Jaguar is a dead brand walking. Analysts blame stagnant styling for its sales somnambulism. To rectify the aesthetic deficit, the man behind the universally beloved Aston Martin range penned the universally beliked Jaguar XK (that looks like an Aston Martin) and the upcoming XF (that looks like a Volvo). While Jag fans hope the recently released XF will revive the brand’s fortunes, the model it replaces soldiers on for another year. I got cozy with the doomed 2008 4.2 liter V8 S-Type to see what no one– or everyone– seems to be missing.
We know where XF designer Ian Callum stands on the S-Type’s shape: “Our history is precious. We must learn from it but not copy it.” Callum is right about Xeroxing Jag’s heritage, but wrong about the S-Type. While the S-Type’s sheetmetal certainly evokes the same-named sedan of 1963, it’s a true original– especially after it “had some work done” back in '05. That's when Jag eliminated unnecessary frippery (e.g. the prominent door sills), toned-down stylistic excess (e.g. the hideous taillight cluster) and tightened the panel gaps. The streamlined result displays all the feline athleticism Jag fans expect and admire.
The S-Type's details now entrance, rather than annoy. The swan song 3.0 and 4.2 models get the supercharged S-Type R’s mesh oval grill, a delightful olde worlde sporty touch reminiscent of a wooden tennis racket. Jag's also blessed the lame duck lower level models with the R’s deeper, more aggressive front bumper and air dam. Taken as a whole, the cab-rearward S-Type may not be your cup of tea, but neither is it your father's Jag.
The original S-Type’s cabin was a mess. Suffice it to say, it shared its radio head unit with the Ford Explorer. The current interior’s touch screen sat knavery and sumptuous materials make commoners feel like the Colonel of the Reds and Blues. Supple leather in muted tones covers the console, adorns the thrones and envelops the lower half of the steering wheel. There’s enough polished satin mahogany trim to build a fashionable end table. Chrome rings more chrome. There are private jets with less luxurious surrounds.
The S-Type 4.2’s engine has taken some stick for its stable yard. “A V8 that stumps-up 300 horses?” nay-sayers scoff. “You get more power from an Infiniti/Lexus/Cadillac V6.” Indeed you do, but that’s like saying a Powerbar is suitable nutritional replacement for dinner at a Michelin three-star restaurant. Yes, the S-Type 4.2 could be quicker. But few other V8s offer such linear power delivery, such creamy smoothness, such woofly sub-wooferage under WOT. And though the S-Type's mill is a few steeds short of Mercedes' E550, the Jag’s 6.2 second zero to 60 time is brisk enough to out-pace more plebeian transport.
The S-Type's six-speed ZF auto is the same transmission that sits in Maserati’s Quattroporte Automatica. Which means nothing really, but why complain? The shifts are brisk and timely. Handling? Sitting on standard 18’s, the S-Type is balanced, predictable and jolly good fun. Although the S-Type's tyres cry Uncle early in the proceedings, electronic-intervention is minimal. Cane the old girl and you’ll be surprised to discover she’s game for laugh. You’ll chortle “I’m going sideways in a bloody Jaguar!” And you’re not even English. More importantly…
Back in ’03, Jag’s chassis engineers realized they’d let the side down in the grace department, and set about reclaiming their brand’s dynamic heritage. At the front, unequal length wishbones now minimise track and camber changes, while the sedan's forged aluminium upper A-frame incorporates two fluid-block bushes and an integral ball joint for added refinement. The upper control arm axis is also inclined, providing improved anti-dive characteristics under heavy braking. Or so I'm told.
I’ll say this about that: the outgoing S-Type offers the finest ride in its class. Potholes, broken pavement and other egregious surface imperfections are dismissed with brand-faithful imperious ease. The S-Type’s magic carpet ride renders the car a perfect long distance executive commuter (save for its 121mph top end) and a suitable Town Car [sic] for ladies who lunch. The well judged variable ratio rack and pinion system handles either chore with equal aplomb.
The S-Type had a good innings; the model lasted two years longer than its eponymous forebearer. It’s easy to see why it failed, and then failed again. The S-Type wasn’t quite right out of the gate, and the subsequent sheetmetal and dynamic upgrades received no marketing support. The model also punched above its weight; priced at $56k, the S-Type lacked the horsepower, cachet and residual values needed to take on its highly evolved German competition. Priced lower…
The new XF will carry over much of the S-Type’s brilliant mechanicals underneath its insipid sheetmetal. Soon, you'll only be able to acquire one of these fine S-Type as a pre-owned model– which is the only sensible way to buy one anyway. In fact, it's a sterling chance to score a blood good bargain. Goodnight dear S-Type. I, for one, shall miss you.