Jaguar is striking out into a fresh design era under new design director Julian Thomson and so it seems right that the subject of this week’s road test should be a sharpened-up, redesigned version of its talismanic F-Type.
With design lead times being what they are, it’s likely that this car was signed off long before former design boss Ian Callum departed the scene in June 2019. Be that as it may, as your eyes will confirm, this all-aluminium classic front-engined British-built sports car has never looked better.
Now to address whether such an effective facelift has come accompanied by handling and usability improved to similarly striking effect.
The F-Type’s engine range no longer includes a six-cylinder option; the firm instead offers a detuned supercharged V8 as a mid-range model, which is also the only engine derivative available with a choice of rear- or four-wheel drive.
The car comes in a choice of four trim levels, although not every engine is available in combination with all four. Entry-level trim, for example (passive suspension, open diff, 18in rims), can only be had on a four-cylinder P300, with the P450 getting R-Dynamic trim (electronic limited-slip diff, adaptive dampers) as standard.
You needn’t look very far to see where the majority of the F-Type’s facelift budget has been spent. The car has a sharp-eyed new look that freshens its visual appeal really effectively. New bumpers, grille, headlights and tail-lights and a reprofiled bonnet all feature, along with new alloy wheel designs and a renewed colour palette.
The F-Type’s engine range has been altered quite a bit over the car’s lifetime and now offers arguably greater breadth of choice than do any of its direct rivals, albeit with slightly less associated variety. Jaguar added 221kW 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol power in 2017, having introduced four-wheel drive with the range-topping SVR version in 2016 and then rolled it out more widely.
With this update, however, the firm has phased out supercharged V6 versions of the car (at least as far as European markets are concerned) and introduced a new ‘detuned’ 331kW supercharged 5.0-litre V8 variant to fill the mid-range void that they have left. Four-wheel drive is available as an option on this mid-range P450 version and is standard on the range-topping 423kW V8-powered P575 F-Type R we elected to test. Entry-level four-cylinder P300s are rear drive only. All F-Types now come with an eight-speed automatic gearbox from ZF.
Jaguar’s suspension and running gear revisions are at their most extensive on the F-Type R, which gets wider 20in alloy wheels than its direct predecessor had, as well as new rear-axle hub knuckles and ball joints, and new adaptive dampers, coil springs and anti-roll bars. The transmission gets the same electronics used in the XE SV Project 8 super-saloon’s, allegedly delivering quicker paddle shifts, and the engine produces marginally more power and torque than did the V8 of the old R.
The interior may have had less attention lavished on it than the body panels but it has nevertheless been renewed in some key areas. It remains a more lavish and enveloping place than a great many sports car cabins and is one of several reasons that the car makes such an enticing prospect as an every-day driver.
Outright cabin space is still tighter than in some rivals and forward visibility is a little bit pillarbox-like. For taller drivers, too, it remains worthwhile avoiding the optional panoramic roof in order to maximise available head room. Even so, our tallest tester, at over 6ft, didn’t have trouble getting comfortable in the car.
There remains a big difference in boot space between the coupé and convertible versions, which ought to be remembered by anyone who has touring in mind. The coupé offers a storage area of up to 509 litres with the parcel shelf removed. It’s big enough, Jaguar claims, for two sets of golf clubs, as long as you know how to arrange them.
The driving position remains good: low-slung, comfortable over distance and fairly well supported in the case of the R, which gets Jaguar’s more deeply bolstered ‘performance’ seats as standard. In front of you is the car’s new 12.3in digital instrument screen, which presents its graphics clearly and offers a choice of layouts.
The outgoing F-Type’s ageing infotainment system has been replaced by Jaguar’s latest 10.0-inch InControl Touch Pro set-up, via which you can stream online music either by downloading Jaguar’s app or simply by using Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.
It’s a decent system rather than a great one, truth be told. Although the layout makes for fairly good usability, there’s still a little bit of latency in the time it takes to respond to your finger, and the home screen layout isn’t quite as flexible or configurable as you might like.
There are two options available for audio systems, both supplied by Meridian. The standard one has just under 400W and 10 speakers and the premium one gets 770W of amplification and 12 speakers. Our test car was fitted with the standard system, which had plenty of power and good clarity.
It was a contentious decision when Jaguar introduced a four-cylinder engine to one of its sports car ranges three years ago, but also a pretty smart one if you consider that, by doing so, it gave itself permission to keep dropping Bridgend-built supercharged V8s into at least some F-Types.
