Hands up those who recall the Jaguar C-X16 concept? Quite a looker, even by the exalted standards of Jaguar concept cars. Pleasingly, it very closely previewed an F-Type road car as well; shorn of its concept car fripperies - the hybrid and the fancy glass hatch - the C-X16 was 99 per cent the F-Type Coupe of 2014, much to everyone’s satisfaction.
Want to know something remarkable? The C-X16 coupe was shown in September 2011. There were development F-Types on 62 plates, and the first drives were June 2013. Manchester United were Premier League champions in May 2013 - that’s how old the F-Type is, and how long the design has been around for.
To some, then, this facelift - dropping the V6, grafting on a new front end, sprucing the interior - might look too piecemeal, when something more drastic is arguably required. But there’s another way to think of the F-Type; alongside the fact it still looks pretty damn good despite advancing years, consider where sports cars have gone since 2013.
When it first went on sale, there was an R8 available with a 4.2 V8, the AMG C63 used a 6.2, a 911 revved to 8,000rpm and an M3 even higher. None of those cars exist any longer, yet here’s an updated F-Type that has introduced a new, 450hp V8 variant for £70,000, as well as a 575hp R - effectively the old SVR in a more modest suit - at less than £100,000. The appeal of that 5.0-litre has always been considerable, a point now made more prominent with a lower sticker price and fewer memorable engines around.
In addition, Jaguar finally appears to have realised the F-Type’s true calling; no longer are there events on track, as there were for the SVR and the all-wheel drive variants. This 2020 car was launched on a Portuguese ‘road trip’, taking in hundreds of kilometres of the best tarmac to be found between Porto and Lisbon. It’s the journey for a super GT car, which we all know the F-Type has always been, rather than the dedicated sports car that’s sometimes been its implied billing - so it should work well.
The hunch is underlined by the ‘R’ flagship; while inheriting the 575hp derivative of the SVR's engine, as well as a raft of spring, damper and roll-bar tweaks, it’s less aggressive to look at and to drive. A cheaper one, too: that SVR was £110,000 in 2016, while this new R starts at £97,000.
All that said, the F-Type road trip doesn’t begin auspiciously. This has never been a small car, nor one blessed with good visibility, and obviously that hasn’t changed with a facelift. In unfamiliar urban environments they become genuine demerits, too much is obscured for confidence and the feeling of a snug, cocooning cockpit is outweighed by an inability to see out of it. Moreover, while the new 12.3-inch digital dash is a vast improvement on the dials that went before, it does make the driver more aware of the nav’s sluggishness now it can be seen right in front of them. Still, hopefully with CarPlay now standard there’s going to be less need to rely on the awkward OEM system.
Once out of the city though, the F-Type really shines. Much as it always has, in all honesty; a good driving experience doesn’t date. On the motorway it’s plush, refined and soothing, executing the Jag GT thing with aplomb. It doesn’t float and murmur along like a big saloon, instead boasting consummate refinement with just enough of the road coming through to remind you of its sportier billing. Perhaps the 305-section rear tyres make a tad too much noise, though there’d be precious little complaint about driving the F-Type a huge distance.
It’s even better on slightly smaller roads. On fast, flowing, deserted tarmac, the F-Type R is in its element. Leave Dynamic mode alone; while appreciably tightening up the body control, it’s to the detriment of ride quality, as well as the steering’s slick, lucid weighting. Much better to leave it in Normal, turn on the sports exhaust and enjoy one of the great GT experiences.
Jags are always notable for their ability to flow while retaining admirable composure, and that hasn’t been meddled with here. The R starts to feel every one of its claimed 1,850kg when challenged with smaller roads and bigger stops, though given time and space it exhibits a lovely balance between accommodating ride and handling dynamism.
