Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: November 2, 2020
They did it again. Leave it to the British to take what was already a gorgeous sports car and inject it with the elixir of youth. Here we were thinking the F-Type was beginning to age, when in fact its fangs have only been sharpened. Jaguar’s top predator continues the fight against the Porsche 911 and Mercedes-AMG GT, boasting a velvety silhouette and an unconventional but unique engine line-up that hosts a turbo-four all the way up to a supercharged V8.
The F-Type receives a full nip and tuck for 2021. The front end has been resculpted with a design language that follows the i-PACE electric vehicle. Raked back and squinty J-blade headlights flank a wider and more aggressive grill, while a new front hood amplifies the F-Type’s low, hunkered down stance. It looks even better without a license plate, and I would still love to see the leaper hood ornament make a comeback - maybe with the new electric XJ.
The rear end is mostly a carry-over, with slimmer rear lights bordering a beautifully tucked-in trunk lid with quad exhausts brewing down below. On the R model as shown in our photographs, those exhausts are neatly embedded within the rear bumper. It’s still missing a few features from the outgoing SVR, like the fixed carbon fibre rear spoiler and deep side fender vents, but I think I can live without it.
Overall, the new F-Type carries a purposeful and distinctive shape so that not even the untrained eye could confuse it with a Porsche 911. It is incredibly easy however, to mix the F-Type with another rivaling, more expensive, also V8-powered British convertible. Yes, we’re talking about the Aston Martin Vantage, but the latter with its awkwardly unfinished nose and hunched up rear doesn’t hold a candle up to this masterclass of design. There’s more theatre with the Jaguar, with deployable door handles, a front hood that opens up backwards, and hidden dashboard air vents. The F-Type sounds better too. But could you imagine if Jaguar re-entered the grand tourer 2+2 hemisphere with a true successor to the XK? Think of a stretched out F-Type with more muscular proportions and enough street cred to compete with the Aston Martin DB11 or Bentley Continental GT. One can only dream, especially with the current market migrating towards EVs and SUVs. But I digress.
Though the epidermis has gone under the knife, the interior largely remains the same as the outgoing model. That means the same driver-centric layout, steering wheel, 12-way adjustable seats, airplane-inspired dials, stalks, pistol-like shifter, and fancy but mostly plastic switches. That’s not a terrible thing, as most of these features have aged quite nicely.
There are some things that the press release won’t tell you though, and we only noticed these subtle differences from spending many hours and kilometers behind the wheel of the previous-gen F-Type. The side grips on the steering wheel are not as concaved as before, and are much flatter this time around. Before you had to curve your thumb inwards to get a tight grip around the circumference, but now your thumb grips around it more naturally, and the wrist feels more ergonomically relaxed. The stitching on the seats is also different, favouring a futuristic hexagonal pattern, matching the mesh on the front grill. The fabric and almost carpet-like material on top of the instrument binnacle is also unique - haven’t seen that before on a Jag. There’s also a new Interior Black Package, which blacks out the door release, switches, instrument binnacle, center console grab handle, switch bezels, and steering wheel spokes. This actually helps to hide and dress up much of the overly chromey plastic bits of the interior, and pushes the vibe slightly more upscale.
And as with most 2021 vehicles, Jaguar has migrated both the driver’s gauges and infotainment unit to a full digital screen. They are the same ones that we’ve tested before in the 2020 F-PACE models, and the 12.3-inch reconfigurable driver’s gauges remain crisp, high-definition, and easy to read and use. We love the customizability of the displayed information, and also the ability to configure the screen to display a full-size 3D navigation map, mimicking the Volkswagen and Audi Digital Cockpit unit. The 10.0-inch center screen remains the same unit as before, demonstrating quick button responses and a generally friendly and well-laid out interface. It’s not the quickest nor smoothest unit in the business, and while we didn’t experience any glitches in the matrix, the screen washes out entirely under direct sunlight, a pickle that this convertible will easily find itself in on sunny drives. Yes, you will have to resort to backing out the good ol’ fashioned way by turning your neck.
The seats are heated, cooled, but lack massage. The F-Type also lacks the small rear seats of a Porsche 911 or Lexus LC 500, which serve more as storage tokens than actual seats, but an appreciated area of real estate when the trunk is already full of groceries. To add salt on that wound, the rear trunk space in the F-Type Convertible is inconveniently limited, barely deep enough to fit an average-sized suitcase for a weekend getaway.
The 2021 model lineup has been streamlined and simplified. R is the new top dog. It’s not exactly an SVR rebadge, but more of an old R model revamped up to SVR standards now that the latter model has been given the axe. Hence, the R adopts the 575-hp supercharged 5.0-litre V8 while the lower trims get the carried over 380-hp 3.0-litre supercharged V6 (P380) and 296-hp 2.0-litre turbo-four (P300). Not that I mind. The JLR portfolio with SVR, SVO, SVAutobiography badges have become somewhat wordy and confusing. This simplifies it nicely for us and consumers alike. Other markets receive a wider spectrum of F-Type trim levels, but I guess Jaguar didn’t see the point of having an R and SVR fight for the top trump cards in Canada when only 25-hp and a few dynamic and aesthetic tweaks separate the two. Then again, Porsche and it’s army of indistinguishable models make a case for the opposite.
