The Jaguar F-Type R Coupe followed less than 12 months after the successful debut of the F-Type Convertible becoming the most hardcore, performance-focused member of the F-Type line-up we'd seen at that stage.
These days F-Type Coupe line-up ranges in price from just £50,000 to over £90,000, which means it’s pitched against a host of very different rivals – from the Porsche Cayman and 911 up to the exotic Aston Martin V8 Vantage. With Coupe or Convertible, rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, manual or automatic and V6 or V8 models to choose from the F-Type range is extensive for a thoroughbred sports car but the R Coupe still sits at the pinnicle of the standard range it's outright performance you're seeking.
At launch, Jaguar claimed that the F-Type Coupe takes things to the next level. No pressure, then. But with graceful lines and muscular rear haunches that blend seamlessly into the curved roof, the Coupe looks just as stunning as the soft-top, and more.
The tinted glass of the optional panoramic roof runs in a beautiful arc from the windscreen to the base of the E-Type-inspired tailgate, while the deployable spoiler is neatly integrated into the boot. At the front of the car, the taut proportions and stunningly detailed lines of the Convertible remain unchanged. Taking the marque’s expertise in aluminium construction to the next stage, the Coupe’s body is the most torsionally rigid of any Jaguar, at 80 per cent stiffer than the Convertible. This bodes well for this car’s performance claims.
As with the soft-top, a pair of 3.0-litre supercharged V6 models kick off the range: the 335bhp F-Type and 375bhp F-Type S. Both are just over £7,000 cheaper than the Convertible versions, yet have identical power and performance, making them a tantalising prospect for people who feel the soft-top is a bit pricey.
However, it’s the headline-grabbing F-Type R Coupe that arguably embodies the thoroughbred nature of Jaguar’s newest sports car more than any other model, and this is the version we’re driving.
As the stickers on the side show, our test car is a late-stage prototype, but it has an identical dynamic set-up to the final production version. Powered by the same supercharged 5.0-litre V8 as the V8S Convertible, the flagship R Coupe adds 54bhp and 55Nm of torque, taking the outputs to 542bhp and 680Nm. The extra power means it covers 0-60mph in four seconds flat before hitting an electronically limited 186mph top speed – performance that puts it in the company of some seriously exotic rivals.
Floor the throttle and there’s a deep rumble and a surge of acceleration, and the R squirms as the tyres struggle to put down all that power. It’s an intense experience, and anyone who believes a dual-clutch gearbox is the only choice for sports cars should just try the F-Type’s excellent eight-speed auto.
As you’d expect, the R has been tuned to cope with the extra performance. The rigid Coupe body has allowed engineers to increase the suspension spring rates front and rear, while the adaptive damping has been – in engineering speak – optimised. And, in a first for Jaguar, the car also features torque vectoring by braking, which works alongside a new second-generation version of the brand’s electronic active differential to tame the power.
Every F-Type we’ve driven so far has been a delight, and the R is no different. It gives you an immediate sense of balance and connection with the road, with hydraulic steering that has seemingly perfect weighting and feel. Body control is faultless, too. With plenty of front-end grip, the R turns in quickly and accurately, allowing you to confidently place it on the entry to a corner.
The V8’s weight means you can feel the inertia transferring to the loaded front wheel in long bends, yet the torque vectoring gently brakes the inner wheels to dial it out. You’re likely to feel the benefit of this even more on the road, but our time with the car was limited to some laps of Barcelona’s grand prix circuit.
On the exit of corners it’s easy to gently transfer the loss of grip to the rear axle using the throttle, and with the freedom of the race track we were able to drive with the stability control off, and execute some beautifully balanced oversteer.
The revised E diff, which now goes from open to locked in 20 milliseconds, works well, but there’s always enough power to overcome traction. Still, the extra rigidity and tauter body control mean the Coupe reacts to throttle and steering inputs even more precisely than the Convertible.
To cope with the straight-line pace on tap, the R is offered with optional ceramic brakes. On the track they repeatedly reined the car in from more than 150mph with decent resistance to fade. Also, a clever speed-related fluid preload set-up primes the brakes as soon as you lift the throttle, to ensure there’s pedal pressure and feel the instant your foot hits the stoppers.
Our drive was over all too soon, but it’s clear the engaging and evocative R takes the F-Type to the next level. It looks, sounds and feels amazing, delivering the bravado of a muscle car with the style, comfort and agility of a thoroughly modern 21st century sports car.