nose is intended to visually elongate the car, letting the bonnet stretch further before it is interrupted by the headlights and grille. The new LED lamps put on a light show when you unlock the car, an increasingly common trend, while the rear lenses also enjoy a small restyle.
The changes make the car look a little less friendly – a cat stalking its prey through the undergrowth rather than staring at you hopefully by the treat cupboard – and it does look a little awkward from some angles, but I reckon it mostly works. Particularly worth celebrating, to my eyes at least, is that the F-type R no longer wears a heavy-handed aero kit, though the body-colour rear diffuser remains a tad inelegant in brighter colours.
There’s more to the car than visual tweaks, though, with powertrains getting plenty of attention too. The old V6 is no more, news most will react to with ambivalence, though this does leave the Ingenium four-cylinder turbo motor as the only alternative to the V8s, which could deter some.
But it’s not all bad news, as the P300 four-pot seems to improve each time we drive it. With 296bhp and 400Nm at its disposal and the lowest kerb weight of any F-type at a claimed 1520kg, it also turns in respectable onpaper performance figures, reaching 100kmph in 5.7sec from rest and topping 250kmph. Well within the reach of the best hot hatches these days of course, but with the demise of BMW’s M140i, no hot hatchback offers rear-wheel drive. Or looks like an F-type, for that matter.
The range then jumps to the first of the V8s, badged P450. Jag ditched the V8 for non-R F-types several years back, so it’s good to see it return to this role, and the 5-litre supercharged unit makes enough power and torque (444bhp and 580Nm) to undercut the P300 by 1.1sec on the 0-100kmph dash, and best it by 35kmph flat out, whether you’re driving the hard- or open-top version. With the F-type R being all-wheel drive only, the P450 is also intriguing in being the only rear-wheel-drive V8 in the range. An F-type sweet spot? Could be, though at a quoted 1660kg for the coupe (there’s also an all-wheel-drive P450 variant that weighs 1743kg) it’s porkier than the P300.
The R has never been more potent, though, now offering the full-fat 567bhp version of Jag’s supercharged eight and adopting lessons learned from the SVR and Project 8 programmes. Weight is entering ‘gravitational pull’ territory at the same 1743kg as the AWD P450, but it’s potent enough to achieve escape velocity, with 700Nm of torque, a 3.5sec 0-100kmph sprint and a 300kmph top speed.
All variants use an eight-speed ‘Quickshift’ automatic transmission (Jaglish for the ubiquitous ZF unit), double-wishbone suspension, and adjustable dampers at all four corners. The R gets new spring and dampers rates, both the R and the P450 get stiffer rear knuckles, tighter bushings and uprated wheel bearings, while all new F-types have steering set-ups individually calibrated to their application, with different weighting and even different ratios. Unexpectedly, it’s the P450 that gets the most aggressive ratio, in an effort to give it the most traditional sports car feel, with the P300 the lightest and most relaxed and the R falling somewhere between the two.
It’s the RWD P450 I try first, in Convertible form. There’s no doubt the theatre of the F-type has been maintained with the restyle, and with a generous boot and the usual well-shaped seats its GT role should be undiminished too. The pop-out door handles remain an acquired taste (good to look at, less so to use), but the new digital instrument cluster is a welcome touch, looking better integrated than the old hooded dials. There seems to have been a bump in quality too, a sense enhanced by having JLR’s latest infotainment display smoothly integrated into the dash.
Otherwise, it’s business as usual. It feels like a substantial car from the driver’s seat, in size as well as build quality, thanks to the relatively small glass area compared to the bodywork it sits on. This alone tips the GT/sports car balance towards the former, and aside from a noticeable roar from the tyres, the lack of other unwelcome noises or vibrations at a cruise also makes it an appealing place to while away motorway hours en route to somewhere more entertaining.
The supercharged V8 has that same flexibility and strong initial response we’re familiar with from its previous applications, despite the lower output in the P450. It’s pleasingly vocal too, a small throttle squeeze enough to remind you how many pistons are dancing away up front, though owners with short-tempered neighbours will be grateful for the new quiet start function to mute the characteristic growling start-up.
