You know what they say about assumption being the mother of all… Well, you know what they say.
With a 405kW and 680Nm 5.0-litre supercharged V8 under the bonnet, the F-Type R Coupe was a walk-up starter for this year’s PCOTY, but no-one seriously expected it to trouble the pointy end.
Obviously it would score high on sex factor, but when it came to the crunch we thought it’d be a bit of a clown car, all wayward, comedy oversteer and loud, shouty noises, but not a serious performance machine. Oops.
To be fair, fuelling these preconceptions were memories of the F-Type V8 S Convertible from last year. It, too, made a noise so rude it should’ve been sent to the principal’s office and was so fast in a straight line it felt like the front wheels were lifting off the ground.
When it came to corners, though, the whole show began to unravel. It skipped over bumps and had zero traction, not helped by a limited-slip diff that felt like it had been lifted from a VN SS. After 250,000km.
Adding a roof and even more power didn’t seem like the cure to the F-Type’s ills, but what a transformation. Jaguar’s new Coupe is undoubtedly one of the finest pieces of car design in recent years and arguably Ian Callum’s best work since the original Aston Martin V8 Vantage. But it’s what’s gone on under that show-stopping skin that has made all the difference.
Of course, the engine still dominates the experience. Response is instant, there’s power everywhere – more than enough to overwhelm the 295mm rear Pirellis – and it has the sort of acceleration that compresses time and space.
Even limited to part-throttle in first and second, it cracked a 3.99sec 0-100km/h and backed it up with an 11.99sec quarter at 193.42km/h. That’s fast. And boy does it make a racket. It’s more of a rasp than a traditional V8 growl and the exhaust does a great impression of the Normandy D-day landings on the overrun.
On a cruise it’s quiet and comfortable, the very embodiment of the traditional British grand tourer, but flick to Dynamic mode, a little chequered flag appears on the dash and the car comes alive. Initially, it feels just as lairy as the Convertible, easily spinning its wheels even with ESP on, but push through that and you’ll find strong traction.
Accurate, well-weighted steering controls a sharp front-end, but the biggest surprise is how agile the chassis is mid-corner. The F-Type Coupe is no lightweight at 1665kg (about 250kg more than a 911) but the weight never really handicaps it.
Such a good chassis aligned to that monster engine makes it a natural drift car – you’d probably never tire of driving it on the lock stops – but the big surprise comes when you ask it to settle down and do a lap time.
Drive it on the ragged edge and it’s still loose in the rear, but crucially, it’s progressive and communicative. In that sense it’s similar to an E92 M3, and completely the opposite of the new M4.
What really seals the deal, though, is the Jag’s character, that indefinable X-factor all great cars possess. The F-Type R is so adept at theatre it could play the lead in Macbeth, and it’s this showmanship that establishes it as a viable alternative to the everyone’s-got-one Porsche 911. It’s the little things, like the way the starter button pulses when you turn the ignition on, as if the car has a heartbeat – surprise and delight I think it’s called.
It might have been pipped by the overwhelming technical excellence of the two Porsches, but Jaguar’s F-Type Coupe R is massively fast, heaps of fun and hugely desirable. It’s absolutely one of the best cars of 2014.
January issue, out now
For the complete Performance Car of the Year story, including full performance data, check out MOTOR’s January issue, on sale now on newsstands or iPad.
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