I was privileged to attend the international press launch of the Jaguar F-Type in 2013, driving Jag’s new sports car on the idyllic roads of northern Spain. I remember thinking at the time that Jaguar was back in the game, and that the F-Type Coupe was the most beautiful Jag since Malcom Sayer’s iconic XK-E.
For Jaguar, the E-Type, especially the Series I made from 1961 through 1967, was a landmark design that remains a cornerstone in many classic collections. And while the marque followed up with the XJS, XK8 and XK, those models were really luxury GTs that never quite assumed the sporting role left vacant when the last V-12-powered E-Type rolled off the line in 1974. Ian Callum’s design for the F-Type, however, ticked all the boxes, as they say. It performed brilliantly, looked great, and still gets my vote as one of the most desirable “affordable” sports cars on the market.
So when Jaguar offered us their latest 2021 F-Type R AWD Coupe, I wondered if familiarity with earlier F-Types would somehow dull the excitement, especially by way of comparison to recent front-engined competitors like Aston Martin’s Vantage, Chevrolet’s latest Corvette or even Ford’s Mustang GT. The answer is a resounding “no.”
The F-Type received a facelift for the 2021 model year, discernable at a glance by the new headlamps and taillights. Three models of coupe and convertible are available in North America, powered either by an inline-four, a V-6 or a V-8 engine. The top-performing F-Type has a 5.0-liter, supercharged V-8 that develops 575 hp, gets from zero to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds and has an electronically limited top speed of 186 mph. The engine is a proven winner, and its healthy 516 ft lbs of torque pulls all the way from 3,500 rpm. The eight-speed automatic gearbox spreads out the ratios, tipping a hat to acceleration but with long legs for freeway flying at lesser rpms.
A little history places this latest F-Type in context. Made until 2015, the earlier RWD-only, V-8-powered F-Type R Coupe was a brutal cat with a rabid, howling exhaust and traditional rear-wheel-drive traits that had the back end stepping out at the blink of an inattentive eye. That car was a bucket of fun—definitely not for the squeamish—and is one of the best pure sports-car bargains on the pre-owned market. All subsequent V-8 F-Types have been solely all-wheel drive, taming the road manners of the formerly feral cat, and making it a car more attuned to a broader range of buyers. For drivers who like to get a little sideways, the latest F-Type still offers plenty of controlled-drift excitement, but without the voice or short temper of its predecessor.
The double-wishbone front and rear suspension setup, with adaptive dampers and adjustable settings, offers a ride that is compliant and comfortable over long distances, though the 20-inch wheel and tire combination telegraph freeway expansion joints when dialed to the sport setting. The electric power-assisted steering responds to quick inputs and provides welcome feedback, especially on curvy roads that offer a sporting challenge and the opportunity to enjoy the steering wheel–mounted paddles. With the latter, the otherwise silky-smooth transmission provides assertive shifts to deliver impressive acceleration. Stopping power is adequate but, ideally, carbon-ceramic brakes should have been an available option for drivers who plan to put the Jag through its paces.
The F-Type’s all-aluminum unibody chassis architecture keeps weight to 3,843 pounds, and use of aluminum for body panels allows precise lines and creases impossible to execute in steel. The retractable rear wing elevates at 70 mph, its presence visible through the small but beautifully shaped backlight, one of the car’s signature design elements. Retractable door handles are another elegant and aerodynamic consideration, remaining flush with the bodywork once the car is underway. By that time, the driver and passenger are inside, ensconced in the suede cloth performance seats, some of the most comfortable in the business.
Those seats consume most of the interior space, because this is a cozy cockpit. A center-positioned 10-inch touchscreen manages infotainment, while a larger flat screen ahead of the driver houses digital instruments. Those nostalgic for a brace of those big Smiths gauges that commanded the attention of E-Type pilots will be underwhelmed, but then, most contemporary instrumentation is a letdown when compared to the glory days of real needles spinning behind glass.
The overall fit and finish is good, and our interior included the optional suede cloth upgrade to headliner and visors. The 770 w Meridian Surround Sound audio system, an $870 upgrade, is a nice touch, though as with any performance car, the real music comes from the machine and not the airwaves. Weekend travelers should pack on the light side, as there’s room for only a few pieces of luggage accessed through the rear hatch.
With plenty of power, and as exciting to drive as it is beautiful to look at, the strictly two-seat F-Type R fills its price-point niche very nicely, as most competition is positioned well over or under its base price of $103,200. Our metallic Bluefire Blue example, optioned at $113,190—was just about loaded, although Jaguar offers some costlier paint options in a wide array of colors that make this well-bred cat even more exclusive.