Lisbon, Portugal — We all know the adage: “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” or something to that effect. It’s a good and applicable one, especially in the car world where keeping things fresh remains the order of the day. Sure; it’s not like the fabulous ‘50s when there’d be a newly-styled model pretty much every year, but manufacturers remain steadfast in their adhesion to “refreshing” cars every three-to-six years or so. Often called a “midcycle refresh”, these updates don’t tend to stray too far from some styling tweaks and new package offerings. Usually, however, it’s enough for an untrained eye to think that a refreshed model is a much newer model than it actually is.
Case-in-point: the 2021 Jaguar F-Type you see here.
Now, I loved/love the 2013-20 F-Type. Fantastically aggressive styling that did well to differentiate it from models built by more established bands, mostly from Germany; a great exhaust note whether you were driving the V6 or V8 (and eventually, the I4); and adventurous interior bits like copper-painted shift paddles and engine start/stop buttons. Those may seem like small details, but they were unique and I applauded Jag for thinking out of the box a little.
Recently, the copper bits were replaced by more traditional silver and black items, but the F-Type vibe remained the same; this was something different.
Fast-forward to 2021 (the model year; not the calendar year), and the F-Type has been given a more “mature” look; wider headlamp lenses, some more refined wheel choices and a wider hood are the result (as well as a wider front clip).
This leaves me feeling a little conflicted.
There’s no question that the F-Type is still a very good-looking car (the rear end is pretty much untouched, which is a real blessing as it’s always been a gorgeous affair), but one that now sits a little closer to the establishment. The headlights and their hockey stick-style DRLs are a little Audi e-tron-esque (just flipped on their y-axis), and the stance – especially when seen from the front three-quarter angle – has it sitting a little closer to the latest BMW Z4. These are not bad-looking vehicles, but I wouldn’t say they’re especially known for their styling, either. The F-Type always has been, and unless we’re considering the rear view only, I’m not so sure that trend will continue to the same degree. It still has a great-looking, compact styling package; it’s just not as unique as it once was.
Inside is quite the opposite in that the styling hasn’t changed one iota, unless you count the sharper digital gauge cluster (standard on all trims) or refreshed In Touch infotainment as part of the styling. That’s pretty much the extent of the changes in here but, my oh my, that gauge cluster really is a treat to behold. It’s sharp, it’s clear and the graphics are modern and better still, they are configurable. I’ll take the single-gauge look, please, with the tach right at the centre of it all. You sit low in the F-Type, which helps bring the gauges more into your line of sight. Which is good, because there’s no head-up display to speak of. Some may knock the F-Type for that – most of the competition has one – but I won’t fault it too much as I actually find HUDs a little distracting. Especially when you’re dealing with a steeply-raked windshield like the F-Type has; said rake makes for a narrower view out, meaning a HUD may take up too much of the available real estate.
While the styling is one of the big stories for the 2021 F-Type, there is more that’s been done than meets the eye, especially in the case of the R model.
For 2021, the R’s supercharged V8 now makes 575 hp; that’s the same as last year’s SVR model had. It also gets new anti-roll bars, springs, dampers and stiffer rear knuckles and upper control arms. Jaguar says all this tuning helps keep the contact patches of the wider Pirelli Zero tires more consistent as they’re forced more firmly to the road below; but how does it manifest itself on the road?
Quite immediately, actually. We’ll get to the power in a minute, but the changes to the suspension can be felt right away at ‘round town crawl speeds. I’m not sure exactly how they’ve tuned it, but the F-Type now rides much better than previous; occupants are insulated from all but the biggest and nastiest road imperfections and there are precious few squeaks and rattles from the body panels. That may not sound like something that needs mention, but as much as I loved the old car, it could get crashy and squeaky at times, as if there were little hairline fractures in the body that you couldn’t see, just hear. A jaunt in the entry-level P300 Convertible, meanwhile, revealed more of the same: chassis and body fidelity were the words of the day, even without the strengthening qualities of a fixed roof.
So all that’s great – but then you get to the open road and the real fun starts.
We started our test in the R Coupe, and we wasted no time in cracking the throttle open and giving it the beans. The R is available with AWD only (it runs a 30:70 front:rear power split), meaning that, coupled with the standard 8-speed auto and all that power, the launch is formidably hair-raising, loud (an exhaust “quiet mode” has been added for 2021 – no thank you) and immediate, with a 0-100 km/h time of 4.1 seconds and an electronically-limited top speed of 300 km/h. Drivers will want to hold on to that wheel, and passengers will want to make use of the handy hand-hold mounted on their side of the centre stack. If one there’s one thing this new F-Type still knows, it’s how to get the power to the wheels and the car down the road in a proper fury. This is some proper fire and brimstone stuff and it’s yet another indication that this Jag’s not to be tested.
Then the road starts getting a little bendy and it’s time to have a look at the chassis tuning from another angle – that of as full-on an attack as public roads allow. It should come as little surprise that with its short wheelbase and low centre of gravity, the F-Type R is keen to switch directions and the front end is nicely responsive to steering inputs. If I had a complaint it would be that the steering, while well-weighted and responsive, is a little down on feel but such is life when it comes to electronically-boosted power steering. It does the job of getting that nose turned-in despite the heft of the V8, and that’s all that really matters.
The AWD system, meanwhile, has the ability to shuffle power between the two rear wheels to help bring the back end ‘round to stave off understeer scenarios, and while it’s tough to un-seat the sticky rubber with TCS on, turning the system off will make the rear end come in to play a little more often. You’ll want to keep an eye on that in these circumstances.
Surprisingly, the P300 Convertible we tested, though down 280 hp on the R, was able to un-stick its rears as well when pushed. It was the RWD model so while you lose the safety net of AWD, it makes for a lighter car, even with the additional weight brought on by the roof mechanism. That means that the 295 hp you do get is enough to make for some nice and sprightly progress. Smooth, too, as even in Dynamic Mode, it’s easier to hit that perfect upshift; the different transmission tuning found in the R (borrowed from the manic XE SV Project 8 sedan for that car) makes for a very narrow shift window so if you’re not careful, there is some clunkiness as the next gear engages. I was able to more easily hit that sweet spot in the P300, which makes for a slightly more relaxed drive.
The P300 also gets a lighter front end and different steering, meaning the drive is noticeably transformed from that of the R. It’s a little more youthful sports car as opposed to heart-pounding supercar and so one could say it may be a little bit easier to live with day-to-day. Do wish the top were better insulated, though. As it stands right now, occupants will have to raise their voices a little if they wish to converse at highway speeds.
Really, though – it’s a convertible. It’s built to be driven with the top down, and that kind of throws the NVH conversation out of the proverbial window anyway. The R Coupe, too; who needs conversation when your exhaust note is this guttural? That’s what I thought.
So, happily, design changes notwithstanding, the 2021 F-Type manages to continue the tradition its forebears started; it provides a great drive with a tonne of personality, a great exhaust note (yes, even in P300 form) and with the new chassis tuning, a reasonable ‘round town companion, too. The styling may have been tamed a bit but the drive sure hasn’t, and that’s a sacrifice I guess I’m willing to make.