Currently reading: V8 vs flat-six: Jaguar F-Type R battles Porsche 911
Is the facelifted Jaguar F-Type spry enough (especially in amped-up R form) to compete with the fresh 992-generation 911 Carrera 4S?
Matt Saunders Autocar
News
11 mins read
4 April 2020

The Jaguar F-Type is back, with a fresh look and an assortment of new bells and whistles. They have, thankfully, resisted the urge to treat it to a new pair of beige slacks and a matching M&S cardigan, although that must have been tough. Alright, there’s a bit more to the update than the above would imply (a modest engine power hike, a new engine derivative, some new suspension componentry and some digital instruments) but perhaps not as much as you might imagine would be necessary to keep a current sports car up to date in what is now – wait for it – its eighth year in production.

Is it entirely fair, then, you may wonder, to pitch the ‘new’, range-topping R version of this car into a head-to-head contest with the only-a-year-old 992-generation Porsche 911? Knowing what we already do about the latter – it’s a group test winner already and was highly commended at Britain’s Best Driver’s Car shootout, don’t forget – is that a contest the plucky Brit can possibly win?

Well, it’s certainly a curious notional position for the fresh meat in one of these twin tests to occupy. Usually it’s the most recently launched car that comes in with all the advantages, yet the Jaguar holds nothing over the lighter, faster and fundamentally newer Porsche that might give it an on-paper head start here – save, perhaps, the peak outputs of its supercharged 5.0-litre V8 engine.

But here is the truth you’ll discover having driven these cars extensively and one after another: there are some things the new Jaguar F-Type R P575 AWD does every bit as well as a Porsche 911 Carrera 4S; there are a handful of things it does even better, actually. I must add for the sake of balance that there are also plenty of ways in which the German is quite plainly the Brummie’s superior. And yet what you’re about to read is a contest, trust me, not a pushover. The Jaguar, for all of the long-toothedness that the new styling and interior smartening seek to disguise, has its shout, and for some – maybe even for you – it will be the better car.

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Did someone say ‘shout’? My ears are still ringing, as it happens. The first thing I’m happy to confirm is that a range-topping Jaguar sports car with a Welsh-made supercharged V8 engine could out-shout just about any 911 road car it happened to be within a few hundred metres of.

There’s mention of a ‘quiet’ mode in the car’s press material, and naturally you assume – having heard the thing snarling through the middle of its rev range at full load like a band of bloodthirsty sousaphone players – it might be a misprint. In fact, it’s a convenience feature that Jaguar would seem to have appropriated from close rival Aston Martin: it allows you to start the car’s engine discreetly on an early weekday morning so as not to upset the neighbours. Or the neighbour’s neighbours. Or, for that matter, the night-shift staff at your local early-warning earthquake monitoring station.

In actuality, ‘quiet start mode’ is nothing more or less than the car’s normal running setting; if you want noisy, you simply select Dynamic mode or the active exhaust’s loud setting before turning over the engine (and then, presumably, you just move house). So it’s not even a new button in an otherwise pretty familiar cabin that, but for some new trim materials (nice matt black door handles, by the way, folks) and the new digital instruments and infotainment system, could perhaps have done with more of a material lift.

The Porsche would have been my bet to get its nose in front when these cars were compared as stationary, daily use ownership prospects, no question. But for every blow the 911 lands, the F-Type lands one right back.

You’re a little more squeezed into the Jaguar, it’s true, but the seat it offers to your backside is softer and more comfortable than the 911’s and barely any less adjustable or supportive. It also needs slightly less of a bend-and-stoop manoeuvre to slide into.

The Porsche offers more room for your extremities, along with those occasional back seats for your clobber, better visibility, a better driving position, significantly more sophisticated and usable on-board display and infotainment technology, and significantly better perceived quality. The neat look and substantial feel of its switchgear is a cut above and then some.

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But the Jaguar conjures a warmer and more inviting feel: its palette of decorative materials is wider and more imaginative, its ambience richer and a shade more luxurious. Sure, it doesn’t have back seats, but that sizeable boot is usefully bigger than any one storage space the 911 has.

