2021 Jaguar F-Type R first drive: The jungle cat grows up
Since its debut in 2015, the lovely and powerful Jaguar F-Type R has had a major problem: its rear end. I’m not talking about the design or the sheetmetal. One could argue that the sleek, sexy cat’s butt is its best angle.
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Instead, I’m referring to what lies beneath. Endowed with 550 shrieking horsepower and 502 tire-melting lb-ft of torque, the original F-Type R would simply roast its Pirelli P Zeroes and oversteer, oversteer, oversteer. Precision was absent from the beast’s world view.
Don’t take my word for it. The rear-drive R Coupe was a one-and-done product that was quickly replaced in 2016 with an all-wheel drive model. Sending some of the 5.0-liter supercharged V-8’s copious torque to the front axle tamed things a bit, but in its heart the two-door Jaguar remained feral. The rear end remained a handful. The R iteration of the British sports car has always had the looks, the sound, the power … but never the handling, even the improved but still not actually improved SVR version. Sports cars should inspire confidence in their drivers; the F-Type R never did.
Meet the 2021 Jaguar F-Type R. Many things have changed, chief among them new rear suspension components. Let’s start with the more obvious stuff. You can think of the 2021 F-Type R as a mashup up of things gleaned from the aforementioned SVR version and Jag’s skunkworksy Project 8 super saloon.
The engine in the new R is the SVR version of Jag’s thunderous V-8: 575 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque. The transmission is the same mechanical unit as before, a high-torque version of ZF’s uber-ubiquitous eight-speed automatic. Jaguar calls its version Quickshift, and it uses the same shift logic as the Project 8.
The great news is that the old SVR dinged your net worth to the tune of $126,945 for the coupe and $129,795 for the convertible. The new car stickers for $104,225 for the hardtop and $106,925 for the softy. True, the new R doesn’t have all the aero tricks of the defunct (for now) SVR, but I don’t think it’s worse off as a result.
Will Jaguar create a new SVR in two or three years to revive interest among fickle coupe buyers? You’d better believe it, especially because the Project 8’s 600-hp engine is just sitting around, waiting. Jag claims the new R will hit 60 mph in 3.5 seconds (we got the 2017 SVR to 60 mph in 3.3 seconds) and will hit 186 mph.
The more obvious difference between the old car and the new one is the front end. Specifically, Jaguar designers revamped the headlights. The OG F-Type had lights that paid homage to the headlights from ye olde E-type. Teardrop-ish in shape, the lamp covers climbed up the front fender and intruded on the bonnet/hood. The new headlights are much squintier (plus stuffed with 128 small pixel LEDs) and now reside entirely below the hood. Jaguar’s design director, Julian Thompson, said the change was made to add visual length to the F-Type. I’m sure the design team also just wanted to make the car look new and different after six years.
Not mentioned, however, is the aesthetic evil of EU pedestrian safety standards, which are wreaking havoc on the car faces and hoodlines of any automaker doing business on the continent. Essentially, the fronts now have to be flat—you will notice the new F-Type’s grille isn’t as pointy as the old one—which is forcing wider and wider grilles. Smaller headlights are also part of the deal. From certain angles, such as the hard side, the new F-Type does look better. But from the all-important front three-quarter view, the hood simply looks massive. Some vents (or something) are needed to break things up a bit.
Other body changes are much more subtle. Slightly revamped sills, a new side vent, and a reshaped rear bumper are about the extent of the changes, along with two new exterior colors, Bluefire Blue and Firenze Red.
Inside, the big news is a 12.3-inch TFT screen that replaces the lovely, deeply binnacled analog gauges from the old car. I know everyone is screen crazy these days, but in my opinion, analog is king (especially in a sports car).
These changes run throughout the F-Type range, though the P300 (that’s what Jag calls the 296-hp Ingenium turbo-four F-Type) and the P380 (the 380-horse supercharged V-6) will have a different, single exhaust. The manual transmission previously available on the P380 is dead and buried. Why? Less than 10 percent (and from the sound of things, way less) of P380 customers opted for it. C’est la vie.
Another big change for 2021 is the “more rounded, more mature” exhaust note. In the opening paragraph, I briefly mentioned the exquisite, animalistic noise the old F-Type used to make. If you’re not familiar, it was beautifully obnoxious to the point of, “How can this be legal?” The V-6, too.
