“Quite minimal” is how Jaguar’s director of design Julian Thomson describes the styling jiggery-pokery that’s gone on for the 2020 F-Type. Really? Quite minimal? Granted, at the rear it’s business as usual, but at the front, it’s all change.
These days, a facelift usually means spending five or so minutes playing spot the difference between the new and old models, before giving up out of boredom because it’s all the damn same. But the F-Type has had a whole new face featuring a bigger front grille on a completely redesigned front bumper, and super-slim light LED clusters.
Apparently, the latter change is something Jaguar’s design team wanted to do from the off, but with the technology available during the F-Type’s inception, bigger units (which Julian describes as “a little too friendly”) were needed. The idea of switching them for the delectably thin headlights you see today is to make the bonnet seem longer than it actually is. And it all works brilliantly, meaning that suddenly, the pre-update car looks very dated.
What’s under that hood has changed too, or at least the choice. The F-Type’s V6 option has been binned (which means the manual has gone also), thanks in part to the explosive popularity of the 2.0-litre inline-four, which is still on the menu. There’s no more SVR, but the old range-topper’s 567bhp, 5.0-litre supercharged V8 lives on in the rejigged all-wheel drive R.
And finally, that leaves the newcomer - the P450. A 444bhp version of the R’s engine provides propulsion here, and you can have it in rear-wheel drive form. Thank the gods - the rear-drive V8 F-Type is back for the first time since 2016.
It’s the P450 we start our overview of the refreshed range with, trying not to think about the old rear-drive V8 models’ rather bitey reputation. Besides, Jaguar insists the new non-AWD is far more cuddly than before. Well, I’m paraphrasing, but relentless tweaking of the electronically-controlled mechanical rear differential and the stability control are supposed to have resulted in something less likely to want to spit you into a hedge under power.
Thankfully, it’s worked. Even with occasional damp patches of tarmac, the P450 isn’t ever a handful to drive. Grip and traction levels are high anyway, and when the back does start to give a hint of letting go, there’s no violent snap. Whenever the electronic stuff does intervene, it does so in a subtle way that doesn’t hamper your progress.
We’re at a point now where - ridiculously - 444bhp doesn’t seem like much for a forced-induction V8, but that’s the whole point. With the power kept to a sensible-ish level, you can actually keep your foot down for a few seconds before having to back off. And it’s not like it feels slow, helped by crisp throttle response, and the fact that 444bhp is still a lot of poke, you power-hungry fiends. It sounds plenty filthy, too - quite the feat given the presence of petrol particulate filters. The upshift noises are a particular highlight - they’re more like angry, satanic belches than the usual, brief ‘farts’.
Providing yet more proof that this is far from a minor update, Jaguar has given all models in the range fresh adaptive dampers, springs and anti-roll bars that work with beefier rear knuckles and ball joints. For the P450, this results in… something that still can’t be described as a sports car.
To its credit, the F does feel slightly sharper than before, but the bulky V8 version still isn’t the most willing thing to change direction. The damping’s hard to fault, giving a smooth ride in Normal mode and firming up just about the right amount in Dynamic, but we’re less keen on what Jaguar has done with the steering.
The software for the EPAS is new - again, across the whole range - and it feels unnaturally fast off-centre. The wheel is too keen to self-centre, something which is exacerbated further in Dynamic.
Once you get past the big reduction in under-bonnet bombast, the P300 provides a welcome antidote. Jaguar’s engineers have given a different treatment to the steering in each of the new F-Types, and what’s been done in the inline-four-powered car feels much more natural. It doesn’t self-centre as aggressively, and the weighting is better.
Missing three litres of displacement does wonders for the front end, which is much more happy to go where you want it to. It also helps that this is a coupe and not a convertible, saving further weight. The P300 even sounds beefier, which I’m told - bizarrely - might be down to the improved audio system, which is used to overlay additional engine noise.
We choose an inopportune moment of our F-Type road trip to switch to the P300, meaning our time on decent, twisty roads is fleeting. We don’t want to make a firm conclusion on the baby of the range, but it’s seeming more appealing than ever.
The jump on paper from the P450 to the R is huge, with the power leaping by 123bhp and the 0-60mph time slashed by almost a second, but it doesn’t feel as big a step up as anticipated. Unless of course, you boot it from a standstill, in which case the R does a remarkable job of sodding off into the distance.
The switch to all-wheel drive doesn’t dampen the engagement - as with the old R and SVR, the system is stubbornly rear-led. Interestingly, the steering here is intended to feel less aggressive than in the P450, and it’s all the better for it, if not as sweet as the P300’s setup.
Again, all that weight results in something that’s more akin to an especially athletic grand tourer rather than the sports car, but you get the sense that the F-Type R knows its place. It’s under no illusions. At least, with one main exception.
The eight-speed automatic gearbox in both the P450 benefit from JLR’s Special Vehicle Operations bods and their learnings from Project 8, resulting in faster, much angrier upshifts. This is much more obvious in the R, which is almost unpleasantly harsh in the way it changes cogs when switched to Dynamic. Given the general attitude of the car, you find yourself wishing it was toned down a little bit.
The noise from the V8, though, is something I’m completely on board with. The pipework doesn’t change between this and the P450, but the software does, resulting in more pops, bangs and general silliness in the R. But importantly, it’s not excessive and borderline antisocial like it used to be. It’s still rich and fruity, but more grown-up. There’s even a ‘quiet’ mode if you’re concerned about neighbours hating your guts after a few early and noisy starts.
Interior tech has always been a territory in which the F-Type has lagged behind, but steps have been taken to address this whichever, erm, Type you go for. The new infotainment system still isn’t class-leading and some of the little images used on the menu tiles are lame (a British phone box for the telephony? really?), but it’s a solid improvement. The new layout for the digital instrument cluster, meanwhile, gets a big thumbs up. It’s another tweak that helps the F justify its hefty price tag.
It now starts at £54,060 for a P300, rising to £97,280 for an R 575 convertible. You’re probably wondering which one is best, but there’s no easy answer for that. The P300 doesn’t feel like a poor relation, and even though there’s now a cheaper V8 option, the R’s place at the top of the tree cannot be questioned. The P450 is a welcome addition, but the steering is a potential deal-breaker, which is a shame since it should be the natural ‘sweet spot’ of the bunch.
Although I wasn’t expecting to come to this conclusion, the R is the one that seems to nails its brief the most successfully. Yes, a Porsche 911 Carrera S costs less and will run rings around it dynamically, and the Mercedes-AMG GT bests it on multiple levels. But for personality, drama and sheer want-factor, you can’t help but be drawn to the F-Type R.
That’s always been the case, of course. It’s a car you choose with your heart, but the difference this time is your head is less likely to be shouting ‘NOPE’ as you walk towards the Jaguar showroom.