An element of uncertainty still surrounds the future of this mill, with the Ford plant that makes it set to close in a matter of months and only unconfirmed rumours that the line is to be moved to Jaguar Land Rover’s Wolverhampton engine facility. We’ll put a pin in that for now, however, and just trust that the right decision will be made – because few production engines mix bombastic audible charm with brute strength to such spectacular effect as this one.
It gives the F-Type a multiplicity of roles to play: the sports car, yes, but also the burbling hot rod and even the supercar-scalping point-to-point giant-slayer at times.
The car’s outright performance level is pretty monumental, although this isn’t like a modern turbocharged V8: it needs plenty of revs before hitting maximum reheat, so the F-Type R isn’t a car that’ll take off in a high gear quite like a big Porsche or Mercedes-AMG. At times, if only when you make those kinds of comparisons, it feels just a little lazy and unresponsive from around 2000rpm and the gearbox has to work that bit harder in kickdown to make up for the shortfall.
However, the pay-off is a power delivery that really comes to life above 4000rpm. You’ll seldom have the opportunity to fully uncork it on the road but you’ll vividly enjoy it on the occasions when you do. Here, the AJ-V8 has ferocity and audible drama that, for some, will border on the histrionic and juvenile. Not for anyone with petrol in their veins, mind you. Only in the way it tends to crackle and spit on the overrun did any of our testers consider the motor’s character over the top.
That the gearbox is undoubtedly slicker and feels more intuitive when operating in manual mode than when left in ‘S’ or ‘D’ is one way in which this powertrain yields a little to the very best dual-clutch performance car transmissions.
Its paddle shifts certainly come quickly enough and, by timing them yourself, you only get more out of the experience when you’re really dialled in.
Jaguar’s kerb weight claim for this car makes it more than 100kg heavier than the new Porsche 911 Turbo S, even though it’s also shorter and offers fewer passenger seats.
Suffice it to say, heft is a little bit of a limiting factor for the F-Type R. Not a terminal obstacle by any means, partly because there are so many ways to enjoy how this car engages with a testing road; but a present one, certainly, that conspires with other factors to prevent the Jaguar from conjuring the last word on outright poise and agility.
Use it for everyday driving or grand touring and you’ll find the F-Type R’s behaviour hard to fault. Despite those 20-inch rims, it rides pretty quietly and, with the adaptive dampers set to Normal mode, with suppleness and isolation, too. Long distances are thus very agreeably dispatched, and the softer side of the car’s chassis tune makes it easy to luxuriate in the combustive richness that powertrain affords.
Dial the car into Dynamic mode and you’ll feel the suspension stiffen immediately and the steering weight up – and a degree of the fluent poise and easy precision that both had previously possessed begin to disintegrate slightly. The car retains a level of body control and directional incisiveness that might distinguish a modern sports saloon or GT very well indeed but, compared with a current 911 or Lotus Evora, there’s a hint of softness about the Jaguar’s handling responses, a slight mutedness about its control feedback, and a sense that the suspension is struggling slightly to keep the car’s mass under close control when the road surface underneath it begins to degrade.
Jaguar’s four-wheel drive system, meanwhile – however rear biased its torque distribution might be by default – remains one that, in combination with the electronic torque vectoring, always seems half a step off the pace in its attempts to put the car’s drive where it might be best deployed. Both might even be tuned to seem like they’re struggling to contain the savagery of that V8 motor at times, which they can do in pretty rough and rudimentary terms.
We didn’t have the opportunity to test the car’s track handling, but all-paw performance Jaguars have thus far failed to reproduce the dynamic configurability or throttle adjustability of some of their German counterparts. Although the F-Type seemed to have good stability and well-balanced grip levels at road speeds, nothing it did at those road speeds suggested it would move Jaguar’s 4WD game on at the limit.
The Jaguar F-Type remains at heart a simple prospect designed for those who want a sports car to look and sound great, to go fast and to offer accessible driver thrills. It now succeeds in those respects better than ever.
And while seven years ago, the comparison may have felt fresher, it remains valid today: there is no better example of what a modern-day TVR might have been than a Jaguar F-Type with a snorting V8 engine. Except that the range-topping F-Type has more appeal as a daily driver than any British sports car built in Blackpool ever had.
Those who like to go in search of really distinguishing dynamic poise and immersive on-the-limit handling from their two-seaters will continue to find greater hidden depths in one or two other parts of the sports car niche. Although what the Jaguar is selling on those scores isn’t to be sniffed at, it hasn’t quite got the delicacy of a Lotus or Porsche; and we suspect it may even be more enjoyable with a touch less power and half as many driven wheels.
As it is, however, the F-Type R certainly isn’t short on fun factor; and we’re very glad that Jaguar has seen fit to let it grow old at least a little bit disgracefully.