I remember once sitting in the parking garage at MotorTrend headquarters behind the wheel of our long-term F-Type R. Parked a few spaces away from me was features editor Christian Seabuagh in a Dodge Hellcat. I’m probably 15 years older than Christian, but mentally we’re both pre-adolescents. There we sat, each supercharged V-8 in park, revving and revving the engines. I believe the F-Type was not only louder but also more musical. Real brassy, real shreddy. Anyhow, that (admittedly) juvenile noise has been declawed, and the R’s glorious cold start has been (partially) neutered. There’s a Quiet mode for startup (and for your neighbors). The default is on, and it can switched off, but you gotta assume most owners are going to either never know about the option for a loud start or just never bother. Pity.
Now, about that rear end. At all four corners the electronic variable dampers have been retuned, and new springs offer up new spring rates. The front and rear anti-roll bars are also redesigned. In the rear specifically, the upper control arms are new, as are the upper and lower ball joints, and the knuckles are stiffer. The electronic power steering has been recalibrated, the wheels all feature new wheel bearings, the active rear electronic differential has been reworked, the DSC (stability control) is revamped, and the active AWD torque split is more rear-biased. The rear tires are wider (from 295 to 305), too. Put briefly, the 2021 F-Type R’s kinematics have been thoroughly reworked, with a majority of the effort going into the rear end.
The results? I’m impressed. Jaguar turned us loose on Portugal’s N222, one of the world’s better driving roads. Imagine a roller coaster through a forest and you get the idea. The F-Type R ate up the curves. More important, even in a light drizzle, for the first time ever in a V-8 powered F-Type, I felt confident—like really, actually confident—going hard into a corner and getting on the power right before/at/after the apex (I’m not all that accurate). In days past, the little voice in the back of my head (“You’re gonna die!”) would have held me back from dipping as deep into the 516 lb-ft of torque as I repeatedly did. Bravo, Jaguar engineers, you done did good. Likewise, the steering feel—which was numbed pretty badly back in 2016 when the R went AWD—felt pretty much OK. Still an AWD car, and still electric power steering, but it feels better than the previous version.
The amount of power is great. Sure, Christian’s aforementioned 707-hp Hellcat (now with 717 hp, with a 797-hp Redeye variant) has forever skewed our notions of power, but 575 ponies in a two-ton two-seater feels just fine. Quick, too. Two tons? Well, the last time we weighed an F-Type SVR, it came in at 3,980 pounds. I wasn’t able to weigh the new one, but I imagine it gained a pound or 20, at least. The F-Type has always been heavy, so the heft is nothing new. Furthermore, the new suspension geometry deals with fat cat’s weight admirably.
My one big gripe is with the brakes. Remember that great road and all that power I was talking about? Well, imagine my surprise when I came up the first corner and footed what I consider to be less than ideal brakes. Let’s call it harrowing. Not only did the stoppers’ effectiveness seem worse than it should have been, but the pedal itself was also vague and squishy. That’s exactly the opposite of what you want and opposite of the Jag’s most notorious competition—namely the mighty AMG GT and the seemingly infallible Porsche 911.
Worse still—and my driving partner and I confirmed this several times—under heavy braking, the back end of the R dances around. That’s bad and weird (because mid-engine cars do that, not front engine ones), and I have no memory of the old car doing that.
Carbon-ceramic brakes are an option, and it’s been my experience that more often than not pricey carbon-ceramic brakes do fix things like pedal feel. And although they don’t do much for stopping distances (a point of much debate), they do reduce unsprung weight. However, the wiggly squirming we experienced, I don’t know what that is. Hopefully that bad behavior was contained to the yellow car I drove. Just one more reason why we’ll have to get a new R in and test it.
Conclusion: the 2021 Jaguar F-Type R is a well-executed and fairly major midcycle update of the brand’s halo sports car. With sharper looks and better handling, much of the last iteration’s youthful exuberance has been bred out of the new version. I understand why, but I will miss the sound of an exhaust that sounds like four baritone saxophones run through a dozen Mesa/Boogie full stacks. The new sound out the quad-pipes is loud and deep but not nearly as animalistic, not nearly as unique.
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That said, the new, more powerful F-Type R gives driving enthusiasts much to be happy about— specifically, confidence-inspiring road holding ability. That sort of performance from a two-door Jaguar is itself pretty unique.
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