The newly launched 2015 F-Type Coupe retains the Convertible's handsome front end, its driver-centric cockpit, and touchscreen infotainment and navigation, but swaps the ragtop that I loved so much for a new fixed roof gives the Coupe an absolutely gorgeous and sleek profile.
Do I prefer the open-air roadster or the sleek and sexy coupe? This is as first-world as dilemma come.
Beneath the sculpted hood
The Coupe comes in three flavors: base, S and R. The base Coupe and the Coupe S feature the same 3.0-liter supercharged V-6 powertrain that you'll find under the hood of the analogous Convertible models. The base model outputs 340 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque, while the Coupe S gets a slight retune that bumps it to 380 horsepower and 339 pound-feet of torque.
That engine is mated to an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission -- for now, the only gearbox available to the F-Type, but a new six-speed ZF manual will be available for the V-6 next year -- which sends torque to the rear wheels.
The S model further upgrades over the base with better High Performance brakes, a limited slip differential, an improved sport suspension, and the Active Sport Exhaust. It also gains a few convenience amenities, such as keyless entry and start and ambient interior lighting.
At the top of the heap is the F-Type Coupe R. Like the F-Type V8 Convertible S, the R features a supercharged 5.0-liter V-8 engine. However, the hardtop's output has been massaged up to 550 horsepower (up from 495 ponies) and 502 pound-feet of torque.
The Coupe R features the same ZF eight-speed automatic transmission as the S, but steps up with an electronic active differential and a torque vectoring system that utilizes bias braking to help balance power delivery across the rear axle. That last bit is unique to the Coupe R.
The R grows its performance envelope with configurable drive modes, quad tips for its Active Sport Exhaust, excellent performance seats, and Super Performance brakes. If those stoppers aren't hardcore enough, there are optional Carbon Ceramic Matrix brakes available.
All F-Types feature a few different drive modes accessible by nudging a copper toggle on the center console forward or backwards. The Winter mode reduces torque to increase control over slippery surfaces like ice or snow. Pulling backward activates the Dynamic mode which sharpens the Coupe's throttle response, tweaks the steering and suspension's performance for better control, and adjusts the behavior of the torque vectoring, electronic differential, and traction control systems. If the Jaguar is equipped with the Active Exhaust, Dynamic mode wakes that system up as well. For the Coupe S, this is an all or nothing toggle, but the Coupe R gains the ability to adjust and preset what systems get adjusted and how when Dynamic mode is triggered.
The Coupe is marginally lighter than the roadster (about 44 pounds) and just a tad stiffer, giving it a slight performance edge, but without back to back drives, you'd be hard pressed to tell the difference between the Coupe and Convertible at or below the S trim level -- it simply becomes a matter of preference. However, the Coupe R stands above the Convertible V8 S where outright performance is concerned.
On the track with the Coupe R
I was able to spend some time on the track at Willow Springs International Raceway with a group of Coupe R models. Some featured the optional carbon ceramic matrix brakes, but the examples that I was able to test featured the standard Super Performance brakes, which seemed up to the task of hauling the Coupe down to cornering speed lap after lap.
Built into the side of a hill, Big Willow is a fast course that mixes up its long fast sweepers with a few tight and nearly blind corners to keep you guessing. This was my first go around the circuit, so my first few heats were effectively learning experiences as much as they were evaluations of the Coupe R.
Turn 1 is a 90-degree constant radius turn that sets up for the long and fast Turn 2 sweeper that seems to go on forever. With a bit of patience and a steady right foot, the R simply settled into the slightly banked bend with what felt like an endless amount of grip. Lap after lap, I pressed the Coupe R faster and faster through this corner and found the limits of my bravery and talent long before I found the limit of the contact patches.
A bit more throttle near the end of the bend slings through the slightly uphill exit before getting on the brakes before the quick direction change that is Turn 3.
So far, it had been pretty easy, but Turn 4 starts as a moderate uphill right-hander, but suddenly becomes a decreasing radius hairpin as it blindly crests the rise. I didn't have enough time to wonder where the hell the track went, rather I was marveling at the Jaguar's ability to deftly dance around the apex, thanks in part to its exceptional, nearly 50/50 balance and in part to the electronic active differential and torque vectoring system making the most of the grip given by rear wheels.
There's no time to unpucker before the next turn, because it's on the brakes for the steep downhill and slightly 0ff-camber stretch to shave off as much speed as possible before tucking into the Turn 5 apex, which feels a heck of a lot more severe than it looks on a map of the course.
I'm told that the fastest racing line involves sacrificing the Turn 5 exit to carry speed through Turn 6. In a lesser car, this could easily be the most terrifying corner on the course: like turn 4, this right-hander blindly apexes just after it crests a hill, but Turn 6 is a faster bend that features a slight bump mid-turn. This thing seems like it was designed to sling inexperienced drivers backwards off of the track. However, the Jaguar handled with just a slight waggle of the tail during my first session and with almost telepathic control on subsequent heats.
Turn 7 is so straight that you'd almost miss it, but it flows into Turn 8, another fast and long sweeper. The front-engine, rear-driven Jag was built for this kind of corner and I was able to enjoy the firm hold of the Coupe R's deeply bolstered, but very comfortable Sport Seats. Like Turn 2, a steady toe on the throttle and a bit of patience are required to dance near the limit of adhesion before hitting the corner's very late exit. Then it's back on the Super Performance brakes with a bit of trailing to tuck the sculpted nose into the last corner of the circuit before rolling onto the throttle to enjoy the V-8's uncorked roar as I blasted up Big Willow's front straight. The Jaguar F-Type Coupe R is capable of speeds of up to 181 mph, but I was braking at the end of the relatively short straight to repeat Turn 1 with plenty of overhead at about 140 mph.