The all-new, mid-sized Jaguar S-type arrives this month. Offered with a V6 or V8 engine and a standard 5-speed automatic tranmsission, the rear-wheel-drive S-Type blends Jaguar’s styling heritage with modern underpinnings including a fully independent suspension, and available anti-skid system.
Jaguar returns to its styling roots
If cars like the Jaguar S-Type, VW New Beetle, Plymouth Prowler and Ford Thunderbird prototype are any indication of the future of automobile design, then the future is THEN – not now. Major automobile manufacturers are returning to their styling roots to retrieve classic designs – or at least, classic styling elements – then incorporate them into otherwise modern automobiles.
Jaguar Cars is particularly suited to this retro revolution. Styling has always been one of Jaguar’s strongest suits, and many Jaguar models have become recognized classics – including the SS100, XK-120, C-Type, D-Type, E-Type, Mark 1 and 2, S-Type, and even the XJ6.
The new Jaguar S-Type sedan revives a name that belonged to a mid-size Jaguar sport sedan which was produced from 1963 to 1968. The 1963 S-Type was a handsome, upscale, five passenger sedan derived from the popular 1959 Mark 2 sedan. It was available with a 3.4 litre or 3.8 litre inline six cylinder engine, and had an independent rear suspension borrowed from the E-Type sports car. At the time, it was Jaguar’s fastest production sedan.
The new Jaguar S-Type borrows many of the original S-Type’s styling elements, including a centrally-positioned elliptical grille with vertical flutes, hood contours that merge gracefully with the headlights, larger outer headlamps and smaller inset driving lights, rounded rear side windows, and a downward-sloping character line on each side of the car.
Only the S-Type’s high tail bows to modern styling trends. Its sharply cut-off trunklid and large tailights contrast with the original S-Type’s sloping trunk and smaller tailights. Perhaps Jaguar’s stylists were cognizant of the ill-fated Infiniti J30 whose rounded rear contours proved unpopular. Sloping tails, like those of the original Mark 2 and S-Type, just aren’t popular with today’s buyers.
The new S-Type was designed at Jaguar’s Whitley Engineering Centre in Coventry, England and is built in Jaguar’s renovated facility at Castle Bromwich in Birmingham. As Jaguar is owned by Ford, the S-Type shares many mechanical components with the new Lincoln LS sedan. Jaguar representatives bristle at any suggestion that the U.S.-built LS is the same car with a different body. Not having driven the LS yet, I can’t comment.
The mid-size S-Type is in the same class as the BMW 528I and 540I, Mercedes-Benz E320 and E430, Lexus GS300 and GS400, Audi A6, and Lincoln LS. It’s 1651 mm (6.5 in.) shorter and 20 mm (0.8 in.) wider than the full-size Jaguar XJ8 sedan.
Base models have a Ford-derived 240 horsepower 3.0 litre V6 engine while S-Types offer Jaguar’s own 281 horsepower 4.0 litre V8 engine. A 5-speed automatic transmission with Normal/Sport modes is standard equipment. A manual transmission is not offered in North America, although one is available in Europe.
I test-drove both V6 and V8 models, and found both engines to be extremely smooth, quiet and free-revving. The S-Type with the V6 goes from 0 to 60 mph in 8.0 seconds while the V8 model takes just 6.6 seconds. The V8 is a jewel of an engine, but the V6 feels a little weak in the lower rev ranges. Highway cruising in both models is quiet and comfortable. At 100 km/h, the tachometer in the V6 model reads just 2000 rpm while in the V8 S-Type it reads 1900 rpm.
A superb 5-speed automatic transmission with Jaguar’s J-Gate allows the driver to move the shift lever from Drive over to a semi-manual operation, if desired. This is a great transmission and features driver-selectable Normal and Sport modes for more aggressive shift points.
On the highway, the ride is extremely comfortable, and there’s just a little wind noise coming from the front windshield pillars. Handling is surprisingly competent: I experienced minimal body lean through fast corners, and nimble handling through twisty sections. The S-Type’s front engine/rear-wheel-drive layout gives it an ideal 50/50 front/rear weight distribution, and a fully independent suspension (front short/long arm, rear double wishbone) provides grip and stability over uneven road surfaces. Outward visibility is generally good with some obstruction by the rear head restraints. Standard mechanical features include variable-effort rack-and-pinion steering, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, and traction control.
The S-Type is available with optional Dynamic Stability Control, an anti-skid system that helps the car retain control in slippery conditions. In addition, the S-Type can be equipped with a Sport Package which includes Pirelli P-Zero P235/50 ZR-17 tires, 7.5 inch 5-spoke alloy wheels, and a Computer Active Technology Suspension which automatically adjusts damper rates.
As you’d expect in a Jaguar, the S-Type has a luxuriously-finished interior, with plenty of lacquered wood trim on the dash, doors, centre console, steering wheel rim, and gearshift lever, and tasteful touches of chrome around the gear lever and on the door handles. The quality of the dashboard materials is top-notch. Interior features include power tilt and telescoping steering wheel, front seat heaters (but only one temperature setting), dual zone temperature control, CD changer, dual front airbags and side airbags that protect both the chest and head, and height-adjustable head restraints for all passengers except the middle rear passenger.
The S-Type has the world’s first voice-activated audio and climate control system. Without reading the owner’s manual, I found the system fairly easy to use. The driver presses a button on the steering wheel and gives an oral command such as, “Radio, On”, “Radio volume, Down”, “CD, Disc 4, Track 3”, “Temperature, 20 degrees”. A male voice then repeats the command, and the instruction is carried out without the driver having to take their hands off the steering wheel or their eyes off the road. Great!
Well, almost. Occasionally, my voice commands were ignored or mis-interpreted. Sometimes, the CD player would play the wrong track. On two occasions, I ‘asked’ the computer to set the climate control temperature at 71 degrees fahrenheit (it will respond to Celsius or Fahrenheit), but instead, the temperature jumped to 81 degrees, and the fan pumped out blasts of hot air. My verbal requests to re-set the temperature failed, so I used the manual method.
There was a fleeting moment when I expected to hear that disconnected male voice say, “I’m sorry Dave, I can’t do that…” or, “What are you doing, Dave?” But all in all, I think voice-activated systems are a great boon for safety and convenience, if you can afford the $1000 option price.
I had two complaints with the S-Type’s interior: it feels snug because the dashboard protrudes into the front passenger area, and the glovebox and center storage bin are rather small.
The S-Type is available with a Reverse Park Sensor which alerts the driver to unseen objects behind the car when backing up – a good safety feature. A GPS-based navigation system is available in the United States, but the system requires CD maps of each major city, and these are not yet available in Canada.
The Manufacturer’s suggested retail price for the S-Type V6 is $59,950 and the V8 $69,950. Adjusted for equipment, Jaguar says the S-Type is cheaper than its two main competitors, the BMW 5-Series and the Mercedes-Benz E-Class. Jaguar expects 50% to 60% of S-Types to be leased, and at the end of a two year lease, the residual value is expected to be 64%, a comparatively high figure for Jaguar due in part to their improved reliability record. In 1991, J.D. Power and Associates rated Jaguar #31 in Initial Quality and #25 in Customer Satisfaction. By 1998, Jaguar’s score had risen to #4 in Initial Quality and #4 in Customer Satisfaction.
Jaguar has high hopes for the new S-Type. While the world-wide market for large luxury cars has remained static at about 75,000 cars per year for the past four years, the market for mid-size luxury cars has increased from 60,000 cars in 1995 to 155,000 cars in 1998 and is expected to reach 170,000 cars in 1999.