And so if you had to pick one of these cars just to use as personal transport for an undefined period of time, without a thought given to how much fun you might have in the process, I’m not totally convinced the Porsche would be the automatic choice. It has been executed with typical German precision and attention to detail, so the sat-nav is easier to programme and more reliable and it’s easier to find the instrumentation mode that suits you best. By contrast, on one occasion when I pressed the button that I imagined would activate the voice recognition on the Jaguar’s navigation system, all it did was mute the radio. So much for the British technological avant-garde.

But it’s the Jaguar that does better for refinement and rolling comfort – and that means it would double up better as the grand touring part-timer. The Porsche’s ride is noisier than the Jaguar’s (on those optional mixed-sized RS Spyder Design 20/21in alloys and optional PASM lowered sports suspension, admittedly), and it lacks a little bit of the supple dexterity that typically characterises mid-range 911 variants. It reads just that little bit too much information from the road surface for ideal daily driven comfort, you’d say. The Jaguar, by contrast, can get feisty and reactive over an uneven surface, but it’s quieter and better isolated on most others. The Porsche, being a rear-engined 911, is also less naturally stable at high speeds than the Jaguar and more easily disturbed by camber and crosswind, both of which have a part to play in defining how wearing it might be to use.

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Not that a 911 is ever likely to wander quite as far off course – as some might say the narrative thread of this test already has. Hands up, you got me: not many people buy sports cars for their refinement levels or the rich luxury feel of their interiors. It’s just possible that I’ve been finding reasons, thus far, to award extra credit to a charismatic and likeable British alternative that – you’ve guessed it – can’t quite match even a pretty sub-optimally equipped 911 for driver appeal. That’s a shame and not exactly a shock, but if you don’t do these things properly, you never really know.

There’s just a bit too much of the F-Type R to allow it to hit the same dynamic heights as the Porsche or to impress its driver quite as clearly at both low speeds and high. It has too much power, too much weight and, at least for this tester, at times a shade too much mechanical grip, traction and lateral stiffness necessary to harness the aforementioned and to move it all around to be good for the car’s wider sporting appeal. It might have newly configured suspension and better rear axle location, but the F-Type R remains the burly, surly hotrod that you guide with plenty of concentration and a slightly wary hand.

By way of contrast, the 911 is at once more communicative and can be coaxed more precisely and instinctively than the F-Type. It’s easier to drive quickly and feels more special when driven slowly – although, it must be said, the enticing rumble of the Jaguar’s engine is pretty special also.

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And what an engine. If only it came with drivability the equal of its audible drama. Some Porsche flat sixes might be able to compete with a great V8 like the F-Type’s for audible character (and the one in the car in our little twin test below gets pretty close, by the way), but a modern twin-turbocharged one doesn’t. The Bridgend 5.0-litre is never better than when gargling majestically from 3500rpm to 5000rpm at full throttle, and then crackling after a lift as if the music has just stopped at a fireworks display.

But before you’ve learned to keep the Jaguar’s gearbox in manual mode in order to prevent it from needing to shuffle ratios before it can respond meaningfully to any lug of power, you’ll find it’s the Porsche’s combination of twin-turbo flat six and eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission that’s more likely to be in the right gear and ready to go, whenever you might need it to be. The Jaguar’s engine is a wonderful treat when at its very best, but it’s less consistently brilliant than that of the Porsche.

Precisely the same observation could be made about the respective chassis of these cars. The Jaguar gets into a lovely fluent stride when conditions suit it, when the bends are faster and smoother and there’s a bit of room to give the engine its head and feel the rear axle gently squirm with the workload. It begins to sit heavily on its dampers when the surface gets tougher, though, and particularly so in its Dynamic mode.

Meanwhile, the sense of slightly muted elasticity and tactile compliance evident in the steering, which doesn’t bother you so much when you’re arcing more gently around curves, increasingly becomes an obstacle when you’re continually turning this way and that.

The Porsche steers superbly; you feel as if you can adjust the car’s course by the millimetre and as if you know the instant the front sidewalls load up every time you turn the rim. It doesn’t do fast and fluent quite like the Jaguar but, instead, from both powertrain and chassis, it produces this super-responsive yet entirely progressive sense of poise. It’s fit for any road or track and would make you guess its weight advantage over its rival was greater than it really is.

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And it always involves. This may be a well-worn road test cliché, but while the Jaguar feels at times like it’s launching you into conflict with the surface underneath you and the physics acting upon it, the Porsche engages you in a fascinating, instructive conversation with both. Want to go faster? Here’s how, it seems to say. Fancy a different line and way around that bend of yours? Take your pick.

