Jaguar brings sexy back at the track with the 550-hp 2015 F-Type Coupe R

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I'm a massive fan of the Jaguar F-Type Convertible. It's one of the sexiest cars on the road today with a supercharged growl that sounds as good as it looks.

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 8-speed ZF automatic transmission -- for now, the only gearbox available to the F-Type -- which sends torque to the rear wheels.

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The most obvious difference between the V-6 and V-8 F-Types is the center (shown here) or side firing exhaust pipes. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

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 Convertible V8 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 8-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.

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On the closed circuit, the F-Type Coupe R proved to be a fantastic and forgiving track tool. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

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.

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A combination of torque vectoring, generous grip, and great balance inspired confidence around the course. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

The F-Type proved to be an excellent track tool. There was plenty of grip for the course's fast corners and plenty of control for the tight and blind ones. What stood out the most was how easy it was to get the F-Type Coupe R to do what I wanted it to. The car is exceptionally well balanced and very responsive when changing speeds or changing directions. On an unfamiliar course in an unfamiliar car with more than enough power to get into some serious trouble, the F-Type Coupe R doesn't punish the driver for pushing while inspiring confidence and rewarding daring.

This is exactly what I want from a sports coupe.

On the road with the Coupe S

Though the 550 horsepower Coupe R is the most lustworthy Jag in the pride, the supercharged V-6 models are not to be overlooked offering plenty of power and performance for the road. While I wasn't able to test a base model, I did get to spend time on one of southern California's best driving roads in a well spec'd Coupe S with the Performance Package.

Like the R, the Coupe S has a nearly 50/50 weight distribution, balancing neatly between its two axles. Its 380 horses provide more than enough grunt to totally disregard the speed limits on any public B-road and its grippy tires and adaptive dampers allow you to carry that speed neatly through switchbacks and sweepers.

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The Coupe's motorized spoiler deploys at 70mph to reduce lift. It's a bit awkward looking, but hides away seamlessly when parked. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

With the Active Exhaust open and the gearbox in its Sport or Manual setting, the V-6 pops and burbles with as perhaps more than as the 8-cylinder. Along the same roads, the V-6 feels eager to rev and more involved, holding its engine speed just a bit higher than the V-8 which tackles backroads with such an quiet ease that it almost feels like it's being lazy about the whole ordeal.

And perhaps its just my imagination, but the Coupe S' nearly 110-pound lighter nose gives it just the slightest edge in responsiveness. Again, it would take a back to back comparison to notice the difference.

Meridian audio and touch navigation

The driver-centric, two-seater's interior is largely identical to the convertible's cabin. Which means that the fit and finish is good -- especially on a fully loaded out Coupe R -- but the tech is a bit of a disappointment.

I love how the climate controls cleverly integrate the dual-zone displays and temperature readouts into small screens on the face of the control knobs. This is an excellent use of a very limited amount of space that is also extremely intuitive.

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The F-Type's mechanical dashboard controls are well sorted, but the infotainment system could use a bit of an update. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Just above the climate controls is the standard touchscreen for Jaguar's navigation and infotainment system. The navigation system is okay, but doesn't speak street names aloud. It also managed to confuse my co-driver on at least a dozen occasions with cryptic turn-by-turn directions. At one point, it spoke the instruction "turn left" even though the map's instructions indicated a right turn onto our chosen route. It's weird.

Standard audio sources include an auxiliary audio input, a USB port with iPod control, Bluetooth for audio and hands-free calling, and CD playback. HD and Sirius satellite radio are optional on the S and standard for the R.

Depending on the trim level and options selected, the F-Type Coupe feature either a 380W, 10-speaker or a 770W, 12-speaker Meridian audio system. I was fairly disappointed with this system's performance in the Jaguar F-Type Convertible and didn't spend a ton of time evaluating its performance at the track.

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The orange/copper paddle shifters are a nice touch, but I think I'd prefer metal bits to plastic at this price point. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Rather, I enjoyed the best audio that Jaguar offers coming from the Sport Active Exhaust at full bore.

The examples that I was able to test were equipped with an optional Vision Package that adds steerable headlamps with adaptive high beams, front and rear parking distance sensors, and blind spot monitoring. The package also adds a rear camera that really should be a standard feature; between the gun-slit rear window and the Coupe's bulky C-pillars, rearward visibility is absolutely abysmal.

V-6 or V-8? Win or win?

I'm not surprised that I enjoyed my road and track time in the 2015 Jaguar F-Type Coupe. It's everything that I loved about the roadster only, in the case of the Coupe R, with more power, more responsiveness, and a more gorgeous profile. On the track where extremes of performance matter, the Coupe R is an amazing machine.

On the road, where things get a bit more subjective, I think I'd be just as happy with one of the V-6 models. Jaguar has done a good job of not diluting the experience of the lower trim levels.

The base Coupe is the least expensive model in the F-Type lineup, starting at $65,000 ($4,000 less than the base Convertible). The Coupe S also undercuts its Convertible twin by the same amount with its $77,000 starting price. The Coupe R is uniquely $7,000 more than the most expensive Convertible model with a starting price of $99,000, but it also boasts much more power and is the only model with torque vectoring.

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The F-Type Coupe R's price tag pops into the triple digits if you so much as look at the options list. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

It's a pricey proposition, but the Coupe S is no more expensive than an equally equipped Porsche Cayman S or BMW M4. The Coupe R, on the other hand, prices itself into a much different league of competitors. For the money, the 2015 Jaguar F-Type Coupe is an exceptional performer that goes toe-to-toe with the very stiff competition and still manages to come away looking like a supermodel.

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Jaguar F-type Coupe

Part Number: F-TYPECOUPE/2014

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