Track testing the Jaguar F-Type Coupe R
Surrounded by marvelous machinery at Sandown Raceway, our track dynamo, Robert Pepper, only has eyes for the Jaguar F-Type Coupe R, and who could blame him.
I’M SITTING IN PITLANE at Sandown Raceway, listening to a Ferrari racecar being tested. I have my laptop, a view of the track, and a rather decent coffee which is taking the edge off this rather cool day. There’s not that many cars around, but those that are here are all here to be driven in anger, more or less.
The machines range from my humble 86 and smattering of hot hatches, through to 911s, M-cars and Lotuses, with even the odd supercar from Ferrari and McLaren. But there’s one here in particular that I have my eye on and that has caused my heart to skip a beat, or three. Why? Simple, even among this impressive collection of knee-trembling machines this one stands out.
And it’s the Jaguar F-Type R. You only need glance at the thing to know it’s a sportscar, but there’s no such thing as a glance when it comes to the F-Type. Every look turns into a stare so you can fully appreciate the curves and design, and there’s no need to worry about the car making uncomfortable eye contact and flouncing away if it notices.
I’m sure there’s all sorts of hints of E-Type and the usual pretentious blather from the designers about how they found inspiration from some old woman’s beads in the Gobi Desert, but however they got there, it passes the litmus test for me and that is whether as a small boy I’d have wanted a poster of one on my bedroom wall. And, yes, I would have. Actually, I want one on the wall now…
And maybe a poster of the interior too. Sportscars have to have a sense of thrill, and the F-Type does not disappoint with a nicely enclosed cockpit. Everything falls easily to hand, and you get a clue as to its intent from the moment you drop your backside into the low-slung bucket seat the side bolsters of which can be adjusted to embrace you. These are, I should add, the special performance seats. And were I whispering gentle advice in the ear of a F-Type purchaser, I would be guiding their hand to tick that particular box. I would also be suggesting that the performance brakes option is selected – these are brake discs the size of a helipads and made of ceramic that reduce weight by a handy 20kg, and that’s unsprung weight too… but I’ll save the technical detail for another article.
So promises made by the exterior are backed up by the interior. But there is a third aspect of sportscar enjoyment, and that is the sound. Earlier, a Jaguar engineer was revving the engine and the note of the V8 is, I think, up there with the best of AMG’s efforts and that is about as high praise as I can give. Later, back in pitlane, you can tell when the F-Type is passing with your back turned.
It’s taken a while, sorry, but now it’s my turn to point the Leaping Cat out onto the track.
My initial impressions are of acceleration that if not completey savage, is certainly a little on the wild side. That I like. It’s all neatly controlled, but not over-controlled. Very good. I want something to control, not something to take me for a ride. The following laps are unadulterated joy.
The seats brace well, leaving me free to focus on the drive, and it requires focus because while the car is beautifully responsive and balanced, it feels like there’s much more to explore. Initially, I’m too harsh with the throttle – my excuse is having just come out of a Jaguar XF (more of a wafter, not a racer) – and even with the stability control on maximum there’s a little room for play; a little chance for both over- and understeer. The other two stability control modes, which I didn’t try, promise further delights (another time perhaps).
And all the while the Jaguar is just dropping with theatre from the way the exhaust pops and crackles under brakes, to the acceleration out of corners, and, well, just everything really. It’s an experience. Let’s be totally clear, the F-Type is really, really enjoyable on the track, and that’s not something you can say about every car with a big engine these days, or every car with a pretty coupe body. It is a car that makes the driver work, but in a way that rewards, you’re working with the car not against it. That’s what a sportscar should be, not merely a fast car.
But don’t be thinking the F-Type is some sort of one-trick track toy. Being a modern car, the suspension, throttle, gearshift points and even engine note can be turned down to sedate from frantic, so this isn’t like trying to drive a tiresomely darty Lotus Elise or overly-stiff Evo. Editor Bober has more on daily F-Type liveability here, and we have Paul Murrell’s test here, but my one concern from a quick look would be storage space, because for a reasonably large vehicle there’s really very little room for anything in the boot when the space-saver spare is in there, which is disappointing especially considering the front-engine, two-seater layout. On the subject of criticisms, I felt the steering wheel on the test car was too thick, but there are thinner versions available and even better, wrapped in Alacantra which is my favourite material for steering wheels.
It’s nearly time for my turn on the track in my own car, so I’d better wrap this up. Why would you buy this car? Well, Jaguar says it went after the Porsche 911 with the F-Type … so, if I think back to my latest 911 track experience then, well, then I’ve got to say I’ve had more fun with the F-Type at Sandown than I did with the Porsche at Phillip Island, which given the relative merits of each track is a telling observation.
Choosing between the two is largely going to be a matter of taste, whether you aspire to own a 911 just because of the history and the nameplate as many do, or you just want a car that can do what a 911 can. If the latter, then I’d take the F-Type which for me is artwork you can powerslide.