It must be a fearsomely disheartening task for any car maker to beat a driver’s car as dynamically versatile and accomplished as the current 911. For all of its little victories, the F-Type R fell some way short in the final reckoning. There was one car we had along for the ride that didn’t – not that Weissach need worry because, as it happened, it took a Porsche to beat a Porsche.

And Weissach wouldn’t for one moment worry anyway, of course, because as much as the F-Type feels like its race is pretty much run, we all know that the 992 is only just getting started. It’s Turbo soon and GT3 not so long after that, so they say. Yes very much please, would be my reply.

718 vs 911: should you go little or large?

Critics of the latest Porsche 911 claim that it has become too wide, too soft, too heavy and too complex to work quite as perfectly as the any-occasion sports car its best predecessors have been. At times, I’ve agreed with some of what I’ve read on that score – albeit only because I know how great some of those predecessors were. So, is the 911’s status as the defining Porsche driver’s car ripe for inheritance by the smaller 718, with its returning six-cylinder engines?

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I thought so. But then the Cayman GT4 we had at Best Driver’s Car 2019 failed to entertain at Anglesey Circuit nearly as well as the 992-generation 911 Carrera S. Matter settled, then? Not for me, I’m afraid. It’s still lingering like a bad smell.

Leaving track driving out of the equation, if only for the sake of argument, can a six-cylinder 718 Spyder beat a 911 Carrera 4S now for mixed on-road appeal? It’s a less weighty question than the one I had intended to answer, but right now I’d say the best 718 is the better driver’s car, defined strictly in those on-road terms.

There are all the obvious reasons: at the moment, you can’t buy a 911 with a manual gearbox and there is as yet no extraspecial, normally aspirated flat six that has been signed off for it by the GT division. The 718 Spyder is all the reminder you need of what the 911 is missing in both respects: its engine is fantastic (although it has curiously long gear ratios to wade through), it sounds incredible as it passes 5500rpm and it has a crispness and linearity to its delivery that turbochargers just can’t replicate.

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The 718’s ride and handling don’t quite match those of the 911 for complexity and character. Driving them back to back is a bit like comparing Heath Ledger’s Joker with that of Joaquin Phoenix: the 911, like Phoenix, simply has more going on. But it’s a close enough thing to give the smaller car the nod, albeit in an incomplete and unfair exercise. Right now it’s the 718 I’d have. Which, I’m afraid, settles precisely nothing.

Previously owned powerhouses for the price of a new 911 or F-Type

Ferrari FF: The FF made the notion of a four-seat, four-wheel-drive Ferrari acceptable and paved the way for the mightily impressive GTC4 Lusso. Wonderful 651bhp V12, 208mph and 0-60mph in 3.7sec mean it’s no slouch. Also has a hatchback and folding rear seats, so a must for Courchevel. Buy from around £100k.

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Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4: True, the LP560-4 will feel antiquated next to an ultra-modern 911, but the Gallardo just has that added sense of drama that the evergreen but continually updated Porsche simply can’t muster. Despite a new price of roughly £200k, you can now pick up this V10-powered Italian monster for just £90k.

Honda NSX: Soon even the supercar won’t be immune from electrification. The clever people at Honda know this, which is why the current NSX is a hybrid marvel with three electric motors assisting the twin-turbo 3.5-litre V6, giving an output of 573bhp. Expect to pay £90k for a 2017 example with minimal mileage.

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pauld101 10 April 2020

The Volkswagen?

It has no soul.

Sidney 7 April 2020

I'll take the Jag please..

I am sure the Porsche is an incredible car, they don't get their reputation for nothing. But I would take the Jag every time. Had the pleasure of driving the supercharged 6 last year and the sound was glorious. Completely and utterly glorious. The V8 has to sound phenomenal. And the drive was none too shabby either. Handling sharp, tires glued to the road, felt invincible behind the wheel. Granted, I am a bit of a Jaguar fanboy but the F-Type is a great car. 

Citytiger 5 April 2020

If we went to the land of the free

and asked them straight 6 or V8, we wouldnt be having to debate the article. 

eseaton 6 April 2020

Agree Citytiger. 

Agree Citytiger. 

The Ford GT is half the car it could have been with its little V6.  It even has 'Ecoboost' written on it - horrific.

In fact is should be call a GT20.