Review: 2016 Jaguar F-type R

May 22, 2015 09:25 AM EDT | Jeff Jablansky

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In addition to adding a manual transmission to the lineup for 2016, Jaguar has upped the horsepower on its highest-output model and given it all-wheel drive for added traction.

Is the F-type R the ultimate expression of the model lineup? We drove one from New York City to Monticello, N.Y., before taking to the track and spending the afternoon nailing apexes.

What is it?

The F-type R displaces the F-type V-8S as the most powerful member of the sports car lineup. Until now, the fastest F-type had a 495-hp supercharged V-8 under the hood and was available exclusively with an 8-speed automatic transmission and rear-wheel drive. Now, the engine makes 550 horsepower and power is routed through all four wheels. If you want a rear-wheel-drive F-type with a V-8, you'd better snag one now while dealers still have some in stock.

Other than powertrain upgrades, little distinguishes the F-type R from its predecessor on the surface. (More aggressive styling makes it stand out from its V-6-powered siblings, though.) We like how it looks as a drop-top, but absolutely fell in love with its styling as a two-door coupe. Think baby Aston Martin DB9, and you're halfway there.

How does it drive?

Somewhere, in paradise, everyone is driving Jaguar F-type coupes and roadsters. Or they ought to be, at least.

Step hard on the accelerator and the 550-hp supercharged V-8 engine comes to life quickly. This is the type of acceleration rarely experienced south of hypercars and unlikely supercars like the Dodge Challenger Hellcat. All-wheel drive keeps the F-type R steady under hard acceleration, while the exhaust burbles and cracks and snaps with abandon. Shifts from the 8-speed automatic are said to be even quicker than before, and they pop off smoothly and without drama. Because the best kind of forward motion is the effortless kind.

Beyond the drag strip, the power is manageable and usable without being overbearing. Slick, low-profile tires keep the F-type R planted, and the Dynamic mode's tighter steering is our choice for when the roads become twisty. We had the chance to take the F-type R coupe on the track after several hours of hustling the roadster around, and were amazed at how accurately it zoomed through the corners. Optional carbon-ceramic brakes are quite useful on the track, but probably have limited everyday use. On the back straight of Monticello Motor Club, we consistently hit triple-digit speed, and got faster each lap. (It was the car, and not our ability.)

What's it like inside?

It fits like a custom suit from a haute British tailor. Every material and surface appears to be shined and polished for the occasion of your drive. Opt for the sport seats, and the feeling of snugness gets even tighter, in a good way.

What's its specialty?

Stylishly outrunning a speeding bullet.

Most innovative feature?

An active differential that sends all of the F-type R's power to the rear wheels most of the time, and an advanced torque vectoring system. With these systems in place, the F-type R acts essentially as a rear-wheel-drive roadster, and sends power to the front wheels only when slippage occurs. Sure, purists might huff about the lack of a tossable rear end, but we believe its stability outweighs its past slipperiness.

How's the competition?

Staffing up. The 550-hp F-type R has a lot of its competition on notice. Like the supercharged V-6 models, V-8 F-type models straddle the performance car and supercar segments. It has more horsepower than a Chevrolet Camaro Z/28, but is infinitely more drivable—and twice the price. It's also more powerful than the Mercedes-AMG GT S, although that coupe seems in a different category entirely. In the six-figure performance car stratum, the F-type continues to reign, in our minds, for its combination of luxury, performance, and drivability. Buy the coupe if you need to store anything.

Overall:

The hot rod that won't slip up.

Highs:

Rocketlike forward thrust, intuitive ergonomics, fantastic carbon-ceramic brakes, looks that can seduce and kill.

Lows:

Expensive, scant trunk space in the roadster.

The ideal setup:

White roadster with a red roof, or a black coupe. The carbon-ceramic brakes may never pay for themselves, but they're a fantastic add-on. Add performance seats and the "vision" package, and you've specced the nearly perfect F-type. You know you've properly optioned the F-type R when the bottom line seems too expensive to be rational.

By the numbers: 2015 Jaguar F-type R

MSRP: $103,600

Power / drive wheels: 5.0-liter, 550-hp supercharged V-8 engine / all-wheel drive

Transmission: 8-speed automatic transmission

EPA fuel economy (mpg): 15 city / 23 highway

In showrooms: Now

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