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Editor/Photographer : Mark Charles


April 2 2014

Jaguar F-TYPE R Coupé

When setting out to develop the F-TYPE, JLR engineers knew that both open-topped and fixed-roof bodystyles would be needed. Convertibles sell well in just a handful of countries but a couple of these are large markets, namely England and certain parts of the US.

It made sense to launch the model first as a roadster, with relatively high prices, and then wait almost a year before adding a more practical and cheaper hatchback. The same pricing strategy has worked well for Porsche, with the Cayman positioned above the Boxster. Jaguar’s strategic planners were clever enough not to confuse buyers with two model names - let’s not forget that outside the UK, this brand is at worst dormant in target buyers’ minds and at best, cool and exclusive. Possibly too exclusive.

Jaguar sales across the globe continue to improve, thanks partly to the advertising campaigns which are ongoing (including this new ad which follows on from the Super Bowl one), and of course due to the arrival of new or refreshed models. Additional features such as AWD and four-cylinder engines for cars such as the XF and XJ has also helped in the US and China, and to a lesser extent, India.

At his time, first quarter numbers for the UK are yet to be issued by the SMMT but in February, the brand’s registrations dipped by 13 percent to just 213 cars, and 1,324 for the year to date. Clearly, that’s bad news and goes to show the F-TYPE Coupé cannot come soon enough. Checking ACEA’s totals for 31 EU+EFTA markets, it’s clear the UK is not an isolated case in this region, with just 1,138 vehicles sold in February, which was an 11 percent drop in a market up six percent. Even Lexus (1,356), like Jaguar a serial underachiever in this part of the world, managed to beat the big cat in the second month of 2014. Sales in the UK and the rest of Europe “were lower owing to model launch activity in the corresponding month of 2013,” according to Jaguar.

So much for the bad news: it’s a happier tale in the US, where Jaguar sales rose by 29 percent in March to 1,816 units and by 32 percent for the quarter, to 4,715 cars. Worldwide, the picture is improving too, which is what really matters. In February, Jaguar sold 5,300 vehicles in total, a YoY rise of 15 percent. China was up 41 percent, North America up 35 percent and Asia Pacific also up - just - by one percent. Other overseas markets rose by a combined five percent.

Calendar year to date, Jaguar sold 12,300 vehicles, which is a rise of 19 percent. Underlining how far it has to go to catch JLR’s star performer, in February, Land Rover sold 25,187 vehicles.

With all the production capacity which is planned to be added from 2015 onwards at both Solihull (XE and the related X761 crossover) and Castle Bromwich (next XF and XJ), Jaguar will by decade-end be a brand with not only quite a few more models than it offers today, but sales should be around three times what they should be in 2014. And looking back, in around 2017 as the F-TYPE reaches the mid-life part of its production cycle, this will have been the car which rebuilt Jaguar’s image.

That image is becoming one associated more and more with lightweight technology. The XJ came first but the F-TYPE moved things on and the new hatchback takes thinks further still. The car’s body side is made from a single-piece pressing. This, JLR claims, is likely to be “the most extreme cold-formed aluminium body side in the automotive industry”. The benefit? Simple: the elimination of multiple panels and cosmetic joints. Take a look at the images which accompany this review and you’ll see this clearly. Note too the flush door handles which pop out when you unlock the car and are pulled in as you drive off. I’m a big fan of the XJ but I struggle to accept that piece of plastic which covers a part of its D-pillar, unless the car is painted black, in which case it blends in. It seems I am not alone in thinking that as to its credit, Jaguar’s design department has sought to address this with the first new fixed-roof car launched since the arrival of the current XJ in 2010. The body side panel in question is fabricated from AC600 aluminium, and the same alloy is employed for structural reinforcements - two engineering firsts for Jaguar. Energy absorption at the point of impact is, meanwhile, why AC300 T61 has been used in the body structure.

