Car reviews - Jaguar - S-Type - V8 SE sedan
Competitive pricing, individual style
Room for improvement
Disappointing interior presentation, poor rear-seat space, small boot
12 Apr 2001
By TIM BRITTEN
IN an age where car-makers are desperate to stamp individuality on their products even when they may have been remarkably indistinct in the past, you would think continuity of the lineage would be an easy thing for somebody like Jaguar.
Few marques have been better known for having distinctive style. Numerous designers have been forthcoming about the influences Jaguar has had on some of their creations, one of the most recent being Mazda's blatantly derivative 929 of the early 1990s.
But underlying those graceful looks is the really important Jaguar stuff: Historical stuff that is the real essence of Jaguar - the stuff that has underpinned the marque's reputation for performance, for outstanding ride/handling, for a special breed of sinuous comfort that has always been distinctly different to that of other luxury/sporting cars.
Yet here we have a new Jaguar that, while recognising the past in terms of style and presentation relies almost exclusively on an American parts bin to provide the all-important dynamic support. Strip away the Jaguar lines and you will find a Ford.
Although the S-Type was designed and developed in the UK by Jaguar, the car's floorpan and some key underbody components are shared with the latest Lincoln LS model now on sale in the US. No body panels are common.
What is important to know here is whether or not this is a bad thing: If the chassis accurately reproduces those things a Jaguar should do, then possibly there's no problem.
So we have the case of the S-Type V8: Definitely a Jaguar to look at, if not quite a Jaguar inside, it appears to have all the right credentials.
The 4.0-litre engine is already part of the clan, a familiar sight in the big XJ sedans - where it also comes as 3.2-litre - and winding out a decent 209kW. More than turning the S-Type into a Bathurst challenger, this helps along a power- weight ratio battling against the substantial mass of the medium-size Jaguar the car weighs more than 1.7 tonnes in this case.
The Jag's mass belies its actual on-road bulk: It is a heavy car but not a big one, with interior space that can be described more as cosy than spacious, and a boot that suffers from a slightly drooping tail. Back-seat passengers have plenty of padded leather in which to luxuriate, but leg and shoulder room err on the adequate rather than generous side. A grown-up family of five may require additional transportation, especially if they enjoy weekends away.
A surprise aberration is that the Jaguar does have a very useful split-fold rear seat with an ultra-wide opening that allows unexpectedly large loads to be carried when the backrest is partly or fully opened.
The interior drips leather trim 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. And, weirdly, the sound system boasts just four speakers.
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.
But the Jag does have a real feeling of solidity and this helps the ride quality along, too, even if it does not have the magnificent, wide-track suppleness of the XJ series.
The weight means the S-Type does not feel all that perky on part-throttle applications, only delivering real push when the pedal is used aggressively. Then, there is an efficient, subdued whirring up front accompanied by a rapid gathering of pace. In the V8, this is controlled by a five-speed automatic transmission with a bespoke electronic controller looking after the dialogue between it and the engine.
The numbers show the S-Type is rapid enough - it takes just 7.1 seconds to accelerate from a standstill to 100km/h.
And it does excel when given its head and a combination of twisting curves. As in the V6, the weight balance is close to perfect - Jaguar says the car has a 50-50 front-rear distribution - 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. It sits comfortably among other European sporting saloons.
If you like the styling - and it is one of those cars that tends to grow on you the more you see it, which is a good sign - and hanker after a capable luxury saloon built neither in Germany nor Japan, then the S-Type is worth a close look.
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