First drive: 2015 Jaguar F-Type Coupe in Spain
As I was flying back from the Jaguar F-Type Coupe media drive in Spain, I sat next to a random passenger who happened to be an Australian mining engineer. He told me an equally random story. He asked me why the width of a Space Shuttle’s high-tech booster rockets are what they are. Apparently it’s because the rockets had to be transported via train tunnels, thereby limiting them to that size. What decided the width of the train tunnels? The width of the train tracks. What decided the width of the train tracks? The makers of the train wheels and axles. Why did the makers choose that width? Because centuries ago, the first train wheels were made by horse-wagon wheel makers. And how did they decide the width of the wheel-axles back then? By the width of two horse’s arses. This made-up story is supposed to highlight how institutions refuse to change over time. Jaguar used to be one of those companies. Remember how the Jaguar XJ kind of looked the same from the 1960s all the way till 2009? But nowadays they’re making big changes. And no change is bigger than the introduction of the absolutely bonkers F-Type.
We were flown to Barcelona, and then put on a charter flight the next day that landed in Lleida, a small city with an airport so dead that the fleet of Jaguar F-Type V6 S test cars were parked right there on the empty runway.
Hopping into an orange one with my co-driver, we drove out of the gates, in pouring rain, to cover nearly two hours of epic mountain roads.
The Coupe is just as aggressively-throaty as the Jaguar F-Type V6 S Roadster we drove last year. With a 375 hp supercharged 3.0-litre V6, it certainly isn’t a slow car. And it kept turning heads at every village we bombed through because of that exhaust note, and then got lingering looks because of its sleek styling.
That exhaust note comes courtesy of a dynamic mode that changes the behaviour of the car, tightening up the suspension, sharpening up the gear-changes and opening up the aforementioned sound-pipes. Otherwise the car is a little bit quieter, a little easier for casual cruising, and noticeably softer-riding, though still on the firm side.
Taking it at moderate speeds around blind corners on tight country roads, reminding you that it was raining heavily, we were surprised at how planted the car always felt. Wide tyres and rear-wheel-drive aren’t the best combination in wet weather, but the car handled it admirably.
We then reached Motorland Aragon, a motorsports facility built in the middle of nowhere, where a different set of cars — Jaguar F-Type R Coupe models to be exact — awaited us. Thrown into a car alongside an instructor, for me personally it was a good training session on driving fast in the rain, considering I don’t see much rain to begin with in Dubai.
We couldn’t unleash all of the R’s 5.0-litre supercharged V8 power, but we did release a lot of it, a little at a time. Driving in manual mode using the responsive paddle-shifters, the trick to avoiding excessive wheelspin was to upshift early and usually stay in a gear higher before going into turns as well as when powering out of turns. In some of the decreasing-radius corners, we did manage to swing out the rear, but the tail was easy to catch with minimal interference from the forgiving stability control system.
We did get to floor it on a couple of straights, touching 240 kph on a slick surface! I’m not a speed freak, so there’s only been a handful of times I’ve crossed that threshold, mostly on a dry race-track, but the Jag felt comfortably stable at those speeds in such conditions.
We also took the car out onto a tighter karting track to try out the Jag’s torque-vectoring system. You know it’s working when the car starts to understeer on entering a tight corner too fast, and then the car magically ends up turning tighter mid-corner by braking the inside wheel.
The next day after a hotel layover, we set out for a road drive back to the airport in the R Coupes. The weather was finally dry.
Driving out of the hotel, we were totally caught off-guard by the power. Spinning its rear tyres as the traction control gradually fought it off, we suddenly remembered we were playing with 550 hp. In dynamic mode, the exhaust roars, grumbles and pops even more sonorously than the V6. We briefly switched to “normal” mode, and the exhaust suddenly sounded very “normal” as well. So we promptly flicked the switch back.
The Coupe is apparently 60% more torsionally rigid than the already-good Roadster, and slightly lighter as well. With extra-wide tyres, perfect 50:50 weight distribution, proper limited-slip diff and tight suspension, this car handles flawlessly in V6 S form already, but approaches entry-level supercar-grade performance in R form. The limits are ridiculously high, so we never came close to squealing the rubbers on the twisty public roads with blind corners and uneven surfaces.
In terms of quirks, the optional ceramic brakes demand that you press the pedal harder to get past a bit of initial softness, as they’re designed for aggressive all-or-nothing driving. The manual mode is very quick-shifting and works fine for the most part, but has a tendency to downshift by itself if you’re flooring the throttle on a high gear. On the other hand, the firm steering seems to offer a bit better feedback than what we experienced in the Roadster.
The Jaguar F-Type Coupe raises the bar yet again for the long-running British marque. This is their first legitimate challenge to the likes of Porsche, a name that kept coming up in their own presentations. Having unintentionally usurped the position of flagship sports car from the soon-to-be-discontinued XK series, it is a more-than-worthy successor.
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