When the Jaguar F-Type debuted two years ago, it made an immediate and profound impact. For good reason – despite being out of the purebred sports car segment for close to 50 years, it proved to be a viable alternative to the reigning class leader, the Porsche 911.
Now that the F-Type has clawed out its own little niche, the Jaguar concern is extending the model lineup further with enticing new versions fitted with either six-speed manual transmissions or AWD. These line extensions bring the number of F-Types available in North America to 12, a big growth spurt considering there were just three upon its debut. (Jaguar still has a way to go to catch Porsche; there are 19 versions of the 911 on offer.)
While both the transmission and the AWD system are significant developments for F-Type personalities, the AWD takes the proverbial cake for this reason alone – it’s fitted to the fastest version, replacing what was a riotous rear-wheel-drive model. The Jaguar F-Type R Coupe wasn’t long for this world, at least not in North America: This version was introduced last year and has already been deleted from the fleet.
The old F-Type R was a real throwback. Sure, it had an eight-speed automatic transmission, paddle shifter and a full complement of advanced driver aids. But even with all the electronic controls engaged, the 550-horsepower Jaguar would still light up the rear wheels at the drop of a British bowler.
While this characteristic was capable of generating Atlantic Ocean-wide grins, it also had an even bigger potential for shredding tires with wretched abandon.
Thus, in the North American market, the F-Type R Coupe and convertible are now only available with AWD. Diehard enthusiasts will call this decision another example of a manufacturer ripping the fun of driving from the driver’s hands. They have a point – on a damp road, it requires more skill to pilot a rear-wheel-drive car quickly and safely than it does the same car with AWD. But if engineered correctly, that AWD version will be an all-around faster car in all conditions.
The Jaguar F-Type R is indeed engineered correctly. We learned as much during a drive in upstate New York that concluded at Monticello Motor Club, the private racetrack that features plenty of high-speed sections and more than a few technically challenging corners.
Conditions were precisely what would’ve caused drivers of the original F-Type R some stress: a cool surface, on-and-off drizzle, uncertain traction at every turn. But with the new AWD version, there were no lurid slides, only tarmac-churning acceleration, incredible bite into the turns and a rear-wheel-drive bias that enabled the Jaguar to feel – still! – like an honest-to-goodness sports car.
The supercharged 5.0-litre V-8 felt entertainingly powerful. The paddle shifters enabled decisive shifts fractions after they were requested. And with the dynamic drive mode selected, the instrument panel signalled exactly when to take the next highest gear without having to divert the eyes from the next corner, which was, invariably, coming into frame at a furious pace.
Even with the stability control system disengaged entirely and the rain picking up slightly, there were never any thoughts of reduced grip or reducing speed. The 2016 Jaguar F-Type R may not be the out-and-out hooligan of its immediate predecessor, but it just may be an even faster car in all possible driving conditions.
The writer was a guest of the auto maker. Content was not subject to approval.
You’ll like this car if ... you like your power to come with added control.
- Base price: $117,500
- Engine: Supercharged 5.0-litre V-8
- Transmission/Drive: Eight-speed automatic/all-wheel drive
- Fuel economy (litres/100 km): NA
- Alternatives: Aston Martin V8 Vantage, Bentley Continental GT Speed, Chevrolet Corvette Z06, Mercedes-AMT GT S, Porsche 911 Carrera 4 GTS
- Looks: The F-Type is one of the most sensuous car designs in existence. There are no glaring errors here or big opportunities for refinement. The biggest downside? The challenge Jaguar designers will face in creating the next-generation version.
- Interior: This is not a relative strength of the Jag compared with others in the segment, including the 911. The materials used don’t feel quite so special and visibility outward is a definite weakness.
- Performance: The F-Type R may not be the fastest car out there, but it’s in the running – and that apocalyptic exhaust note makes it sound as if it’s the fastest car out there.
- Technology: The Jaguar is fitted with a dynamite Meridian audio system and InControl Apps, which allow drivers to connect and control Apple and Android devices through the touchscreen above the centre console. The navigation system was a source of frustration; instructions seemed to be a step behind at all times.
- Cargo: This is a two-seater sports car, so storage space is at a premium.
8.5 (out of 10)
The rear-wheel drive F-Type R was riotous fun; the AWD replacement makes even more sense for 95 per cent of drivers out there.
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