T
he moment comes during a sweeping right, heading into the long back straight of Monticello Motor Club. I come in hot, swing the body around the curve, miss the apex, look to the exit marker, think it means daylight, goose the pedal, and give the Jag too much power. The rear starts to swing out. And then it doesn’t. Automotive autocorrect. “The car was about to spin,” my instructor, Mark Wolocatiuk says, over the engine roar, “and then the AWD kicked in.” I nod, look at the open straight ahead, then down at the speedometer rising into the triple digits, then the braking point ahead. No time to think now. Just drive.

Minutes later, back in the pits, rising out of the low-slung cockpit, taking off the racing helmet, sipping water to quench a clenched throat, I have time to think. That turn, taken at my (not the car’s) upper limit, was fast. And an out-of-control spin, in a six-figure British racing machine, would be bad. Auto journalists sometimes take pride in their ability to crash cars. Not me. Crashing means complications in credibility, job, personal confidence and individual safety. And while the course at Monticello has enough room that the spin wouldn’t have meant disaster, losing control isn’t an activity I like exploring with this kind of price tag. Yet. As I saw daylight as I exited that turn, the adrenaline flowed, the confidence inflated and I hit the gas too hard. It was a rookie move, and potentially a costly one. But in the end it wasn’t. The AWD didn’t save my life, but it did save my ass.

Under the Hood

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Engine: Supercharged V8
Transmission: 8-speed QuickShift
Horsepower: 550
Torque: 502 lb-ft
0-60: 3.9 seconds
MSRP: $104,595

Jaguar’s F-Type has been lauded and praised, and deserves all of it. The car is sleek, powerful, loud, and handles with the precision and proficiency one would expect from a top-of-the-line performance automobile. It’s also luxurious, with a well-appointed, creature-comfort-filled, British-refined interior. The F-Type R Coupe and Convertible and the six-speed manual are formidable additions to the line; the only drawback, as Car and Driver pointed out, is that if you’re going for the top of the F-Type power line with the R, you have to go with AWD. All V8 R’s come standard with AWD. Not that that’s a bad thing, given the power of the car, but it might piss off a few purists.

AWD means that the F-Type is more confident and stable in all (even mildly reckless) conditions. The rear-wheel-drive is the dominant force in the car, and Jaguar’s not trying to kill the RWD driving experience. They’re just trying to enhance it. The car’s torque-on-demand system by default distributes 100 percent of torque to the rear, and then adjusts when the rear approaches a limit of grip. At that time, up to 50 percent of power can be transferred to the front wheels. In everyday driving, you won’t have much chance of reaching that slip limit, and you’ll go on enjoying the dynamism of a RWD drive in a 550 horsepower car without overbearing traction control. But in a pinch, that AWD will kick in and just may bail you out of a tricky situation.

But all this talk is of emergencies, track time, the upper limits. With a $104,595 base price tag, the F-Type R AWD needs to do all things well. It does. Its looks are aggressive, poised forward in an appropriate “pouncing” posture. The hood isn’t too long, and the car sits in a low crouch, the 20-inch wheels coming up nearly half the height of the body. Seated in the cockpit, you feel that connection to the ground; this car is low, and when you’re in, you’re in deep.

For those that pursue speed and power at their most disposable, the AWD allows the furthest limits to be tested.

Lowness means connectedness, and the F-Type R AWD’s positioning, paired with the stiffness of its steering and chassis and the punchiness of its eight-speed transmission, works toward the car’s need to go fast. The F-Type is the first Jag to receive electric-power-assisted steering (replacing hydraulic-assisted steering), which provides stiff, responsive steering and easily tuned driving modes. Both the Dynamic and Regular mode, though, are tight and responsive; I didn’t notice major differences between the two.

The big thrills come from the 550 horsepower engine that taps into 502 lb-ft of torque. The small thrills come from buttons, like the exhaust, which, when triggered, throws in extra crack and pop to the supercharged V8. The engine sound is a touch less throaty than a 911, but it’s fully resonant, and it’ll have you punching it through overpasses. On longer, more tame drives, there’s the opportunity to deactivate Dynamic mode and the exhaust, and drop off the sound and the car’s hairline responsiveness; as much as the car’s meant to be driven hard and fast, it’s a nice thing to turn the beast tame for a bit and just drive. And, if outside noise needs to be drowned out, the Meridian sound system is fully potent enough to fill the cabin with sound.

Jaguar’s F-Type is a serious contender in the world of small, fast, track-capable sports cars, and the new R advances the line by ensuring the most powerful engine of the bunch transfers its power to the pavement and stays grounded. That may discourage the ilk that like a loose back end, but for those that pursue speed and power at their most disposable, the AWD allows the furthest limits to be tested. It engages faster speeds and more aggressive driving. And, when things get a little wild, the car’s there to autocorrect and send you barreling on your way.