From what I can tell, the baby of the family leads a charmed life. I wouldn't know from first-hand experience, of course, since I'm the eldest of my particular brood. I have all the proof I need, however, in the guise of my own ten-year-old, who has managed to absorb more sass and wiles from her older sisters than both of those two exhibit on their own.
So it was apropos last month when the "Bug," as she's known, and I were tooling around in a 2001 version of Jaguar's comely S-Type. This is the famed "Baby Jag" which debuted with much fanfare as a 2000 model. Alongside her own older sisters, Jaguar's XJ sedans and XK coupes, the S-Type is a flirt and a tease. She's the one whose unusual styling pays cheeky homage to the great Jaguar performance "saloon" of the '60s—the 3.8 S-Type sedan with its famed straight-six. Not everyone cottons to the S-Type's flamboyant appearance, with its broad hips, pert fanny, and bounding, buxom sweep from hood to grille. Still, this car never fails to turn a bystander's head. What a showboat.
As the first all-new Jaguar of the 21st century, the S-Type incorporates some amazing technologies. Since it's no secret that Ford Motor Company is now Jaguar's parent, it should come as no surprise that under the hood of the S-Type I tested was a Ford-derived "Duratec" V-6. Fundamentally, this is the same 3.0-liter twin-cam motor that powers the Ford Taurus. (An optional 4.0-liter V-8, making 281 horsepower, is similar to one powering Lincoln's LS sport sedan.)
Jaguar's version of this V-6 incorporates certain exclusive refinements. Variable cam phasing and a new intake manifold are perhaps chiefly responsible for the S-Type's abundant output of 240 horsepower. It's the "drive-by-wire" electronic throttle, however, that welcomes this S-Type into the space age. Acceleration response is instantaneous, crisp, effortless—as befits a throttle system that replaces mechanical cables with mere pulses of electrons.
2001 Jaguar S-Type interior
The car's most spectacular feature, however, may be its voice-activated system for adjusting climate control, stereo, and, if selected as an option, the Motorola Timeport telephone. The system recognizes normal, conversational speech, and it is undeterred by the presence of different speakers in the car. A sonar-type reverse warning system for avoiding obstacles when parking is yet another gee-whiz feature.
Baby Jag is one smart cookie, and on evidence of her speech-recognition capabilities, it almost seems as if she knows it. In this regard, Jaguar's S-Type resembles my Bug. In nothing flat, Bug had deciphered Baby Jag's optional satellite navigation system ($2000). I asked her to beam us home by inputting our street address, and Bug managed to do so with no assistance from me.
It was only when we got underway—obeying Miss SatNav's voice instructions to the letter—that I marveled at how awkwardly the navigation screen has been integrated into the S-Type's dash. It is completely unreadable by a driver, due to glare and due to a screen angle better suited for the passenger. The passenger is prevented from serving as an effective navigator en route, however, because of an infuriating safety lock-out that prevents manipulating the SatNav system while the vehicle is moving. The intent is to prevent driver distraction, of course; but a view screen that's impossible for a driver to see is distracting enough already. So why not give a passenger—even a precocious 10-year-old—the opportunity to lend a helping hand?
While attempting to make sense of all the bells and whistles, sonar beeps and disembodied voices, I began to suspect I was in the presence of a smart aleck. No, not Bug—not this time, anyway. Baby Jag. Somehow this car had gotten me so preoccupied with her clever electronic flirtations that I was about to overlook the fundamental attributes on which her real charm depends. At each corner is a pliant, sophisticated double-wishbone independent suspension. Visible behind those gorgeous ten-spoke alloy wheels are monster ventilated disk brakes. Six-stage, speed-sensitive power steering provides precise, nimble cornering control that temperamentally suits the responsive V-6 underhood.
I learned to love to drive the Baby Jag. But I had to tune out all the wiseacre electronic gadgets before I began to appreciate the refined mechanical behavior of such a sophisticated sport-touring sedan. At nearly fifty grand (after adding the optional SatNav system and an elaborate package of power conveniences including automatic skid control), the S-Type is no bargain—even if it is the "entry-level" Jaguar. I couldn't help wonder how much more compelling the car might be if she ditched the know-it-all attitude and emphasized all that elegant, basic engineering that made her so much fun to toss around the twisties. Who knows? A less pretentious Baby Jag might even cost $10,000 to $12,000 less and thereby attract an even larger crowd of admirers.
Well, that's what I thought, at least. But I don't think Baby Jag appreciated it. When Bug and I arrived home after our energetic outing, I asked her to eject the cassette from the player in the dash. Baby Jag spat it out at us with a startling vehemence, sending the cassette hurtling all the way into the back seat.
Base price: $43,665; as tested, $49,450
Engine: 3.0-liter DOHC V-6, 240 hp
Transmission: Five-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Length x width x height: 191.3 x 71.6 x 55.7 in
Wheelbase: 114.5 in
Curb weight: 3816 lb
EPA City/Hwy: 18/25 mpg
Safety equipment: Front & side airbags, anti-lock brakes, traction control, reverse park control, optional stability control
Major standard equipment: Auto, dual-zone HVAC and AM/FM/cassette stereo, both voice-operable; front & rear fog lamps; six-stage speed-proportional steering; Connolly leather & bird's-eye maple interior; 10-spoke alloy wheels
Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles