Not perfect, perhaps, but perfectly charming…
It has been a remarkably long time coming, some would say the thick end of half a century, but for the first time in as long as I’ve been doing this job, there is now a car that fits the description of what a Jaguar sports car should be.
Of course it needs to be fast and the new F-type R is. I’m a little disappointed that, despite its aluminium structure and panels, it still weighs 1650kg (some 45kg more than the steel and aluminium Porsche 911 Turbo that also provides rear seats – just – and four-wheel drive), but with 542bhp and a wall of torque from its 5-litre supercharged V8, it still offers genuinely competitive junior supercar performance and a soundtrack likely to prove highly irritating to anyone without fuel in the their veins.
Naturally it must be beautiful too. I’m still in two minds as to whether Jaguar was wise to call this car the F-type and thereby invoke the image of its antecedent, because crash and pedestrian protection regulations mean it’s near enough impossible to design a car with the delicacy and purity of line of an E-type. But the F-type coupé, with its swooping rear deck, comes about as close as you could reasonably expect, and far closer than its convertible sister.
But it needs also to be effortless over very long distances, and having taken it from Wales to Monaco and back in just five days I can confirm it is exactly that. The ride is firm enough to feel controlled without being harsh.
Does it need to handle brilliantly? Probably not, but it does anyway, at least for a large, heavy GT. It does that peculiarly Jaguar thing of resisting understeer as if a lady’s honour depended upon it, yet instead of payback coming in the form of snap oversteer, it eases its way into neutrality and, if you so choose, a gently tail-out stance at the exit.
So far, so really very good.
But Jaguar still needs to work on the details. It seems ridiculous to me that a car damn near as long as a Land Rover Freelander with just two seats and a restrictively small boot should not be able to offer enough legroom for all normally proportioned drivers. At 6ft 3in I am certainly tall, but equally no freak of nature. And Jaguar’s antediluvian navigation system looks out of place in a £30,000 XF saloon, let alone this F-type costing almost three times as much. Also a 72-litre fuel tank in a car that does 24mpg if driven gently is simply inadequate. I’ve always been impressed by how much Jaguar achieves on budgets I know BMW or Audi engineers would not even understand, but in important details like these the lack of investment shows.
Should such reservations be allowed to poison one’s view, or should we simply accept that Jaguars have always been imperfect devices, making up with sheer charm for what they lose in across-the-board competence?
In the case of the F-type R coupé, I take very much the latter view. It’s not as great a car now as was the E-type then, nor even close in fact. But when I think of other 500-plus bhp coupés I’d rather have for this kind of money, I draw a blank. For all its faults this is a car I liked even more than I admired, and I admired it a lot.
Engine: 5.0 litres, eight cylinders, supercharged
Power: [email protected] rpm
Torque: 502lb [email protected] rpm
Transmission: eight-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Top speed: 186mph