Few cars make you smile every time you see them. Today's homogenous design makes it difficult to distinguish one car from another in mall parking lots, but the Jaguar F-Type is another story. It captures attention with its graceful, compact design.
Its nose may be shorter than an E-Type's, but it works in proportion to the cab and the aggressive rear fenders. Nose and engine in front and cab at the rear makes for a classic sports car look with historic precedent.
The F-Type's design makes it an exceptional car.
More exceptional are the performance dynamics of the 2017 Jaguar F-Type R Coupe I'm driving. Simply firing up the engine lets it sound off with an exhilarating growl. Set to Dynamic mode, this all-wheel-drive racer gives immediate power on throttle and scrambles through each turn like the big cat on its badge.
Jaguar first launched the F-Type as a convertible in 2013, then followed up with the Coupe version. The sports car showed off a newly unleashed Jaguar design department following the company's acquisition by India's Tata Motors. Its base model comes with a 340-horsepower supercharged V6 engine, but in R trim, its supercharged 5-liter V8 makes 550 horsepower and 502 pound-feet of torque.
And it is quick: 3.9 seconds to 60 mph quick.
The F-Type R Coupe is also a dedicated sports car, in that you won't find any child-sized rear seats behind the front sport buckets. The rear track is almost 2 inches wider than the front, and an all-wheel-drive system, with a 63-to-37 rear to front torque split, comes standard.
Cruising down city streets, the powerful V8 reacts well to the excessive stops and starts of low-speed traffic, with the eight-speed automatic transmission gearing towards smooth launches and economy. An idle-stop feature even steps in at stop lights to reduce fuel wastage, bringing the engine back online quick enough to avoid annoyance.
The smartly decked-out cabin helps mitigate a ride that, even with the F-Type R Coupe in comfort mode, proves a little too stiff for rough road surfaces. Low-profile tires do nothing to prevent curbing the 20-inch wheels.
Sitting in traffic, I get the occasional thumbs-up from other drivers, which I answer with a sport exhaust-enabled engine roar.
Cruise control doesn't include an adaptive function, so I'm on my own for braking, but a blind spot monitor system is a welcome addition, given the low roof. The dashboard holds an 8-inch touchscreen, not surprisingly standard in the upscale F-Type, but its navigation and entertainment software looks familiar from Jaguars of recent years. That means it's a reasonably useful system, covering the basics, but it lacks a dedicated data connection for online services. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are also missing.
However, the F-Type does have a trick up its fender: InControl Apps. Running the Jaguar InControl app on my iPhone, which is plugged into the car, I can access a variety of third-party apps on the F-Type's LCD. That includes useful online services such as Parkopedia, helping me find available parking spaces, and Glympse, which lets me send friends a quick update of where I am.
Along with an iOS music interface among the car's main audio sources, the InControl app includes its own ability to browse music on my phone. To make that music sing, the F-Type R Coupe comes with a 770-watt Meridian audio system, which delivers fine frequency balance and crystal clear reproduction.
When I feel like overwhelming the sound system's output with the song of the engine, I flip the F-Type R Coupe into Dynamic mode, push the sport exhaust button -- opening baffles in the exhaust system for a robust sound -- and give it gas. The car leaps forward and the engine growls with mechanical perfection.
More than this, however, the entire car becomes a sensitive instrument, responding with instant obedience to my every input. The gas pedal minutely controls acceleration, the steering takes on a deadly precision and the suspension tightens up, making the body feel like a living thing underneath me.
With the all-wheel-drive system, there isn't much rear-end slip but I can hear the tires squealing in the turns. The responsiveness makes me want to assault the corners all day long.
While the eight-speed automatic transmission's sport mode delivers high revs and timely downshifts, its manual mode leaves something to be desired. Clicking the paddle shifters, I feel milliseconds of lag between shifts, not the snappy gear changes I would want. So I leave the F-Type R Coupe's transmission to fend for itself.
One particular option on this car gives me exceptional braking modulation. The F-Type R Coupe can be had with what Jaguar calls Carbon Ceramic Matrix brakes, ceramic brake rotors that are unlikely to experience heat fade through heavy track use. But it's a $12,000 option, so only worthwhile if you do expect serious track weekends.
The 2017 Jaguar F-type R Coupe sits near the top of the F-Type lineup, right under the slightly more powerful F-type SVR. When it comes to driving comfort, one of the lesser F-Types, equipped with a supercharged V6, will certainly suffice, and cost substantially less.
But for that extra performance edge, the F-Type R Coupe is the way to go. The V8 offers more on-tap power and responsiveness, while the all-wheel-drive system is a worthwhile standard bonus. Of course, manual transmission fans will have to stick with a base level F-type. And while the stereo sounds good, the navigation electronics are nothing to write home about.
Whichever version, the F-Type is a gorgeous car: an exceptional design that should earn classic status.