Here's the thing about the Jaguar F-Type Coupe: it looks so good, it casts some sort of eerie field that makes even troglodytes like myself feel attractive when in it. And for this car, that may be the most important thing. It also drives incredibly, though to make it do so does entail some odd compromises.
(Full Disclosure: Jag gave me a fancy hotel room and nice food, and then let me whip their F-Types around Big Willow. I thought it was because they were just into me, but it looks like they want me to write about their car. Is that why they're not texting me back?)
The F-Type Coupe is, of course, very closely related to the F-Type roadster I drove last year, and it shares all the traits that made that car so memorable: dramatic look, an engine sound that sounds like Thor having sex with the corporeal embodiment of the idea of "power," and a very engaging driving experience.
The coupe adds a few significant things: a roof, for one, and you can get that roof with a very welcome glass panel that keeps the interior feeling open and airy. Along with that roof comes a pretty significant re-working of the car's fundamental aluminum structure, resulting in a pretty dramatic 80% increase in stiffness.
I expect a coupe to be stiffer than a convertible, of course, but an 80% increase is really pretty damn impressive. Jag had a half-skinned cat (I'm using a nickname for Jags, no one panic) there so the complex and advanced aluminum structure could be seen directly.
This remarkable aluminum engineering is possibly both the most impressive technical part of the car and also the source of its biggest flaws. The benefits are pretty clear: more stiffness means better handling, and from my time on the track with the car I can say they absolutely got what they wanted. The car is very, very stiff and solid feeling, and handles accordingly well.
The drawback is that all those bulkheads and stiffeners turn what could have been a fairly roomy interior into a cramped, if well-appointed, little womb. The overall car isn't exactly tiny — it's very wide, and as big or bigger than many of the cars it competes with, like the Cayman at the low end and the 911 at the top. And even though it's a front-engined car (well, I think front-mid), inside it feels more like a mid-engined car.
There's a huge, padded bulkhead right behind the seats. There's a little bin in the center of it, and I think I saw coat hooks behind the seat, but no way to actually get the seat to move forward to get to them. Even though it's a hatch, there's a long, tapered parcel shelf that blocks the rear cargo area from the main cabin, so the overall effect is that the cabin is cramped with very few places to stash, say, a laptop bag.
The trunk is usable, but not exactly huge, though there is a handy little secret underfloor compartment for all your smuggling needs. Compared with the interior and cargo-stowage ability of, say, a Cayman, with its hatch and front trunk, the F-Type coupe doesn't fare that well.
There's another question I had about the F-Type Coupe construction-wise, one that relates to why it looks so good but brings up some real-world concerns. The whole rear half of the car, aside from the hatch, it pretty much one unbroken piece. There's a robust strengthening member that forms the roof rails from the A-pillar all the way down to the sleek fastback C-pillar, and upon this flows the entire unbroken body skin — fenders, side window surrounds, all the way to the rear bumper. That means in a fender-bender, how big a deal will this be to fix?
Jag engineers assured me that there are ways to unbond/unweld the outer skin for repair, and aluminum work isn't as exotic as it once was. They pointed out that all those aluminum F-150 beds is going to just mainstream aluminum work even more, and I think they're right about all this.
But it still makes me nervous. I had a Volvo P1800 with a one-piece body, and I was always in fear of dents, and that thing was just steel. The idea that you can unbolt a fender and just replace it is still an appealing idea, to me. I guess we'll just have to see.
Also strange was what I read on the door sticker for capacity of the car. Look at it here:
Note what it lists for the maximum combined weight of occupants and cargo: 419 lbs. That's not a lot at all. I weigh about a buck-fifty, and my driving partner was right around 220 or so, and neither of us would be considered particularly large people, but we were within a mere 50 lbs of the limit. That's odd, right? My Beetle's sticker says I can hold around 700-800 lbs — surely this car can haul around more than my old Bug? There must be some engineering or legislative reason for this low number.
So, the interior was more cramped than I expected, and the passenger seat really needs an over-the-side-window oh-shit-handle, but those are my biggest complaints. It's plenty comfortable to drive, though that passenger seat is maybe a little stiff for long-trip comfort.
On the track, it's easy to forget about all these things, because the car sounds and feels so amazing. You can really feel what all those former soda cans are doing for the car when you push it hard on the track, because it feels rock-solid. Grip is relentless, and, of course, those 550 horse-jaguars that our track cars had means that in the long straights and sweepers the F-Type moves like the most pungent stench.
Steering, like on the roadster, is still hydraulic, and as such has a communicative feeling that electric systems still don't quite match. The wheel weights up satisfyingly in turns, and always felt direct. The car's got a nearly 50/50 balance, and as such is pretty neutral, with maybe a bit of understeer.
There's a solution for that, though. Jag's new stability/traction control system will detect understeer by reading your steering wheel input and the actual direction, and will brake the inside (rear?) wheel to tighten up the turn, canceling the understeer. It's a nice way to make you look like a better driver.
The stability system's prowess was also demonstrated on a wet skidpad. First, they turned the system off, and let us just go nuts on a figure 8, which meant some pretty exciting spinouts. I made sure to drive like an idiot to really get spinning, and then duplicate those same idiot moves with the traction control on. And, incredibly, it de-idioted my driving.
Giving the same over-wrought and inane inputs as before, the stability system kept the car in a controlled line almost no matter what I did. I was told that the system implements a sort of virtual string from the wheel to the gas pedal, as driving instructors tell you to imagine. That means if your wheel is cranked and you stomp on the gas, the car will keep your moronic idea from killing you.
Jag wants the F-Type coupe to take customers away from the 911. I think there's always going to be a group of people for whom a rear-engined Porsche is the only possible choice, and I don't think they have a shot with those people.
But less allied buyers who just want a striking-looking car with a sound that makes gonads of all species and genders secrete want-chemicals could easily fall in love with the F-Type coupe. As long as they remember to travel light.