LOS ANGELES—Somewhere along a zigzag stretch on Angeles Crest Highway, 6,000 feet into the clouds, I knew the Jaguar F-Type Coupe was made for me.
Pausing the romance and planning like the quarterly taxpayer I am, it shouldn’t be. I’m doing quite well for my age, but I’m not going on 59 making a carefree $300,000 per year. That’s been the median buyer for the F-Type Convertible since it debuted last year. Guys and girls under 35 comprise only 6 percent of all F-Type buyers, which makes a whole lot of sense given the $90,000 sticker this two-seater typically commands. But when you’re figuring how to pay down grad school bills, you toy with the luxury sports cars you could have bought.
You can spend well over 100 grand on a fully loaded F-Type Coupe R—heck, you can spend $12,000 just on wheels and brakes—and top off your pretty purchase with soft leather on the roof. Since that price pegs this new Jag square into Audi R8 and Porsche 911 territory, I’ve done my best to ignore the R model and its hellacious, supercharged 550-hp V8. It is at $65,925 (base with destination) where the F-Type Coupe settles into its sweet spot—and within shooting range of sports cars like the new BMW M4 and Porsche Cayman S.
Select but two options on the base V6 model—the $600 heated seats and steering wheel, plus the $1,500 switchable sport exhaust to protest quiet hours—and you’ve got an aluminum-bodied Jag coupe for less than $70,000 out the door. That, I should add, comes well-equipped with nav, premium stereo, and most of the usual niceties you’d pay Porsche an extra lung to acquire.
Jaguar invited me to Willow Springs Raceway so I could persuade you to spend more money on their top-end model. And if you’ve got it, why not? The F-Type Coupe R is a track weapon that doesn’t intimidate. From 140 mph, it stops with the serene balance of a hot yoga instructor, never once squirming or nodding off to road imperfections. The acceleration is madder than the larger XKR-S, a Jag so extreme we named it to our “Top Drives of 2013,” and louder, too.
You may have heard of continuously variable transmissions. The R doesn’t have one, but its 8-speed automatic is continually one upshift away from a Glock aimed at your chest and a courtesy phone call. It is entirely why, after the press event ended in Los Angeles, I asked Jaguar for a V6 on my exit to Las Vegas. For normal roads, the R’s giant motor is too much in a car this small.
The 3.0-liter supercharged six in my V6 S—skewed to a greedy $92,500—makes 380 hp and 339 lb.-ft. of torque at 3,500 rpm. The same exact engine in the base car makes 340 hp and nine fewer lb.-ft. at the same rpm. At 3,477 pounds, the base V6 is a touch lighter than the S and a full 161 pounds down from the R. Off the track and away from magazine comparison tests, this equates to real-world performance that makes the S (starting at $77,000) a negligible upgrade.
Either V6 model feels confident on fast switchbacks with the hydraulic power steering streaming the road’s nuances to your fingertips with the perfect weight. It’s not as nimble as the mid-engine Cayman, but the 50-50 weight distribution ensures total balance. Engage dynamic mode and the interior lighting fades to a devilish red as the transmission instantly downshifts, and on S models, the steering and suspension sharpen their reactions. It’s all part of the theater: the flush door handles that “deploy” upon first touch, a retractable spoiler that blocks half the rear window, the engine stop-start button pulsating like a heartbeat, the motorized center air vents rising out of the dash, and a full glass roof that I kept shaded in the Vegas desert. The German rivals don’t feel this special.
The exhaust, centered under the arcing tail like a pair of silver trumpets, plays an addictive, raspy baritone. Plus, on downshifts and when lifting off the throttle, they gurgle and pop. The extra reward for choosing the V6 is the impressive fuel economy, at an EPA-estimated 20 mpg city, 28 mpg highway. Over 360 miles of mountain roads and lonely straights, I averaged 23 mpg and didn’t stop to refuel. My car’s only failure was losing a drag race to a police officer whose 700-horsepower Shelby Mustang dusted my entire car in sand. What “happens in Vegas” is definitely not a slogan.
With an F-Type Coupe, you must also stomach the low ground clearance, the propensity of valets scuffing your delicate wheels, and the choking cost of repairing any one of those aluminum body panels. That is the price for looking, smelling, and feeling this good. I don’t own a car and have never bought one. When the timing’s ripe, this Jaguar could easily be my first.