The response and weighting of the steering in standard mode means the F-Type can be poured into a bend, the all-wheel drive system notable for not meddling with that; almost as soon as the weight has settled the throttle can be chased, rear-drive balance gradually embellished by the additional traction of the front wheels hauling you out. While rear-drive was always the heroic choice for an F-Type, having the flagship R as an all-wheel prospect is really no great loss - it’s a very clever system.
And if the Intelligent Driveline Dynamics, LED displays and suave new look bring the F-Type up to date somewhat, the V8 remains as crammed with traditional appeal as a night out with old pals: memorable, boisterous, a little too loud and not always to the approval of onlookers. While the kerbweight ensures that 575hp doesn’t feel as rapid here as it might in something like a 911, the F-Type still piles on speed imperiously, torque plentiful and power immense. The noise, even with a particulate filter now fitted, remains raucous, endearing and wholly brilliant. If turbos, downsizing and reduced cylinder count turn you off, the supercharged V8 - while we have it, at least - makes a compelling case for itself. Accompanied by an eight-speed auto updated with experience from the XE Project 8 (think snappier downshifts, more aggressive upshifts), the F-Type R powertrain is as emotive and rewarding as it’s ever been. Which is to say very.
That’s the key to this F-Type facelift: unable to overhaul the entire concept just yet, Jag has played to the car’s considerable strengths. And in the current climate of ever more serious, virtuous, joyless motor vehicles, it’s fortunate that the F’s attributes shine even brighter now than in 2013. It's a big old charmer, brimming with noise, drama and driver reward. There have always been objectively better sports cars, but few have been able to compete - trite though it may sound - on subjective appeal and desirability. A feel-good machine in a sombre time, especially painted bright yellow, that can’t fail to raise a smile. And when did a new car last do that?
Of course there's an argument to have about the new look. To these eyes it’s a really successful facelift, the LED lights giving the front end a lower, meaner, sleeker appearance, and a renewed presence on the road. The detractors says it’s a more generic face than before, and jars with the unaltered rear end. Certainly, the Sorrento Yellow is even more eye-catching in the metal (as it might well be for £4,500), and it should be noted that the rear is more successful without the R’s additional aero bits.
In fact, the 450hp car that sits beneath this one may well be the pick of the new F-Type range, boasting as it does the same V8 appeal with a more enticing £70k entry price - as well as the option of rear-wheel drive. Until that model is tested, though, the F-Type R remains a likeable, enticing, engaging sports GT; the claims about “luxurious materials, exacting craftsmanship and beautiful detailing” seem a little far-fetched - because it still feels broadly the same inside - but there is just enough about this F-Type to make it recommendable over the outgoing version.
The F-Type’s range of talents is as compelling now as ever, then, even allowing for the flaws that have been there since the beginning. Put it this way: for the £110,000 that this Jaguar costs, a nicely optioned 992 Carrera S is also available. And despite the Porsche’s advantages across the board, it would be easy to understand a buyer plumping for the Jag. It’s far from perfect - but the F-Type remains an immensely nice car to drive, look at and be seen in. And who wouldn’t like one of those?
SPECIFICATION: JAGUAR F-TYPE R COUPE
Engine: 5,000cc, supercharged V8
Transmission: 8-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 575@6,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 516@3,500-5,000rpm
Top speed: 186mph
Weight: 1,818kg (EU, with driver)
MPG: 26.4 (WLTP)
Price: £97,280 (as standard; price as tested £110,590, comprised of Sorrento Yellow gloss paint for £4,500, 20-inch Style 1066 wheels for £520, Black brake calipers for £320, Exterior Black Pack for £265, Climate Pack for £670, Blind Spot Assist Pack for £450, Fixed panoramic roof for £1,310, Privacy gloss for £375, Ebony Suedecloth Performance seats, 12-way heated for £1,865, Ebony suedecloth headlining for £1,000, Suedecloth sun visors with vanity mirrors for £50, Carbon Fibre centre console for £475, Meridian Surround Sound System for £990 and Secure tracker for £520.)