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How Smart Engineering Puts The $100,000 2021 Jaguar F-Type Back On Top

More precise control of this 575-horsepower cat is a much-appreciated upgrade.

1980s tennis bad boy Andre Agassi used to exclaim that “Image is everything,” and the 2021 Jaguar F-Type seems to be evidence that Agassi’s thesis is still valid. Consider the car’s new LED headlamps, which change both how Jaguar’s two-seat sports car looks and how drivers can see from behind the wheel at night.

These new 128-LED lights slash a bold horizonal line below the car’s hood, where the 2020 car’s lights stretched up and backward. The new look is decidedly more contemporary and menacing, where the original design was maybe anchored a little too firmly in Jaguar’s illustrious heritage.

“The new headlight pulls your eye down, and makes the bonnet look much longer,” noted Jaguar design director, Julian Thomson. This seemingly slight change, along with the addition of some muscular curves elsewhere in the sheet metal, revitalizes the design of a car that debuted in 2013.How Smart Engineering Puts The $100,000 2021 Jaguar F-Type Back On Top

But those lights also change the view from the F-Type, not just of the F-Type. At least, they do at night. The lights feature what Jaguar terms pixel technology, wherein the individually aimed elements of the lights switch on an off according to a computer analysis of the road ahead. This means the car can dim those elements that would dazzle an oncoming car as it passes while leaving the others still at full brightness to light the road ahead.

Image source: Jaguar Land Rover

They similarly dim to avoid scorching the trunk of the car ahead, while still lighting the road around and even potentially ahead of the leading car, giving both cars the benefit of the improved illumination.

Experiencing these lights on the media introduction drive in Portugal was a revelation. Seeing technology fulfill the promise of its promoters is exciting, and we in the U.S. have been denied this technology so far by government regulators who still think in binary on-off terms only for high beam headlights.

Jaguar calls the ability to be more granular with its lighting “pixel” technology, though after driving the car it might be better consider these to be the blocky kind of 8-bit pixels we remember from the Atari 2600 video game console rather than the slick high-resolution pixels of a modern smart phone.

This makes it easier to watch the blocks darken and lighten around other cars as they pass, though surely the technology will advance sufficiently to precisely surround other cars with a light silhouette tailored like a victim’s police chalk outline on a sidewalk.

Image source: Jaguar Land Rover

Image source: Jaguar Land Rover

These lights are an exclusive feature of our tested $103,200, 575-horsepower, 516 lb.-ft., supercharged 5.0-liter V8 coupe model. A drop-top version starts at $105,900. It sends power through a ZF 8HP70 8-speed planetary automatic transmission to a computer-controlled all-wheel drive system, accelerating to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds to reach an electronically limited top speed of 186 mph.

We also get the choice of a U.S. market-only mid-level model, the P380. That car is also all-wheel drive with the same automatic transmission, but draws power from a supercharged 380-hp, 339 lb.ft., 3.0-liter V6 engine, with coupe pricing starting at $81,800 and the convertible at $84,900.

Jaguar F-Type vehicle dynamics manager Tanmay Dube was born in India, but relocated to the U.K. as a baby and graduated from the University of Bath with a master's degree in Automotive Engineering in 2010. Straight out of school, Dube started at McLaren Automotive during the launch phase of the MP4-12C, that company's first mass-produced model. He was able to work on McLaren's legendary P1 hybrid electric hypercar and took the lead developing the current 720S. Dube joined Jaguar in 2018, and was responsible for whole-vehicle integration and attribute delivery for the 2021 F-Type. Image source: Jaguar Land Rover.

The P380 zooms to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds, and continues to a top speed of 171 mph. This model, as a U.S.-only car, was unavailable for evaluation at the test drive in Portugal.

We did, however, also get to drive the lighter and more accessible F-Type P300. This model starts at $61,600 for the coupe and $64,700 for the roadster. It packs a 296-hp, 295-lb. ft. turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. This is a rear-drive model, using ZF’s 8HP45 8-speed automatic transmission.

There is no conventional H-pattern manual transmission available in the F-Type. This of course is an anathema to sports car traditionalists, but their numbers are dwindling to the point that carmakers are increasingly unable to make a rational business case for offering a DIY gearbox option.

Between the lighter engine, lighter transmission and the elimination of the all-wheel drive system, the F-Type P300 coupe weighs 3,351, which is almost exactly 500 lbs. lighter than the V8, AWD F-Type R. This mass reduction shifts the car’s weight balance to the rear wheels by a couple percentage points and contributes to the car’s ability to sprint to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds. Terminal velocity of this model is electronically limited to 155 mph.

