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Feline of Fancy: We Get Our First Drive Of the 2021 Jaguar F-Type Coupe and Convertible

A wild automotive shrew, tamed.

Rory JurneckaWriterManufacturerPhotographer

Porto, Portugal—The staccato blast of rain drops splattering against the sharply raked windscreen are fighting an epic battle against the rapid swoosh swoosh swoosh of rubber wipers across the glass. Here we are in the hilly port wine grape-growing region of Portugal for the launch of the 2021 Jaguar F-Type coupe and convertible, a location chosen no doubt for its generally mild and pleasant weather. No such luck today, but we're making the best of it even if the F-Type convertible's luxuriously insulated soft top remains in its upright and locked position on our merry flight through the region.

When the F-Type launched in 2013, it brought back a real sense of romanticism to the Jaguar brand. Jaguar reps made no bones about the long-hooded roadster's legacy as the second coming of the classic XKE sports car (also known as the E-Type). True to form, the car was a stunner to look at, and oh, how people looked. In its most potent V-8 form, a press of a button opened baffles in the exhaust system which unleashed a barely legal sounding cacophony of snarls, pops, and bangs that ensured heads turned, if even just by reflex.

The F-Type's edgy and aural character was also an indication of the way it drove. Nervous, skittish and constantly on-edge, driving an early, V-8-powered, rear-wheel-drive F-Type sometimes felt like an exercise in getting away with it. So much so, that Jaguar canceled the rear-drive V-8 after just two short years in production and replaced it with an all-wheel-drive version aimed at taming what was truly a shrew of a car. That fundamental change did keep more F-Types on the road and out of the weeds, but the result was a car that was now safer, but conflicted. It pushed more than it rotated, but that rear end still failed to inspire much confidence at the limit.

Now it's 2020, a new decade, and with it comes a new 2021 F-Type that aims to finally get the formula correct. The styling changes by new Jaguar head of design Julian Thompson (who replaces Ian Callum), are evolutionary: new slim-line LED headlights and taillights, a revised front bumper with a slightly larger grille, and a rear bumper that attaches to a body-color diffuser between an aggressive-looking quad-exit exhaust in the F-Type R V-8-powered model. In the case of the four-cylinder turbo variant that's been a part of the lineup for several years now, it instead receives an unfortunate center-exit rectangular exhaust tip that conceals the twin exhaust pipes that frankly would have looked better—perhaps a penance for choosing the less expensive version.

Inside, changes include a larger 10-inch display on the center stack loaded with Jaguar's Touch Pro infotainment system, and a new fully digital, multi-configurable instrument panel that allows for a central tachometer when you're driving hard. Or, alternatavely, a full-screen navigation map when you're just trying to find the new pizza joint across town. Jaguar fortunately saw fit to keep real rotary dials for stereo volume and climate control purposes, functions that too often in modern cars are annoyingly relegated to digital sub-menus. Otherwise, the cabin remains much as before, with the familiar "pulsing heartbeat" starter button and a cozy but comfortable atmosphere.

Those contemplating buying a 2021 F-Type will have three engines to choose from: the 296-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, a 380-hp 3.0-liter supercharged V-6, or the masochistic 575-hp 5.0-liter supercharged V-8 that gains 25 horses and 14 lb-ft (516 lb-ft total) for the new year. The very good ZF eight-speed automatic remains the sole transmission offered, but now benefits from the "Quickshift" calibration as used on the hardcore Jaguar Project 8 sedan. Each engine is offered in either coupe or convertible body styles; the four-cylinder engine remains the only powertrain Jaguar offers with rear-wheel drive.

It's the turbo-four, rear-drive variant we start with as the rain pounds the pavement, and even with "only" 296 hp, the F-Type still feels plenty quick, at least in these conditions. With its full load of 295 lb-ft of torque available from just 1,500 rpm and little turbo lag to speak of, power delivery is nearly instant. Add a bit of throttle while exiting damp turns reveals the old tendency toward oversteer, but it's more playful oversteer than was ever found in the rear-drive V-8 cars. Leave the car in "normal" driving mode and the eight-speed auto in its standard state, and it'll hurry to get into fuel-saving eighth gear every time you breathe off the throttle while delivering an exhaust note most charitably described as vanilla. With the transmission pulled into its sport setting and the car put into dynamic mode with a flip of the switch on the center console, things improve. Manually executed shifts—via the paddles—are felt as they slam home, a result of the Quickshift tuning, and the four-cylinder gets significantly louder, if not more interesting, with its exhaust baffles open.