You may have either the standard aluminium top on your new Coupé, or instead, a glass substitute, each of which is bonded into the main roof structure and said to offer identical torsional rigidity. The designers and engineers have had the intelligence to specify a proper black-out blind - the media launch was in Spain and even with the heavy tint in the glass, I noticed a couple of journalist colleagues were sunburnt by the end of the day. One minor point on this topic - the sun visors are tiny and live in deep recesses. As they are also attached at both ends, its prevents them being turned through 90 degrees. So if you’re driving with harsh glare streaming through the windows, you’ll be squinting and eventually buying yourself some wraparound sunnies.

The last word on the car’s lightweight structure is to do with an environmental initiative. Up to half of the metal used in the body has been recycled, and JLR is rolling out a closed-loop system to its supplier, ensuring all off-cuts of metal from the manufacturing process are re-used. There are further claimed reductions in emissions thanks to the F-TYPE’s structure being riveted and bonded: the manufacture of a comparable welded steel body would supposedly mean the emission of 80 percent more carbon dioxide.

The production process might be replete with design and manufacturing innovations but what will really sell this car is how it looks, and how it drives. The styling is to most people even more successful than that of the convertible but these things are personal. The cockpit is exactly that: you slide in and it’s snug, but not overly so. If you have more than one passenger, they’ll be out of luck: like the convertible, this is strictly a two seater. The door pockets and centre console have decent storage spaces for water bottles, phones and so on, while a clue to the performance of the R is a prominent grab handle jutting out of the centre console. Leather covers the ‘Performance’ seats, which have integrated head restraints and inflatable side bolstering. You can have this material or Suedecloth on virtually all other surfaces, including the headliner, and the flat-bottomed steering wheel can be swapped for a round one at no extra cost.
Performance? Even the base Coupé, which is powered by a 340PS 3.0-litre supercharged V6, reaches 60mph in just 5.1 seconds, with the 380PS S Coupé slicing 0.3 of a second off that. The 340PS car comes with a sports exhaust and 18-inch rims, to which the S adds launch control, an active sports exhaust, adaptive dampers, bigger brakes and a mechanical-LSD. You can tell these two apart by their brake callipers: silver for the standard model and black for the S.

Then comes the R, which was the one I spent the most time in - its badges and four exhausts make it easily identifiable. It features an electronic active differential which works in conjunction with torque vectoring by braking. There are benefits at higher speeds, and for correcting your cornering line and preventing understeer, respectively. Trying the R out on a circuit used for Moto GP races, its grip was as impressive as the thundering scream being made by its engine. ZF's paddle-shift eight-speed gearbox was as superb on track as it was on the road, and as it is in every car to which it’s fitted. When the award for automatic transmission of the decade is handed out, this one will have my vote.

Should I mention fuel consumption? Considering how fast these three cars are, the worst official number - 25.5mpg Combined for the R - is pretty good, as is the best: 32.1 for the 340PS engine. CO2 averages range from 205-259g/km. You will be wondering about weights - the answers are 1,577, 1,594 and 1,665kg.

Only time will tell if Jaguar has got this car right for the intended market. The last JLR vehicle I fell hopelessly for was a 510PS version of the Range Rover Sport. The one I suspect I would love even more is ironically the only one I haven’t had the chance to try: the newly-added V8 diesel. You will have noticed what the F-TYPE R and the supercharged RRS share - that ferocious 5.0-litre V8, which in the Jag has 40 more horsepower with which to propel around half a tonne less vehicle. No contest for performance, and yet it isn’t hard to imagine these models being equally considered by anyone with the ability to make the monthly lease payments.

Its maker would have us believe that the new Coupé slots nicely between the Cayman and 911, plus it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than any Audi R8, which starts at GBP92,000. I’m more inclined to think of the new fixed-roof F-TYPE as a 911 rival in the making. Its looks are arresting and distinctive from all angles, the interior is close to flawless, performance and handling are as good as or better than the Porsche, and if enough people begin to learn how good a car it is, it may even begin to sell in similar numbers. It certainly deserves to.


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