Jaguar's sports coupe now has the option of AWD. Does the added weight and grip improve or detract from the CarAdvice favourite?
A number of key enhancements have been introduced to the 2016 Jaguar F-Type to solidify the flagship sportscar range, now offering the choice of a dozen different variants. While short of the variant count of key rival Porsche 911, the expanded fleet outlined here more comprehensively appeals to both buyers new to Jaguar and leaping cat purists.
Flat cap-wearing traditionalists will no doubt rejoice at the inclusion of a six-speed manual option, creating three new variants in the entry 250kW V6 coupe ($119,470 plus on-road costs) and convertible ($138,170), and high-power 280kW V6 S Coupe ($151,770). The transmission won’t be offered in S rag-top form – too niche for adequate demand, says Jaguar Land Rover Australia – and, glaringly, if you want 404kW supercharged V8 power, you must make do with the range’s evergreen paddle-shifted eight-speed automatic. Also, the conventional gear-swapper can only be had in rear-wheel drive…
The newly introduced all-wheel-drive format may seem sacrilege to those who view the marque through British Racing Green-tinged glasses and hold the classic E-Type as the sportscar touchstone. But with modern sportscar benchmarks – that’s you, 911 – attaining yesteryear’s hypercar-like levels of performance and handling abilities, this is Jaguar moving, very swiftly, with the times.
The same can be said for electric-assist power steering, now featured across the range, and the third key change for the revised F-Type. EPAS might seem an insignificant aspect of the package for many, but for many purist sportscar buyers the quality of steering feel and communication can be a deal-maker or -breaker.
Jaguar had just two variants to sample at the local launch of the MY16 range: the V6-powered S AWD automatic coupe ($172,470) and the want-for-nothing V8-powered R AWD automatic coupe ($242,670). Read all about the expanded F-Type range here.
Unfortunately, no six-speed-manual versions were available to sample on test, which was conducted exclusively on a high-speed closed road circuit. This also negated a proper assessment of the updated F-Types’ on-road prowess though, all-wheel drive apart, the core ride and handling packages remain unchanged.
On all quite beautiful appearances, little separates rear- from all-paw variants, though subtle exterior changes have been made, Jaguar says, for the delight of the trainspotters. You can pick AWD versions by the unique, subtly bulged bonnet, which has strong creases and relocated air vents.
Owners opting to ‘pimp’ their F-Type can option a Sport Design Pack, which adds subtly racier details such as a bespoke front lower spoiler, sill and venture, while a lightweight (4.25kg) carbonfibre roof option is also available for coupe variants.
Inside, the same light touch continues. The driver’s instrumentation and centre digital display has been restyled, though you have to A-B with on older F-Type to notice the changes.
The same goes for the infotainment touchscreen, which is the similar hardware size and design as old but has been updated to bring functionality in line with the new XE. It’s slightly more usable and intuitive than old. The ‘Dynamic i’ menu again allows the driver to individualise engine, transmission, steering and suspension tunings that can then be saved to personalised presets, though, annoyingly, there seems no shortcut ‘button’ – a la BMW’s M button – to access your preferred preset quickly on-the-fly.
The system also integrates a reverse parking camera (as well as front park sensors) that is now, thankfully, standard fitment across the range, as rear vision out of the F-Type is limited at best.
The remainder of the cabin is familiar, well appointed and flamboyantly executed flair dipped in leather, carbonfibre and cool metallic finishes. It’s cosy accommodation anchored by sporty, low-slung driver-centric seating. Little effort has been made to improve the very limited storage space.
Performance – S AWD Coupe
That the switchable active sports exhaust standard across the range is very welcome, adding suitable sonic fanfare to the F-Type’s overt on-road presence. And not merely to benefit the V8’s already spine-tingling roar.
The 280kW supercharged 3.0-litre V6, albeit carryover, is the finest howler this side of Maserati’s Ferrari-built six. And it’s this S AWD Coupe version that we sampled across the twisty and challenging closed road circuit first.
Jaguar claims a brisk 5.1 seconds for the 0-100km/h sprint on its way to a 275km/h top speed for the S AWD, two-tenths slower than the rear-driver. So a fair penalty in acceleration given the all-paw S wants for a $15,700 premium.
