Yes, the bloody Nurburgring. The F-Type in more capable hands than mine has lapped it in 7min 39sec, the slap of heads hitting hands across the land at yet more 'ring lap time bearding audible as I type. At this point I'd usually offer some sort of mitigation that comparisons with Cup-shod GT3s aren't really relevant.
Head in hands
Only they are, because I'm on my way to the Destination Nurburgring track day to drive the F-Type in the company of ... lots of Cup-shod GT3s. I'll not pretend I'll be anywhere near that 'official' time but it'll be interesting to see if a hefty GT really can cut it as a track tool tool. Sure, it'll turn heads at 50 paces, ignite its tyres in the name of video-based entertainment at the drop of a hat and the exhaust noise will do funny things to the pit of your stomach but is there real substance behind the showmanship?
A measured amble across Belgium and France gives plenty of time to reflect on the resurgence of the traditional sporting coupe. Wasn't so long ago such cars seemed to be going the way of the dinosaurs but the F-Type is the first of a new crop of big-engined, rear-driven coupes combining GT style with genuine supercar performance. As the Porsche 911 quietly becomes, to all intents and purposes, a £100K purchase the market £20K either side of this significant benchmark is suddenly getting very interesting.
The F-Type has already set a very high bar and soon to follow we have the Mercedes-AMG GT, the engine for which will underpin a new generation of Aston Martins to replace the long-serving (but still rather lovely) Vantage range. Meanwhile Maserati has confirmed production of the Alfieri and with existing Ferrari built V6 and V8 twin-turbos from the Quattroporte has the powerplants to create a compelling F-Type rival. It's basically a 21st century revival of the classic era of 50s sporting GTs, about which you'll hear few complaints from us.
You can see where the budget was used up on the interior though; the rubberised paddle switches and neat heating and ventilation controls are an aesthetic and tactile delight but some of the older parts bin switchgear is showing its age. The panoramic glass roof is lovely though, the seats are comfy and once mobile devices and Bluetooth have kissed and made up the stereo is mighty. It's almost - almost - enough to make driving across Belgium a pleasant experience. So savage is the power delivery I end up leaving it in manual to prevent it hunting around the gearbox and even run for a while in the winter mode, the softened throttle response more appropriate for mooching on the motorway.
There are some secondary thumps on expansion joints and potholes but the exemplary body stiffness - Jaguar is especially proud of the 33,000Nm/degree torsional rigidity - means the springs and dampers can really work to their fullest. It's not plush exactly but there's a foursquare fluency to the ride and balance to the control weights that speaks volumes of the calibration. The weighting at the wheel varies at speed but there's an honesty and linearity about the rack and outputs that make a refreshing change from all these 'clever' electrically assisted systems.
At the track I get a couple of sighting laps in the Jag before swapping to, of all things, a Radical for my first properly paced ones. This ends up being a more emotional experience than intended - full story to follow - so by the time I get back in the F-Type I'm ready for a bit of a man hug before getting stuck back in. And that's exactly what the F-Type provides.
For all the wildman reputation and the brutal stats the F-Type will meet your mood and play accordingly. For my first few laps I'm happy to use Dynamic mode for crisper damping, a sharper throttle and snappier gearbox responses but leave everything else on. In this setting it'll rev out to the soft limiter, manual shifts slotting in quickly and on demand. It's as good as anything with dual clutches and entirely appropriate to the car. I'm surprised at how little action there is from the DSC light but Jaguar policy on its more sporting models is to tidy up clumsier inputs with intelligent use of the active diff and Torque Vectoring by Braking (introduced on the coupe) than reactive interventions from stability control.
It is ruddy fast though. On flat and downhill sections of the 'ring track knowledge and confidence count as much as horsepower and, frankly, a gently trailing throttle is more than sufficient. It's on the uphill bits where the 550hp really makes its presence felt. Well, they look uphill and your brain says there should be a corresponding impact on acceleration. But the Jag doesn't seem bothered.
Special mention at this point needs to go to the CCM ceramic brakes, admittedly a £7,400 option but one that gives last of the late braker confidence as well as a meaningful 21kg saving in unsprung weight. There aren't many big stops at the 'ring but those that are there are very big ones at the approach speeds the R carries. There's a 'High Performance' tyre option of Conti Force Contacts but the standard P Zeroes hold up to the abuse impressively too, the ability to stand the car on its nose on the brakes and immediate rear-axle response to throttle inputs meaning you can easily neutralise understeer. From the constantly adjusting dampers to the interaction with the active diff and stability control there's a lot of clever stuff going on in the background but it never feels intrusive.
For all the rampant reputation you can actually drive it tidily and the broad traction window is, um, transparent. As you'd kind of hope a window would be. Inevitably things start getting a bit silly as the confidence grows and the number 11s on corner exits become longer and more extravagant. Even in showboating mode the F-Type is monstrously fast, wickedly noisy and an absolute riot. Is it really a GT3 chaser? In raw pace, yes. In its ability to soak up huge bites out of the kerbs and predictability ditto. It has a softness at the extremes a more track focused car would lack. But the ability to lap at this pace without sacrificing the luxuries to make Belgian motorways an acceptable place to spend time is astonishing. Think of it in terms of facial expression. Do you want to lap with a racer's steely gaze and furrowed brow? Or guffaw in a car that's all back slaps and high fives?
This doesn't detract from what's been a pretty formidable demonstration. Yes, it's brutal in noise and raw performance. But there's more depth to it than expected and it's surprised and delighted all who've ridden in it.
Sorry if you were expecting a stinging counterpoint.
JAGUAR F-TYPE COUPE V8 R
Engine: 5,000cc, V8, supercharged
Transmission: 8-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 550@6,500
Torque (lb ft): 502@2,500
0-62mph: 4.0 sec
Top speed: 186mph (electronically limited)
MPG: 25.5mpg (claimed)
Price: £83,340 (basic list, c. £99,000 as tested - approximate configuration with options prices here)
Track photography: Frozenspeed
Thanks to Destination Nurburgring