Review: 2021 Jaguar F-Type R
Jaguar will celebrate its centennial anniversary this September. The maker of the revolutionary XK120, the D-Types that stormed Le Mans, the sumptuous XKE, and all the other celebrated crumpet-catchers that wore the leaping cat will almost certainly terminate gasoline-powered sports car production with the F-Type. The end. No more. Fini.
Last February, Jaguar announced that it will be an all-electric brand by 2025, which in auto-industry timeline terms is not quite tomorrow but more like today sometime after lunch. That means the F-Type, which is already almost a decade old, will likely be stretched only a model year or two before it gets the permanent chop. At which point Jag will be out of the business of making sports cars with internal combustion engines, and soon to be out of the business of making any kind of car with internal combustion engines. At least, that’s the stated plan. If true, at least the F-Type is going out with style.
This latest F-Type is this Jag’s last real attempt to bottle the magic of the E-Type in a modern package. We’re talking like this is news, but the F-Type has been around since 2013 so we’ve had plenty of time to render a verdict on that question. And until now the verdict was: not really. Anyone who has driven an E-Type knows what a velvety sweetheart it is, a plush but engaging grand tourer with loads of torque and plenty of squish in the suspension. Sure, it was a supercar in 1961 but, unlike a Corvette of the same vintage, it is absolutely a pleasure to drive long distances and over uneven surfaces. At least, on days that aren’t too warm.
When it appeared, the F-Type’s mission was seemingly for it to be the modern analogue of the E. Instead, it was just a fast two-seater that was also absolutely the loudest thing you could buy new in a showroom. Really, it was somewhat obnoxious how bawling those early F-Types were, especially the sportier supercharged V-6 S and V-8 R models. They barked, they blatted, they roared, they annoyed neighbors and made dogs yap and probably caused chickens to spontaneously lay eggs.
And, okay, it was a thing, a gimmick to set the F-Type apart from the vastly more capable Corvette or Porsche 911 of similar pricing. It got old fast, though, and what few buyers the car had soon drifted away to more polished wares that offered something besides excessive noise. Over the years Jaguar has tried to keep people interested by producing a raft of special editions, with ever more letters plopped onto the back of the name such that Jaguar’s two-seater became known as a barcode (the 2018 F-Type SVR GT4, for example). Late in 2019, Jaguar mildly retooled the car with freshened styling and updated electronics. Along the way it acquired optional all-wheel drive and a 296-hp 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder as the new base engine slotted below the V-6.
The F-Type is about choices: you can pick a coupe or convertible, select from three available engines, choose rear- or all-wheel drive, and pay a base price that ranges broadly from $62,750 to $107,050. Even so, the F-Type has been pulling only about 2200 sales annually for the past few years. For perspective, that’s just a hair more than what the Ford F-series truck does in volume every single day. It’s a small business, and when the F-Type is gone, few will notice.
But let us say before that day comes that after so many years in the market, Jaguar’s little sportster has finally reached its zenith. It is comfortable, an absolute pleasure to drive, lovely to gaze upon, and quick enough without belaboring the occupants with excess. This sounds like damnation with faint praise considering our $113,190 R model delivers 575 horsepower from its supercharged 5.0-liter V-8. It really should be classified as a rocket-sled kick in the pants.
Going back to the old XK predecessor, the Jags that posted the biggest horsepower numbers always felt a bit overpowered for their chassis. They could roast a set of tires and spin themselves sideways with ridiculous ease, but they lacked the rubber, steering precision, and suspension finesse to really control all the power being stuffed under the hood. The F-Type was no exception, a squirrely handful on a track as the driver worked relentlessly to apply the power and get it to go straight.
So there’s no mourning the fact that, even while still posting a big power number, the 2021 F-Type R feels just a little unclenched, just a bit more relaxed than its predecessors. It seems quieter, for one thing, and the ride on its 20-inch wheels has some give to it. The freeways in L.A. are hardly known for their smoothness, yet the latest F-Type whisked over them with a distinct elasticity that previous models weren’t known for.
The cockpit remains as snug as it ever was and the 12-cubic-foot cargo area under the hatch is minimal (though we did manage to haul a rolled-up carpet in it). The high-backed buckets, however, agreed with our backsides for multi-hour sits and the tune of the steering and suspension elicits a sensation of absolute control without characteristic British spasticity. Anyone who has anything from a Mini Cooper up to a McLaren 720 knows what we’re talking about; that uniquely British belief that any car can be made into an F1 car with the application of hyper-reactive steering.
The infotainment center is distinctly last-generation and will induce rage fits until one adapts to its, uh, nuances, but the all-digital instrument cluster is legible and intelligent. You could use this car happily every day as long as you didn’t mind the sound of its long nose scraping the asphalt on the occasional curb cut. It seems so small in this day and age, being a critical two inches shorter than a 2021 Porsche 911 (which seems only about two inches shorter than a fire truck) and is a delightful partner for nipping in and out of traffic holes. We could wish the option of a manual transmission was still around in the F-Type lineup, but pretty soon there won’t even be multi-speed transmissions in Jaguars so why waste the wish?
The F-Type R doesn’t take Jaguar out of the gasoline sports car business with a bang, it ushers it out with a lovely serenade. Think of the scene in Titanic where the string quartet played on as the boat went down. Fortunately, this isn’t quite the same gloomy scenario; there will be quite a thrilling afterlife once Jaguars have instant torque and, oh, say, a thousand horsepower. Until then, the F-Type serves ably as Jaguar’s final statement on the joys of the internal combustion sports car.
2021 Jaguar F-Type R AWD Coupe
Price: $113,190 (as-tested)
Highs: Lovely to gaze upon, fast yet comfortable, just enough unclenched.
Lows: Old tech, cramped inside, pack light.
Summary: Likely Jag’s last gas-powered sports car, the F-Type has finally matured into its mission as a modern E-Type.