One beautiful, quick cat.
by John Rettie and Mitch McCullough
Base Price (MSRP) $43,655
As Tested (MSRP) $52,050
Jaguar's S-Type is a sleek, thoroughly modern luxury car. But it has heritage. Jaguar resurrected an old nameplate from the mid-1960s for this car and took many styling cues from the original S-Type and Mark II.
It's a beautiful car, arguably the prettiest in this class. It's equally beautiful inside, finished in light-colored woods and fine leather. It rides well and gets strong power from the available V8 engine. Though it shares basic underpinnings with the highly rated Lincoln LS, careful tuning and fine engineering work make this car feel like a true Jaguar.
Two models are available: 3.0L ($43,655); 4.0L ($49,355).
Both come fully equipped with Connolly leather upholstery and all the other features associated with a premium luxury car. The only way to differentiate the two models is by the small badges on the rear trunk lid and by the number of spokes in the alloy wheels: the 3.0-liter model has eight spokes while the 4.0-liter has 10 spokes.
The 3.0L gets a 3.0-liter V6 under the hood producing 240 horsepower, along with a five-speed automatic transmission. Options include a Power/Memory Package ($2000), which includes memory system for driver's seat, steering column and outside mirrors, dual power lumbar supports seats, and power glass moonroof. No options are really necessary, however, as the 3.0L includes all the features one expects in a luxury car.
The 4.0L gets a 4.0-liter V8 producing 281 horsepower. It comes standard with the moonroof and memory system, a six-disc CD changer in the trunk, a premium radio/cassette, and an integrated garage door opener.
A Sport Package ($1100) comes 17-inch wheels and Jaguar's Computer Active Technology Suspension, or CATS. There's also a Weather Package ($1200) with dynamic stability control, heated front seats and rain-sensitive wipers. An optional Communications Package ($4300) includes voice activation for the radio and telephone along with a navigation system and a four-year subscription to Jaguar's emergency messaging system.
At the front, there's no mistaking the S-Type as anything other than a Jag. It has two large and two small headlamps flanking an oval radiator grille that sticks prominently forward such that its lower edge is right at the front of the bumper. From the rear, the S-Type has a nicely crouched stance -- as though the cat is about to pounce. It has trademark triangular-shaped taillights.
Jaguar introduced the S-Type as a new entry for 2000. It joins the XJ8 and XK8 as Jaguar's smaller car, though it will end up being the middle of the range in a few years when a baby Jag joins the brood. (Or should we say pride?) The S-Type is aimed at the BMW 5 Series. It is a little bigger and heavier than the 5 Series but sells for slightly less money.
Although the S-Type looks smaller, it is actually close in exterior and interior dimensions to the XJ8. It is about 6 inches shorter overall but the same width. Inside there is a tad more room in some areas, such as rear seat legroom, than there is in the regular XJ8. The S-Type is not really a small car by any stretch of the imagination, however.
Racy-looking 17-inch wheels come with the Sport Package that draw admiring glances and give the S-Type a more aggressive appearance. They're an interesting pewter color.
In the past, Jaguars always had a unique smell -- something to do with the Connolly leather no doubt. If you've enjoyed this aroma you'll be disappointed, as the S-Type doesn't smell different from any other new luxury car, in spite of its Connolly leather upholstery. Nonetheless, it does have a unique character inside that separates it from its closest competitors. It starts with the dashboard that stretches across the width of the car rather than wrapping the driver in a cockpit-type environment.
The lower center of the dash is arranged in a distinctive semi-circular panel; it is a bold design element that draws mixed reactions -- some love it, others don't. We love it. This panel, which is finished in a smooth glossy metallic-looking finish, contains the automatic climate controls, sound system and optional navigational system display. The buttons are big, easy to discern and easy to operate. One quibble is that it's difficult to plug cell phones or radar detectors into the cigar lighter receptacle located in the tiny ashtray. Also, we've seen bigger gloveboxes. The instrument pod contains just a fuel gauge and water temperature gauge besides the speedometer and tachometer. All told it is a pleasant design, but not as exotic as Jaguars of the past.