Both response and sound are dialled up further in Dynamic mode, but it also makes the throttle feel almost too twitchy, so the option to keep the car in Comfort but flip the exhaust valves open separately is welcome. This means losing the firmest damper setting, but more pertinently it also avoids the weightiest steering mode for an already hefty rack.
It’s this that lets down the P450 slightly. Jaguar’s decision to give it the quickest responses means it feels probably a little too close to previous F-types, where the steering was so sharp it sometimes felt at odds with the car’s considerable bulk. The latest chassis tuning seems to have calmed the F-type down, even on the damp roads of our Portuguese test route, but the steering’s feel-masking weighting, springy self-centring and rapid-fire response does feel least appropriate to the car’s overall vibe.
The suspension absorbs some of the hyperactivity of the steering, and is better able to keep the car’s mass in check over undulations or during direction changes. Jaguar’s efforts to make the car feel distinctly rear-driven haven’t been in vain, either. Turn in and the car immediately settles into a neutral stance, feeling even more poised as you begin to feed in the throttle. Traction is excellent, despite the whack of torque hitting the rear tyres, so you have to try fairly hard to invoke any more than a shimmy from the back end.
On then to the P300 coupe. This, on paper, is probably the least appealing F-type (though comfortably the most affordable), but I was quietly impressed by it on the four-pot’s original launch a few years back, and driving the updated car has reinforced those early thoughts.
Sure, the four doesn’t have the V8’s drama on start-up, it can’t match the V8s for straightline speed, and despite being the smoothest Ingenium I’ve yet driven (there’s even a genuinely pleasant growl from the central tailpipe) it doesn’t have that blue-blooded feel of a larger-capacity engine. What it does have, though, is genuinely exploitable performance, the best steering of the trio, and of no small importance, styling that leaves onlookers none the wiser to your penny-pinching.
That steering is much lighter than the P450’s, but not so light it’s inappropriate. It’s just easier to guide and doesn’t need a disconcerting amount of effort to navigate gentle motorway curves. It’s a delicacy explained as much by having significantly less weight over the nose as it is the bespoke ratio and tuning, but it makes the P300 genuinely fun to slot through a sequence of corners.
Less resistance means you get a little more information at your fingertips – changes in weight tend to be a result of cornering load, rather than the wheel itself trying to whirl back to the centre. The calmer responses feel more in tune with the chassis, the lower mass does wonders for the car’s agility and goes easier on the brakes, and with less power under your right foot you get to work the F-type harder between corners without attracting undesirable attention. The P300 still feels quick – on par with similarly motivated hot hatches – but it’s useable speed. If you read the ‘evo Blueprint’ story on page no. 122, you will understand why this matters.
With the F-type R sitting at the other end of the scale, I assumed it could be the dud of the range, with little to offer over the V8-powered P450 beyond even greater performance and expense, and a hefty kerb weight to deliver those occasional heart-stopping moments where physics briefly overcomes chassis dynamics.
Well, someone please hit the ‘wrong answer’ buzzer, because it’s a more satisfying drive than the P450. Once again, Jaguar’s chassis tuning seems to have smoothed out the rougher dynamic edges without expunging its character, and while the all-wheel-drive set-up offers staggering traction even on wet roads, it hasn’t taken away from the old rear-drive feel of the previous R.
Jaguar’s engineers get another gold star for the steering, which has the heft you’d expect (and possibly desire) in this most powerful variant, but with more natural responses and less springiness than in the P450. This, as with the P300, means the R flows rather than darts into corners, and with the mode switch once more in Comfort rather than Dynamic, throttle response is again ideally judged for a progressive and particularly rapid four-wheel-driven exit from each turn.
The V8 is a joy, too. The howling, crackling 5-litre has long sounded a little contrived next to, say, the stock-car bellow of an AMG eight, but it’s massively potent. Furious standing-start acceleration and horizon-crunching mid-range are part and parcel, and the eight-speed auto, as in the others, is responsive enough to paddle flicks to make manual mode the default choice on a twisty road.
That said, the real default choice for a twisty road is the P300. The F-type still straddles the line between sports car and grand tourer, but with hot hatch performance and the most involving chassis of the bunch, the four-pot is a surprisingly adept driver’s car. All it really lacks is an exotic soundtrack, and for this reason alone it’s the V8s that will continue to populate dream-car lists the world over. And, Jaguar hopes, some driveways, too.