Overall rating: 5/5
Trying to dial down the lunacy of the old V8 S Roadster model, Jaguar has transplanted its 550hp driveline into the F-Type Roadster and seen fit to equip it with four-wheel drive. The end result is a roadster that's pretty close to flawless, if you like this sort of deranged performance. Which we do. A lot.
In the Metal:
Familiar though the shape may be, the Jaguar F-Type Roadster remains a glorious creation and giving it the R treatment is hardly a deleterious act. Take note, if you will, of the pronounced rear diffuser under the quad exhausts, or the massive, beautiful alloy wheels, or the mildly different bonnet (the reshaped power dome and vents are of a unique style and slightly wider apart than on rear-wheel drive F-Types). You'll need to be eagle-eyed to have any hope of spotting those, mind. In short, the exterior is wonderful, the interior is superb (and is improved by the new InControl Touch infotainment software) and the only reason we're not giving it five stars here is because the F-Type Coupé is even sexier than the convertible.
In truth, the addition of the all-wheel drive hardware is only part of a raft of revisions for the 2016MY F-Type range, which means that, instead of a line-up of six cars previously - you could choose from Roadster or Coupé, with three power ratings, one transmission and rear-wheel drive only - now there are 14 different combinations of body style/motive power for the F-Type, including manual gearboxes. As we drove both the AWD and manual models in prototype form already, all we're aiming to do here is assess whether the concept has translated into a successful production reality.
Nothing wrong with the delirious 5.0-litre V8 supercharged petrol engine, available in the Roadster in full 550hp trim. We know this engine from a lot of JLR products and it's an absolute cracker, with the stupidly addictive and loud histrionics of the R's exhaust making the car hilarious fun. Top down and with the exhaust button on the centre console engaged for maximum naughtiness, the gun-fire crackling of the pipes on the overrun is military-grade noisy. Therefore, if you're not smiling while this F-Type is doing its thing, then you must surely be dead.
The best news of all is that Neil's initial prognosis was spot on the money: in Roadster form, at least, sending some of the drive to the F-Type's front axle is an inspired masterstroke. It remains a car that commands respect, as nominally 100 per cent of the drive goes rearwards. This means the F-Type always feels rear-led and the back end will step out if you're injudicious with the throttle in tight corners, but instead of snapping into terrifyingly big oversteer as before, the F-Type quickly sorts itself out in a fluid manner and gets on with the job of putting as much of its prodigious power and torque to the tarmac as possible. Indeed, traction in this car is incredible. There's little similar that will touch it for rabid acceleration in any situation imaginable, Porsche 911 Turbo Cabriolet included. That's how devastatingly good the F-Type R AWD is.
If there's one area where we detect a slight disadvantage over the rear-wheel drive F-Types, it's in steering response. There's a more noticeable slackness around dead centre in the AWD car, yet it's not enough to hole the Jag below the waterline. Sports car fans will note that, at 1,745kg, the Roadster R AWD is hardly a featherweight machine, but its bulk barely makes itself felt and the extra mass leads to a wonderfully supple ride, even at low speeds.
What you get for your Money:
You're buying speed. Lots and lots of speed. And a rude amount of noise. So while the F-Type R Roadster AWD is hardly what you'd call affordable, and it has some gulp-inducing economy/emissions figures, it compares well to rivals that can get anywhere near its performance. The interior's levels of finish, comfort and luxury are all commendably high, although be aware that the Roadster still has a feeble boot. Jag might have improved it from the early cars, which would have struggled to transport a briefcase, but this isn't a car in which you could go grand touring for a few weeks. Not unless you sent your luggage on ahead by courier, at any rate. The Coupé F-Type has the edge here.
Aston Martin V12 Vantage Roadster: similarly unhinged lunacy; vocal, quick but not as poised as the F-Type.
Audi R8 V10 Spyder: really, we're waiting for the second-generation car here, as the original is now defunct. Another open-top four-wheel drive supercar, somewhat more reserved than the F-Type.
Porsche 911 Turbo Cabriolet: more expensive and nothing like as stylish, the Porsche isn't as engaging a car as the Jag.
We love the F-Type, we love R-spec Jaguars and we think the promise shown by the AWD prototype has been carried over into the finished article. No, this is not a cheap car but this bruiser has supercar-rivalling performance wrapped up in a beautiful-looking package. Adding drive to all corners makes it a bit safer without taking away any of the F-Type's excitement, which makes it another example of engineering genius. We'd prefer the rear-wheel drive Coupé, but the difference between it and this AWD Roadster is infinitesimal. The F-Type R is a brilliant car in any guise.