Jaguar interiors are known for their exquisite wood and leather and the S-Type delivers in this area. However, instead of using walnut, the veneers are crafted from birds-eye maple that produces a much smoother look. Unfortunately, Jaguar did such a good job with it that, in some ways, it looks less like real wood than plastic imitation wood. Rest assured, it's real. The beautiful light colors and details of the birds-eye maple create an elegant, inviting ambiance. Sumptuous Connolly leather is used on the surfaces of all seats and door panels. The steering wheel is made in a combination of matching wood and leather and feels good. A well-designed toggle on the left side of the steering column quickly, easily and precisely controls the power tilt and telescopic adjustments for the steering wheel.
The front seats are comfortable and supportive, with a nice firm seat bottom that minimizes fatigue on long trips. There is a decent amount of space for rear-seat passengers. Rear legroom is on par with other similar sized cars and is actually better than in the standard wheelbase XJ sedan. We've actually slept in the rear seat while running One Lap of America, a cross-country rally, but we don't recommend this.
Trunk space is only average due to the curvy rear end. What's more, Jaguar engineers have reverted to swan-neck hinges that intrude in the cargo space; their advantage is that the trunk lid will conveniently pop up when opened. For greater trunk storage, the rear seats can be folded down in a 60/40 split.
We had the opportunity to try out both 3.0 and a 4.0 S-Type Jaguars. The 3.0-liter V6 engine is smooth and delivers adequate power, but it doesn't really qualify the S-Type as a performance sedan.
The 4.0-liter V8 engine is another matter, offering spirited performance with enough low-end torque to deliver brisk acceleration. Jaguar says the car will accelerate form 0 to 60 mph in 6.6 seconds, which is quite quick, though not quite as quick as the BMW 540i.
The unique-to-Jaguar J-gate shifter has been retained in an all-new 5-speed automatic transmission. This lets the driver move the shift lever into a second gate where it can be shifted manually from gear to gear. It's not quite the same as a manual transmission, however, as it tends to upshift and downshift as it sees fit, regardless of what the driver wants it to do. And it's a long throw between gears, so it's possible to get lost for a moment between drive and reverse when trying to turn around in a hurry.
Driving the S-Type along twisty mountain roads is wonderful. The steering is very precise and provides good feel at speed. At the same time, the steering remains light to the touch at low speeds, making driving around town and in parking lots a bit easier.
Handling is firm without being too harsh. Jaguar's S-Type is not as stiff as the BMW 540i. It is the type of car that inspires confidence for those who enjoy driving without being a chore for those who do not.
The S-Type uses rear-wheel drive with a fully independent suspension. It shares its basic architecture with the Lincoln LS, but the two cars are completely different in character, a tribute to the engineers for both cars.
Jaguar's optional Computer Active Technology Suspension, or CATS, automatically adjusts shock absorber damping between soft and firm based on road conditions and vehicle dynamics; it's provides an optimum balance between ride quality and handling. We found that CATS does a great job of filtering out road vibration and rough surfaces without isolating the driver from the road. With it, the car feels unflappable in the corners without riding like a race-prepared sports sedan on city streets.
S-Type comes standard with a traction control system that operates at all speeds; it limits rear wheel spin by cutting power to the engine and applying the brakes. Another system, Dynamic Stability Control, or DSC, links the brakes, steering, and traction control system and analyzes information from on-board sensors to determine when the car is deviating from the driver's intended path. It then applies brake force to each individual wheel to readjust the car's course. This system helps the driver avoid losing control of the car, by preventing oversteer (skidding of the rear wheels).
With its sensuous looks, Jaguar's S-Type makes a statement when it rolls onto the scene. It is one of the prettiest cars on the road. It might not be the "ultimate driving machine," but driving it is a satisfying experience. Handling is superb and, with the V8, it offers excellent acceleration performance.
The new S-Type is indeed a Jaguar.
© New Car Test Drive, Inc.