Black Mirror
MOTOR Magazine Australia|December 2020
Jaguar’s revitalised 423kw F-Type r coupe hits the timber trail
Andy Enright

His road was built for timber, gold and snow. Starting in the Warburton Ranges east of Melbourne, it tracks towards the dawn sun for 90km, through the pit of the Little Yarra valley before pitching sharply uphill, all knotted and gnarled, ultimately terminating at Mt Baw Baw ski resort. It delivers a benign intro with a real sting in the tail; the sort of route that offers a concentrated torture test of a car’s abilities.

To key into this sort of challenge, you need something with torque to tackle the gradients, excellent chassis support to cope with the patchwork forest surfaces and the agility to bob and weave around road debris, collapsing bitumen shoulders and the occasional hard of hearing marsupial. In other words, probably not a Jaguar F-Type R. This is a road for something lighter, more immediate, more wide-eyed, not for something transferring the masses of a mid-sized SUV. The spec sheet lists the weight being ‘from 1818kgs’ but further investigation reveals that figure to include a 75kg driver, fluids and 90 per cent fuel. Still, pulling a vehicle beyond its comfort zone remains the most effective way to discover how far that zone extends.

It probably won’t have escaped your attention that this is the facelifted version of the F-Type. I tend to experience a little shudder when cars are treated to a mid-life facelift if only because, more often than not, the results aren’t always any great improvement. Indeed, when I first saw press photos of the updated F-Type I wasn’t sold. The front end looked as if it had lost its identity, with the slimmer lights giving it a more generic appearance. I was wrong and while it’s not my job to tell you what looks good or otherwise, the big coupe now looks more svelte and more modern. Park it next to the old car and the original now seems a little heavy-handed.

Nevertheless, there’s still something of a throwback vibe about the F-Type. Yes, the cabin now gets an updated infotainment system and a digital dial pack in the binnacle, but you’ll search in vain for a head-up display or adaptive cruise control and, to be honest, I couldn’t care less. It taps into a vein of buyers who actually want something endowed with a certain old-school tactility, something visceral, something analogue, or at least a convincing facsimile of it.

From Yarra Junction, the C425 meanders gently through Gladysdale, originally Slaty Creek but renamed in 1915 after Gladys Pettit, the daughter of the local postmaster. This is the timber trail that leads to Noojee, where lumber was fed onto the three-foot tramway to the Powelltown mill. The locals of the valley have an intimate relationship with the topography, the V-shaped valley offering little in the way of flatlands, with cleared plantations now occupied by fragrant apple orchards.

It’s easy to lope along in the F-Type, the softest setting of the adaptive dampers gently jostling the driver over surface imperfections. At first it’s easy to come away a little nonplussed, as the ride quality doesn’t have the waft of a top-line GT, yet the steering lacks the feedback of the best sports coupes. You begin to wonder what this thing actually is, where it sits in the market, what case you’d need to make for choosing this over a 911 Carrera. The answers aren’t immediately forthcoming.

Perhaps calling this a facelift sells what Jaguar has done a bit short. This F-Type R gets new rear-axle hub knuckles and ball joints, adaptive dampers, coil springs and anti-roll bars. The transmission benefits from much the same electronic trickery seen in the XE SV Project 8, Jaguar claiming quicker paddle shifts. So there’s some real substance here, too.

The 5.0-litre supercharged V8 could never be accused of being short on substance. Good for 423kW and 700Nm, the AJ133 unit first saw service in the XE and XJ of 2009 and, with the closure of Ford’s Bridgend plant in Wales in September, production is being brought in-house with a lift-and-shift transfer of staff and equipment to Jaguar’s Wolverhampton factory for the remainder of the engine’s lifespan, which has a hard full stop with the introduction of EU7 regulations in around four years. Thereafter it’ll likely be replaced by a BMW V8 and while there are some great eights hailing from Munich, this is a special engine.

Given the headline figures, it’s surprising that it can feel a little bereft of torque at modest engine speeds. There’s not that bottomless barrel of brawn you get with AMG’s four-litre twin huffer, and the cabin fills with a harsh bass harmonic below 2000rpm, but keep your foot in and the payoff doesn’t take long to materialise. The exhaust butterflies flip open as the needle sweeps through 3400rpm. At 4000rpm, the V8’s found its voice and from there through to the 6800rpm redline is where you’ll want to play. You’ll need somewhere a little remote because discreet it most certainly isn’t, the exhaust crackling with a fusillade of bangs and pops on the overrun.

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