In Dynamic mode, the throttle feels urgent, the acceleration strident and the upchanges from the eight-speed are crisp and urgent. In isolation, the S AWD feels satisfyingly quick as it lunges between corners with gusto. It’s in the corners, however, where its newfound all-wheel traction shines brightest.
Its 460Nm is hardly earth-moving, but how it interacts with the all-wheel drive exiting corners is, at once, both sublime and extremely effective. It feeds torque forward to the front 245/40 19-inch Pirelli P Zeros from its natural 100-precent rear-bias state seamlessly, and while you can feel it doing its magic, the effect is utterly natural.
Part of that magic is the chassis’ flat stance and the incredible grip the rear 275/35 Pirellis can generate, because it takes full throttle to get the F-Type’s tail to dance, at which point the Intelligent Driveline Dynamics, that controls the all-paw system, intervenes with utmost transparency. It feels characteristically the rear-driver, with all the corner exit ferocity of four-wheeled traction. Brilliant.
The original rear-driven S breed was dynamically compromised to a point where you suspected two different engineering teams had developed each end of the chassis – a shortcoming overcome with the arrival of the Coupe R. And while it’s unfair to suggest all-wheel drive system alone is the key fix, the MY16 S AWD feels to be a huge leap forward in dynamic prowess.
Lap after lap, the word ‘sweetness’ came to mind. In the newfound clarity of the steering. In how agile the S AWD is on its tyres. In how much balance and responsiveness the car provides regardless of how much of its scruff you grab and shake about. It’s a consummate driver’s car. And one with so much talent in the curves that it can be wickedly quick without the need to keep your right foot constantly buried.
Performance – R AWD Coupe
Unlike the V6-powered crop, the all-wheel-drive R Coupe is, at a scorching 4.1 seconds for the 0-100km/h sprint, one-tenth quicker than its $15,700-cheaper rear-driven R twin. A result, no doubt, of the ability of 404kW and 680Nm to willingly overcome available traction from the fat 295/30 20-inch rear Pirellis shared on both variants (fronts are 255/35).
The R AWD Coupe is utterly epic, the magnitude of the lift in performance and pace over the S AWD eye-opening. That is, however, nothing new between these respective F-Type grades.
The rear-drive R was, and remains, a hairy-chested beast that demands respect from its pilot. It could be an awful lot of car in an awful lot of enthusiastic driving situations; best unleashed in wide-open spaces (fast racetracks) and requiring much restraint in confined twisty back roads.
All-wheel drive has robbed nothing of the R’s sheer potency but, as with the S AWD version, it allows the driver to extract its consummate talents more accessibly and, perhaps, safely.
The all-paw system’s subtly and transparency is maintained as it feeds torque forwards, effectively straightening the chassis under power out of corners. It just so wickedly eager that it takes some acclimatisation, and trust in the car’s dynamic smarts, to be brave enough to weld the right pedal flat as early as is possible.
Those newly introduced smarts, the Intelligent Driveline Dynamics, essentially network the powertrain, the centre and rear differentials and the DSC systems to weave torque-shuffling wonders. And it works in tandem with R breed’s time-honoured torque vectoring system that reduces understeer via braking.
Again, despite the technologies at play, it feels to have a genuine rear-driven character treated to an added sheen of handling and road-holding composure, and that’s completely intuitive and natural from behind the wheel.
The question of whether all-wheel drive would dilute or hinder F-Type’s driving purity has been answered in the most positive way: it’s almost as if Jaguar’s new-gen sportscar was made for it.
It won’t be for everyone’s taste or budget – that’s why the rear-drivers remain. And while you may question the wisdom of whether a conventional manual should be offered in AWD form, the seamless torque transfer of the paddle-shifted eight-speed auto is likely to be the fitter ally when getting from point to point in a hurry.
All-paw equipped, and at $242,670, the R AWD Coupe certainly seems to have the artillery to take on similarly potent though pricier German rivals from Porsche and Mercedes-AMG.
But it’s the six-powered S AWD Coupe that could well be the sweetest spot in the range given that delivers so much driving enjoyment yet asks for a $70,200 discount against its heroic R-badged stablemate.