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Car reviews - Jaguar - S-Type - V6 Sport

Our Opinion

We like
Competitive pricing, individual style
Room for improvement
Airbags optional only (except Levant), road noise

Jaguar logo30 Apr 2002

By STEVEN BUTCHER

THIRTY FIVE years between drinks is a long time for any car maker and for Jaguar to return to the sporting medium-sized luxury sedan arena required several large buckets of blue oval-stamped cash.

In return, Ford wanted to transform a similarly sized Lincoln product into a Jaguar. Amid gasps of horror, the saner heads at Jaguar adequately argued for a separation of product that went deep under the skin.

Allowing Lincoln to lick the Jaguar brand in the hope of some trade off glamour was not on Coventry's agenda, but the result seems to be a pair of outwardly different cars of distinction, aimed at a broadly similar market.

As for Australian buyers, we won't see the Lincoln in the metal, so the pairing is less relevant. The key issues are how much yank seeps through the Jaguar's hide and how much traditional Britishness remains.

Another vital feature in this important sub-$100,000 luxury sedan sector is how close the newcomer can run with the class masters, the BMW 528i and the Mercedes-Benz E280.

The S-Type does not at first glance provoke too much emotional response in the vast majority of dispassionate (that is, objective) observers.

To older eyes the elements of Jaguar and in particular the old S-Type have been carefully picked out, massaged and applied to the Lincoln LS program. The Lincoln shares its basic structure and engine block with the Jaguar.

Some of the Jaguar's design work is a little contrived, for instance the crease that draws your eyes downward as it runs past the rear doors, suggesting a sensuously declining tail, when in reality the boot line is rather robust (despite, incidentally, a disappointing luggage- swallowing ability).

At the front the quad lamp look is too close to Mercedes-Benz E-class cars for comfort, despite the previous 1960s S-Type using four circular lamps to good effect. The grille work on the new car is a good effort given the constraints of stifling legislation, especially in the US. The grille can withstand 8km/h knocks by yielding and popping back into place.

No badge crowns the grille, though on Australian cars one sits above it on the bonnet. In the US, the badge is replaced by a leaping Jaguar.

For all the visual massaging outside, the interior of the car struggles to recreate the Jaguar aura and ambience.

Roomier than the cramped confines of the XJ sedans it may be, but even the cosy BMW 5 Series seems larger and the S-Type pales in contrast to the rolling acres offered by Mercedes.

Jaguar may suggest the S-Type is a driver's chariot not a taxicab (the favoured profession of many German E-class drivers), yet a grown up family of five may require additional transportation, especially if they enjoy weekends away.

Of course the interior drips leather trim (mis-matched in hue on the early car we drove) and wood veneer, but there is an American flavour that lingers. It could be the hard-to-read green LED display for the audio and clock, or perhaps the rather slabby dash layout with contrived curves a la Taurus.

Either way the interior lacks that classic British gentleman's club feel inherent in traditional Jaguars. Comparisons with the old S-Type are not favourable, despite the advances in seating comfort and support as well as quite good noise vibration and harshness insulation.

The engine performs with relative gusto given its 179kW, a healthy lead on the 142kW twins from BMW and Benz. In manual guise acceleration is sprightly but blighted by a clumsy clutch action, so stalling can become an annoying and all-too frequent event during city driving.

The Jaguar does excel when given its head and a combination of twisting curves. The weight balance is close to perfect and the grip and poise of the chassis is admirable.

As speed rises its nimbleness becomes more apparent, and response from the steering means the car can be accurately pointed. Low levels of body roll mask exit speed out of corners, which can sometimes be surprising.

Whether the interior and exterior styling suits your mood is a subjective matter. What cannot be forgiven are the lash-up early models shown to the Australian press that did more to undermine any fledgling belief that Jaguar had at last got its quality act together.

BMW and Benz are not perfect all the time, but as direct competitors they make a sound case for swallowing your $100,000 luxury sedan budget.

Jaguar remains at this stage still the choice for the English car buff, long-suffering though he may be. It is a shame, since the underlying virtues of the car (its dynamic appeal and its heritage and brand power) should make for an easy entrant to many drivers' short lists.

- Automotive NetWorks 28/9/1999

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