2021 Jaguar F-TYPE R Review: Claws in

  • Styling still turns heads
  • Supercharged V8 is potent and loud
  • AWD balances usability with rewarding dynamics
  • Unexpectedly large trunk
  • Six-figure price makes 911 the looming rival
  • Cabin is definitely snug

You could call them "decade decisions" – the judgement calls you make today, and just hope they'll still make sense in ten years time. With that in mind, it's hard to argue with the idea that Jaguar made a damn good choice when it created the F-TYPE, because ten long years later this kitty still has plenty of appeal.

Of course, a decade ago we didn't know it as the F-TYPE, it was the C-X16 concept. That 2011 show-car was arguably one of those pivotal moments in the auto industry; a reminder that, for all it may have struggled, Jaguar was still capable of some seriously emotionally-stirring design.

The production F-TYPE convertible followed on in 2012, with the coupe revealed the subsequent year. For several years Jaguar was content to deliver only mild styling tweaks, such as the hefty body kit on the now-discontinued F-TYPE SVR, figuring that there was no point changing what was working so well. That is, up until last year and the 2021 F-TYPE.

Narrow LED headlamps, brooding where the old was wide-eyed and happy. A new black mesh grille and restyled front bumper, while at the rear the taillamps kept the chicane light-strip but also slimmed down. Whether you prefer the meaner, angrier 2021 F-TYPE R or not is a matter of taste, but it's a good example of how a few key differences can leave a car with a very different curb feel.

It still turns heads, visually and aurally. The F-TYPE R's supercharged V8 takes care of the latter, with 575 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque, paired with a standard 8-speed ZF automatic transmission and all-wheel drive.

There's no manual and no rear-wheel option. The former doesn't sell, and the latter just wasn't up to getting the F-TYPE R's potency down to the asphalt without everything getting... messy. Purists will voice their disdain, I'm sure, but honestly the end result is a more usable car, flexible enough to take out on more than just bone-dry, sun-blessed days.

And make no mistake, being able to use the F-TYPE R as often as you want is a mighty appealing prospect. 0-60 mph comes in 3.5 seconds, and the top speed is 186 mph: there's legitimate pace to match the soundtrack.

It's rear-wheel drive biased, but with the ability to nudge power to the front when needed, and that seems like the best of both worlds. Combined with wider rear tires it leaves things feeling more stable, and grip in the corners is prodigious. Electronic variable dampers and an active rear electronic differential are standard, too, and the result is a confidence boost that's most welcome. If the old V8 F-TYPEs always had an undercurrent of shadowy British Movie Villain Betrayal about them, waiting until just the right moment to knife you in the back, this reworked F-TYPE R nudges things a little more into the light.

The same could be said for the Quiet Start system, which can tame the Jag's howl on turnover. You'll appreciate it as soon as you have an early-morning start, but your neighbors will love it even more.

In the cabin, meanwhile, the 2021 model year also upgraded some of the creature-comforts. It's still a snug place to sit, sure, but the leather, chrome, and sueded-microfiber feel like what you'd expect for a $103,200 (plus $1,025 destination) car. A power tailgate (revealing an unexpectedly capacious 14 cu-ft trunk), power performance seats, 380W Meridian audio system, 10-inch infotainment touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and a 12.3-inch driver display are all standard, as is parking assistance, lane-keeping, and a pop-out rear spoiler.

By the time the panoramic roof, fancy Sorrento Yellow SVO paint, Climate Pack – with dual-zone HVAC, a heated windshield, and heated steering wheel – 20-inch wheels, 770W Meridian upgrade, heating and cooling for the seats, and some other extras like blind-spot monitoring were added, you're up to $115,110. That's Porsche 911 Carrera S territory, though you'd be missing out on AWD.

Porsche's infotainment system is cleaner and swifter than the F-TYPE's, though I'd give the British car the nod for general aesthetics.

2021 Jaguar F-TYPE R Verdict

Times, they are a-changing over at Jaguar. The automaker has set aggressive new all-electric targets, unthinkable a decade back but somehow inevitable today. Where that leaves the F-TYPE is not entirely clear: though SUVs and crossovers may be the winners in sales, Jaguar insists that the sports car is the true personification of its brand. An F-TYPE EV doesn't sound at all bad to me, now that the general blasphemy is already out of the way.

Before that, though, the F-TYPE range is getting simpler. For the 2022 model year the F-TYPE R remains, but with a single, V8 supercharged companion, the F-TYPE P450. It'll replace the old four-cylinder turbo – which was attainable but not really in the spirit of things – as Jaguar works to condense down what had become a generally expansive (or maybe just flabby) array of trims across its whole range.

It could do worse than bear the F-TYPE R in mind as it steels itself for the future. Overspilling with personality, memorable from behind the wheel, and idiosyncratic in the same way that we so often forgive the oddities that come with genius. The F-TYPE R may not be the very best sports car you can buy, but it's arguably the best example of what makes Jaguar such a special brand.