Still, it’s range of appeal and price points are vast, with the base turbo-four model competing against other two-seaters like the Toyota Supra, BMW Z4, and even the Porsche 718 Cayman, while its top end models poke the Porsche and AMG bears. Further emphasizing its unique position, there just aren’t many vehicles in the performance world that still utilize superchargers. We can only think of the Dodge SRT Hellcat lineup. The rest are extinct, with turbochargers taking the helm.
That gives the F-Type a distinctive character in power delivery and sound. Superchargers deliver thrust immediately, hence prodding the gas pedal results in near instant torque and it never seems to plateau until you’re cresting the redline. Yes, many automakers are getting better at making their turbocharged engines feel more naturally aspirated, but they just can’t replicate the personality of a free-breathing or supercharged engine. With 575 hp and 516 lb-ft on tap, the F-Type R accelerates from 0-100 km/h in a swift 3.7 seconds in convertible guise, the same as the coupe. That’s also the same as a Mercedes-AMG GT C Coupe, and one-tenths of a second faster than a Porsche 992 Carrera 4S Cabriolet.
A rear-biased all-wheel drive system comes standard on the R (trust me, it’s for the better), and really helps put power down to the pavement. Any output over 500 will be quite difficult for just two wheels to manage, even ones in a staggered setup wrapped in Pirelli P Zero rubber. The AWD system also helps nurture the F-Type to tackle more inclement Canadian weather. Like before, the tail loves to kick out but the systems are good at predicticting when you’re using too much throttle, and will dial it back to keep you in a slight spin but not enough to wind up in the nearest tree.
The F-Type R is equipped with brake-based torque vectoring and a rear electronic differential, but for 2021 Jaguar has updated the adaptive dampers, anti-roll bars, and springs to bring even more agility. Not that I could detect the minor nuances from behind the wheel, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that the F-Type R is a capable cruiser. While I wouldn’t award it with grand touring credentials, it remains sure-footed and stable even on pockmarked roads. Though not as absorbent as a Porsche 992, it’s still pleasant to live with and usable on a daily basis.
The electric steering is nicely weighted but feels somewhat looser, lighter, and slightly less direct than before. Still, it’s no less communicative and not light enough to question a severed phone line to the front wheels. A revised 8-speed automatic transmission joins the 2021 changes, aiming to deliver faster and crisper gear changes, and this we did notice. Transitions are not exactly faster but are somewhat smoother and more assertive. This is apparent when manually shifting via the paddles or the gear lever, as there is less lurching and more forgiveness when downshifting in the wrong RPMs. But that doesn’t mean their job is done. High RPM upshifts tend to unsettle the rear axle when you’re half-way on the throttle, and while remedied by having your foot flat on the floor, that’s not always feasible.
I always thought the F-Type looked better with a fixed roof but with the top down, you’re treated to an unfiltered symphony of eight cylinders crackling to the heavens. It doesn’t sound very different to the F-Type SVR that we tested last year - likely because nothing has really changed dynamically. You still don’t hear anymore supercharger whine like pre-2018 models due to increased hood and firewall insulation, but the exhaust flare upon engine ignition is a beautiful mix of snaps, crackles, and pops. On wide open throttle, it’s like a chainsaw ripping through the air behind you, but the main difference we noticed with this 2021 model is the opening and closing of the exhaust valves. Unlike before, you can clearly tell when the valves are opened, and they only do when you’re firmly past 50% of the gas pedal or you’re cresting above 3,000 rpm. Below that, they stay closed for a slightly more muted V8 roar, like stuffing a tennis ball inside a rotweiler’s mouth.
This blaring symphony is why people prefer an F-Type over a comparatively quiet and subdued Porsche flat-six exhaust, which is dominated by more turbocharged whistles and burbles than anything soul-crunching. To address the other side of the story, Jaguar has added a new feature called Quiet Start, which keeps the valves in the rear silence closed when starting the engine, unless Dynamic Mode is pre-selected, preserving any neighbourhood relationship you may have left. Ironically, it’s still quite loud. Have a listen to our Exhaust Notes video above to hear this supercharged V8 glory for yourself.
The F-Type remains a head-turning, drop-dead gorgeous specimen of a sports car. It doesn’t have the token rear seats, interior pizzazz, or the pedigree of others that have been around for decades, but it remains one of the most theatrical and dramatic entrants in the six-figure convertible market. If looks, sound, and charm are what you’re after and everything else comes secondary, including all-out performance, then look no further.
Model: 2021 Jaguar F-Type R Convertible
Paint Type: Santorini Black
Base Price: $121,500
Price as Tested: $127,030
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,470 / 1,923 (mirrors folded) / 1,307
Curb weight (kg): 1,763
Engine: 5.0-litre supercharged V8
Horsepower: 575 hp @ 6,500 rpm
Torque: 516 lb-ft @ 3,500 - 5,000 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: 15.2 / 9.8 / 12.2
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 14.8
Tires: Pirelli P Zero