2003 Jaguar S-TYPE Review

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TCC Team TCC Team
March 17, 2002

World Report: Front-Drive Jag X (3/17/2002)

 

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The Jaguar mythos has always been larger than life, even if some of its products didn’t quite live up to the loftiest of expectations. Consider what happened when Ford Motor Co. took over the British brand, a little more than a decade ago, desperately hoping to capitalize on that cachet to transform Jaguar from a modest niche player into a major luxury brand.

The S-type, introduced to much fanfare three years ago, was supposed to herald Jaguar’s entry into the big league of high-volume luxury marques. The midsize sedan certainly did yield a big boost in sales. But it also drew a sharp rebuke from skeptics who felt it’s Ford roots were showing like a bad bleach job. There were clearly some compromises forced by the sharing of platform and many key components, the instrument panel looking all too much like the Lincoln LS, rather than the work of Coventry’s heralded craftsmen.

Yet there’s been a positive side to Jaguar’s recent sales gains. Emboldened, the British company has set out to right such wrongs, and in surprisingly short order. The 2003 remake of the S-Type doesn’t get it all resolved, but the “saloon” car that will be hitting the streets in the coming weeks is a markedly truer Jaguar in both style and substance.

Tailing history

To get a sense of what the changes mean, TheCarConnection set off for several days of driving through the mountains and valleys of Spain’s Costa Brava.

2003 Jaguar S-TYPE

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The skeptics will still have something to gripe about. The S-Type’s all-too Ford-like tail sees little change for ’03, though on the other hand, the midsize sedan’s many fans will be pleased that the undeniably distinctive front end remains untouched, as well—with one notable difference. But more on that in a moment.

Visually, the most dramatic changes occur inside the passenger compartment. The instrument panel and center console of the original S-Type was a collection of square pegs in round holes, an amalgam of angular components that did not fit the sensuously sweeping lines that Jaguar’s design team had crafted. With this update, the look is unquestionably “Jaguar-esque,” strongly influenced by the flagship XJ sedan.

 

2003 Jaguar S-Type R

2003 Jaguar S-Type R

Enlarge Photo

There are numerous changes on the technical side, as well, and to experience them at their best, TCC turned to the all-new S-Type R. Aficionados are already familiar with Jaguar’s performance lineup, which includes the XJ-R, as well as the XKR coupe and convertible. That’s “R” as in rocket. And the visual cue, hinted at earlier, is the signature mesh grille.

With this newest addition to the lineup, Jaguar starts with an all-but completely redesigned version of the S-Type’s 4.2-liter, 32-valve, four-cam V-8. In normally aspirated trim, it generates a very respectable 300 horsepower. Bolt on the trademark “R” supercharger and you’re about to burn up some pavement with 400 ponies ready to ride.

Blue-sky driving

We only had to travel a few miles inland from the azure coastline before finding a maze of virtually empty roads. And it didn’t take very long to realize this cat has some very sharp claws. Coming upon slower traffic, we stomped on the accelerator and feel ourselves thrown firmly into the seat. The speedometer read 80 kmh (50 mph) as we pulled into the left lane. By the time we eased off the throttle, it was nudging 220 (almost 140 mph).

2003 Jaguar S-TYPE

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No wonder the S-Type has a sport seat package with extra padding and exceptional lateral support. You’ll need it. This is a car that you might call a confidence builder. You’re tempted to approach each corner just a wee bit faster as you learn how well its big tires keep you firmly planted.

Steering is precise and predictable. There’s only a hint of boost at high speed with plenty of road feel coming through, but without any jounce or vibration. And the new and larger sport steering wheel is a pleasure to keep a grip on.

The R features stiffer springs and bushings than the other S-Type models though Jaguar engineers made a conscious decision to keep the suspension a bit softer than what you’d expect from a comparable BMW. That might disappoint a few of the most die-hard performance fans, but the balance of ride comfort and handling is likely to deliver precisely what the vast majority of potential buyers will be seeking.

A similarly conscious decision was made in the set-up of the all-new six-speed automatic (itself a first for Jaguar). Shifts are smooth and nearly seamless with a subtle roll-off rather than a hard “bang.” Again, that might not satisfy everyone though chief engineer Phil Hodgkinson makes a valid point when asserting that, “for 99 percent of our customers, that’s exactly what they want.” There’s always the five-speed stick, anyway.

The reality is, this will almost certainly become a halo car for Jaguar, in many ways accomplishing what the S-Type was supposed to achieve in the first place. It is luxurious, attractive and with the debut of the 2003, much more Jaguar-esque in style, as well as performance. For those who questioned the first-generation S-Type’s pedigree, there’s no debating its heritage anymore.

2003 Jaguar S-Type R
Base Price: $62,400 including destination charges
Engine: 4.2-liter supercharged V-8, 400 hp
Transmission: Six-speed automatic, five-speed manual
Wheelbase: 114.5 in
Length: 192.0 in
Width: 81.1 in
Height: 56.0 in
Curb Weight: 4938 lb
EPA (city/hwy): N/A
Safety Features: front and side airbags, pre-tensioning seat belts, anti-lock brakes, traction control, stability control
Major Standard Features: Xenon HID headlamps with electronic headlamp leveling, 16-way electrically-adjustable front seats, dual zone automatic climate control, rain-sensing wipers, power adjustable pedals, moonroof, six-disc CD autochanger, heated front seats
Warranty: Four years/ 50,000 miles

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