Mountain Wheels: All-wheel-drive adds some grounded practicality to Jaguar’s blazing F-Type convertible
2016 Jaguar F-Type R Convertible
MSRP: $106,450; As tested, $110,645
Powertrain: 550-HP 5.0-liter supercharged V-8 engine; eight-speed automatic transmission
EPA figures: 18 MPG combined (15 city, 23 highway)
With summer finally on its way — somewhere, just not in Colorado, apparently — let me share an experience with a vehicle that sounds, on paper, like the ultimate winter-driving machine, for our unending weather hangover.
Complete with sophisticated all-wheel drive and, to my great surprise and delight, a set of very expensive high-performance snow tires, plus a dedicated snow mode, heated seats and steering wheel, it had all the makings of one of the best cold-weather machines ever made.
Minus the fact that it was a topless Jaguar two-seater, and now comes, in its top-end edition, with a 550-horsepower 5.0-liter supercharged V-8 engine. And given that the 2016 F-Type R Convertible sports just enough cargo room in its rear trunk to fit one piece of TSA-approved carry-on luggage, and maybe some socks as well, anyone hoping to use the car for ski trips is going to need a very elaborate side-of-the-passenger-window-mounted ski rack, or a support vehicle or two.
In reality, the new and optional addition of an AWD system to the already outstanding but maybe not really Colorado four-season-ready F-Type does more than a few things, the biggest of which is to keep the beautiful nose planted in the right direction, with full and inspired confidence, when that firecracker-exhausted engine goes off at full blast.
Cornering (on dry roads, mind you) is now fiercely solid and precise, with none of the Corvette-styled fishiness that comes from so much ungodly power being driven just to the rear wheels of a very light vehicle. Torque bias is also pulled forward on launches to get you planted and going faster even sooner.
We just cannot do much about the car’s fantastic and graceful low-to-the-ground stance, which makes it ideal for sunny day careening along mountain roads, but will not be especially helpful in a foot of wet and slushy spring snow. Minor snowy outings, sure, but I would not suggest pushing your luck and relying on an F-Type convertible in Blue River in February, for instance.
F-Type’s R edition is still a true sports car, with a connection to the pavement that will strike some (passengers, perhaps) as bumpy and terse, but will thrill enthusiasts with its raw and rigid feel. It is not hard to get the car going way, way too fast for its own good; I had a wonderful time careening up the absolutely carless Stove Prairie Road west of Fort Collins the day after Prince died, cranking “1999” and “Dirty Mind” on the 770-watt Meridian sound system and thinking this was perhaps the kind of joyous experience the Purple One would have approved, maybe.
As a more complex endeavor, I also miscalculated on refueling the F-Type R and discovered that one can indeed very graciously push a supercharged 5.0-liter V-8 engine into almost 28 MPG territory by driving judiciously light on the pedal; it’s rated for 23 MPG on the highway in standard guise, but you’re not going to get that much, as you’ll want to normally keep it fueled to finance all of the ungodly music the car makes when you flatten the throttle. Mountain tunnels become Ferrari-esque sound symposers and you’ll really quickly become known to your neighbors as “the jerk with that car” unless you use the exhaust-deactivation button while moseying around town. Put more than 60 percent into the throttle at any point, however, and the F-Type R still produces noises not unlike an explosion at a glass factory.
Updates for 2016 also include an improved infotainment system which breaks core info into four quadrants, though it can be hilariously slow to react at times. Crank up the tunes and forget it, I discovered.
Is it comfortable? No. An average-sized individual will just barely be able to load themselves aboard, not quite as awkwardly as you might in a Porsche Cayman, but back and neck muscles may hurt until you’ve developed a yoga-level of strength to do so repeatedly. An old-fashioned engine lift from a garage might be the best way for lowering some folks in and out of the very, very deep seats.
But once you’re firmly planted, it’s all giggles, with an oversized steering wheel and that curious but useful arch on the passenger side of the console great for gripping yourself as you plow deeper and deeper into corners.
As a cool and nearly Aston Martin-style alternative to the 911, some buyers will totally fall in love with the F-Type concept; those who make the plunge will be rewarded with a very impressive and great-handling machine, with just a tiny bit of additional light-snow-day practicality to boot.
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