Later in the day, as the rain fades and the sun gets low on the horizon, we finally get a chance to drop the Jag's top, and darned if the exhaust note doesn't sound better still when it doesn't have that pesky insulated fabric roof to filter through. The cabin also stays remarkably calm and draft free with the top down and side windows raised; pity we couldn't have traveled like this all day.

The next morning dawns crisp and cool. We rise to coffee, eggs, and the muted sound of V-8 F-Type coupes firing up outside our hotel, courtesy of the new Quiet Start mode designed to make F-Type owners remain friends with their neighbors. There's less rain forecast today, but the roads are still plenty damp; we're curious how the all-wheel-drive F-Type R will behave. Keys are handed over and we head to the hills to see what's what.

Jag reps have told us about the myriad changes to the R model. Besides the bump in power, the V-8 cars get recalibrated electronic power steering, softer spring and damper rates with new antiroll bars at each end, wider 265/35 20-inch front and 305/30 20-inch rear Pirelli P Zero tires, larger rear wheel bearings, aluminum suspension knuckles from the discontinued F-Type SVR, and more stout upper ball joints Jaguar says reduce camber and toe changes under load for more predictable behavior. Additionally, the Torque Vectoring by Braking system and Dynamic Stability Control system are both retuned for improved traction and to impart more of a rear-drive feel to the all-wheel-drive beasty.

From the first few corners we attack, it's apparent the changes have reaped huge gains. The steering is sharper than ever and well weighted, and despite the still-wet roads, we hustle the F-Type with nearly as much confidence as we'd have done in the dry. Understeer is well mitigated (an advantage of the chassis changes), and larger doses of throttle out of a tight bend sends the tail wide very controllably, keeping things entertaining. Generally, the F-Type remains neutral and well composed, just as happy to drive quickly as it is to potter around town.

The revised exhaust system isn't as trebly as before, the snarl replaced with a more refined growl. Still, the barks and pops in Dynamic mode on deceleration sound wonderful; Jaguar understands this is an irrevocable part of the F-Type's character. While the F-Type still isn't as focused or as poised as a Porsche 718 or 911, it's a significantly more confidence inspiring car than F-Types of old. If there's a weak point, its that the brakes aren't as up to the task in this rip-snorting R variant, giving little initial bite, a soft feeling pedal, and a slightly unstable rear end under very hard use. Pro tip: if you're ordering an F-Type R, spec the optional carbon-ceramic brake package if you plan to use the car as Jaguar co-founder Sir William Lyons would have intended.

All in all, the 2021 Jaguar F-Type continues to be a car to aspire to with its handsome appearance left largely intact and a personality that inspires driving for the very sake of driving. If you're a track rat or demand the sharpest car you can afford, there are better options on the market. Leave the Jaguar for people who love a pretty face and an exciting car that's just a little bit different from the rest.

2021 Jaguar F-Type
ON SALE Spring 2020 (est)
PRICE $62,625-$106,925 (base)
ENGINES 2.0L turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4/296 hp @ 5,500 rpm, 295 lb-ft @ 1,500-4,500 rpm; 3.0L supercharged DOHC 24-valve V-6/380 hp @ 6,250 rpm, 339 lb-ft @ 4,500-5,000 rpm; 5.0L supercharged DOHC 32-valve V-8/575 hp @ 6,500 rpm, 516 lb-ft @ 3,500-5,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
LAYOUT 2-door, 2-passenger, front-engine, RWD coupe/convertible
EPA MILEAGE N/A
L x W x H 176.0 x 75.7 x 51.5-51.6 in
WHEELBASE 103.2 in
WEIGHT 3,351-3,887 lb
0-60 MPH 3.5-5.4 sec
TOP SPEED 155-186 mph