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Car reviews - Jaguar - S-Type - Sport sedan

Our Opinion

We like
Masculine looks, quality ride/handling trade-off
Room for improvement
Light steering, engine not strong enough for Sport tag

16 May 2001

IF at first you don't succeed, try again. That's the story when it comes to Jaguar's S-Type Sport, a model that has gone through something of a massaging process in its lifetime in Australia.

Launched as part of the mid-size luxury S-Type range, the original "V6 Sport" came standard with the ubiquitous 3.0-litre AJ-V6 engine, Getrag five-speed manual transmission, 17-inch alloy wheels and sports suspension including the computer-controlled CATS two-stage damping system.

It didn't work. People splashing out on a $100,000 large luxury car wanted an automatic gearbox standard, let alone available.

And that's what happened in May, 2001, when the revised S-Type Sport went on sale in Australia.

A five-speed auto became standard with the manual optional (and a tad cheaper), wheel size was bumped up to 18 inches, the exterior colour coded rather than chromed and CATS became an option, replaced by DSC (Dynamic Stability Control).

Inside, the interior choice became darker, including the upper facia moulding, the door top rolls, carpets and mats. The ubiquitous Jaguar wood veneers were done in grey stained bird's eye maple. Leather was also darker than usual and employed for both the bolstered sports seats and steering wheel.

The other big addition that came in across the S-Type range as an option at the same time as the Sport was voice activation, which allows voice control of the audio system, telephone and dual-zone climate control air-conditioning.

Other aspects of the car are familiar. The engine is the same 24-valve, double overhead camshaft, Ford-derived unit that produces 179kW at 6800rpm and 300Nm of torque at 4500rpm, with 80 per cent of the pulling power available between 1450 and 7000rpm.

The suspension is a firmed version of the aluminium double wishbone set-up seen on all S-Types, the steering a variable-ratio speed-sensitive design and the brakes are four-channel ABS-assisted discs all-round.

ABS is just the tip of the Sport's electro-trickery mountain, as we have already hinted at. There's switchable traction control as standard along with the DSC, which is a yaw control that links in with the ABS, traction control and the steering system to prevent rear wheel slides (oversteer).

The CATS (Computer Active Technology Suspension) option is a two-stage damping system designed to provide constant computer-measured adjustments, theoretically ensuring optimum ride and handling.

Transfer to reality and the sporting cat proves itself to be a nice compromise between relaxed tourer and hard-core sportster - just as a Jaguar should be, really.

The most impressive aspect is just how little intrusion comes from the wheel and tyre combination, and it's a pretty aggressive combination at that. Lovely 18 x 8.0-inch, seven-spoke BBS "Monaco" modular two-piece alloy wheels wrapped in Pirelli P-Zero 245/40 radials.

There certainly is more road noise than the standard set-up, but not as much as you expect, and the ride is a tad harsher, but again not as intrusive as expected.

There's a worthy trade-off here because the car sits flatter, corners with that little more authority and simply feels more tuned in than an SE V6. That massive amount of rubber also seems to help the brakes do an exemplary job on tar or dirt.

There's another bonus in the masculinity the wheels bring to what is overall a controversial styling effort.

Instead, it is the steering that is the dynamic letdown. Too light and lacking in feel for a car of this sporting intent.

An examination of the performance figures gives you a pretty firm indicator of the other area where the Sport does not really live up to its name - the engine. A 0-100km/h figure of 8.5 seconds and a top speed of just 226km/h is, well, underwhelming.

Compare that to the Jag's closest competitor, the BMW 530i Sport, which with 170kW and 300Nm gets to 100km/h in 7.4 seconds and has a top speed of 242km/h. How can it be so? Perhaps a 1620kg kerb weight versus the S-Type's 1720kg makes a difference here.

In feel and character the V6 cannot match BMW's silky-smooth, mellifluous inline six, but it is still smooth and relatively quiet, a bit of valve noise penetrating in the upper revs.

It mates well with the five-speed auto, although manual use of the gear lever is required to really get the car going. While it feels a bit sloppy in the change, the J-gate remains one of the simplest automatic shift gates going around - certainly a lot easier to learn than the staggered gates typically employed by Mercedes-Benz - despite its lack of a sequential manual shift function.

Inside, the familiar issues that have dogged S-Type since its launch remain. It is cramped, the luggage and storage space is poor, it's hard to see out the side and back and some aspects of the interior styling are not to everyone's tastes - like the green LED indicators in the vertical centre console.

And the half-moon shape of the console itself is not traditional Jaguar, although the Spitfire wing of wood above it does the job in that regard.

Yet there's also a cosiness and quality that cannot be denied. The sports seats do a good job of holding you in, the "plick-plock" of the indicators is so Jaguar and the switchgear has a firm yet yielding feel to it.

And what of the voice activation. It is easy enough and logical to use, and very handy when you are in situations where you are getting into the car, doing more than one thing at a time and able to tune the radio as well.

And most obviously it is the phone that it's the big help for. The only drama here is getting the system to recognise the numbers - Telstra Messagebank proved impossible, for instance.

Of course, voice activation is optional. Standard kit, in addition to what we have already mentioned, includes dual front airbags, six-CD autochanger, cruise control, eight-way adjustable power front seats and a dual trip computer.

Is the Sport badge stuck to the bonnet of this S-Type appropriate? Yes it is, because this is undoubtedly a sporty Jaguar. It's just that some of its direct opposition are simply sportier.

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