It might take some getting used to for customers to think about spending more than $60,000 for a luxury sports car that has only four cylinders beneath its graceful hood, but hours spent slicing through the sinuous roads of Portugal’s Serra de Estrela mountains demonstrated this concern to be misplaced.

The four-cylinder not only delivers ample power, as illustrated by its excellent 0-60 acceleration, but it is accompanied by an entirely appropriate soundtrack. The inline cylinder arrangement seemingly delivers a more invigorating aural component to the drive than is the case with the horizontally opposed flat-four engine of the Porsche 718 Boxster and Cayman models.

Image source: Jaguar Land Rover

Image source: Jaguar Land Rover

As fun as the P300 is, the V8 F-Type R is an entirely different experience, with its astonishing rush of power and thundering American muscle car voice. The most surprising aspect of the V8 car is how it turns into curves with alacrity despite the extra weight over the front wheels and the understeer-inducing potential of the power coursing through the front tires.

Previously, Jaguar tried to avoid this by dialing in intentional oversteer, a trait that could be hair-raising in a car with the V8 F-Type’s power.  “The old V8 had a tendency to be a bit more scary,” noted Tanmay Dube, F-Type vehicle integration manager. “This is more progressive.”

The answer came, not from the front suspension, but the rear. Dube tapped his experience developing cars like the McLaren 720S before he joined Jaguar to identify weaknesses in the old car’s rear suspension.

They were solved with the selection of beefy die-cast aluminum rear hub carriers that feature enlarged wheel bearings and upgraded upper ball joints to increase camber stiffness by 37 percent and toe stiffness by 41 percent. The resultingly more precise control of the rear tires’ contact patches contributes to the new car’s more connected steering feel from the front tires’ contact patches.

On the F-Type R, the tires making that contact are 265/35ZR20 front and 305/30ZR20 rear Pirelli P Zeros that are 10 mm wider than the rubber on last year’s model. Power channeled to those tires is metered by the Intelligent Driveline Dynamics system that sends optimum torque to each wheel, as well as a rear electronic active differential that also helps maximize grip.

Despite all this wizardry and improvement, none of this is regarded by Dube as the area of biggest improvement for the 2021 F-Type. “The real standout factor is the recalibrated steering,” he insisted. “It has sharper on-center feel and more effort on turn-in. It took us months and months tuning the steering with (test driver) Mike Cross.”

Image source: Jaguar Land Rover

It wasn’t a matter of waiting for Cross to return from a drive to hear what needed changing for the next test. “The calibration guys rode along and tuned it live with Mike while he was driving,” Dube said.

How they rode along on Jaguar’s test track while making changes to the response of the car’s electric power steering while test driver Cross tore around the circuit without suffering debilitation motion sickness may be a future medical paper, but in the meanwhile, we’ll just appreciate the fruits of their labor, because the car really does deliver on the engineers’ promises of crisp, responsive steering response, strong feedback of the status of the tires and confidence-inspiring stability even while accelerating hard out of fast turns, when the previous car could lead to some white-knuckle experiences.

The V8 car, of course, boasts a lovely singing voice, so there is no surprise as with the P300 that it sounds good on the road. But the previous edition could be too raucous even for enthusiasts while driving and threatened neighborly relations with its excessive start-up roar that was unappreciated when it rattled windows in the dark morning hours.

Image source: Jaguar Land Rover

Jaguar has added a quiet start feature to quell that racket when drivers and their neighbors aren’t interested in hearing from each of the F-Type’s 575 horses individually. But almost as importantly, the switch from vacuum-actuated muffler bypass valves to electric ones, along with the installation of close-coupled particulate filters on all F-Types seems to have taken the edge off the car’s crackle on overrun. The motivation for the sound, which is intentionally cultivated with a touch of “over fueling” that is programmed into the fuel injection system on lift-throttle conditions, is laudable, as it reminds drivers that their V8 sports car is supposed to be fun.

But in practice, it could be police-baitingly excessive, to the point of possibly embarrassing drivers long graduated from their learner’s permits. Now, the F-Type, with its exhaust changes and stabilized handling characteristics is easier for drivers to love.

“It is more refined and mature,” concluded Dube. Which can be critical when "Image is everything!"

Dan Carney is a Design News senior editor, covering automotive technology, engineering and design, especially emerging electric vehicle and autonomous technologies.

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