The 2008 model year will be the last for the Jaguar S-Type. Its replacement, the sharper-edged, more contemporary-looking XF, has arrived. So if the rounded, retro lines of the S-Type have oozed into your heart, this is your last chance to bring one home brand-new. You could buy another mid-size luxury sedan with similar performance, but you won't find another that looks anything like this. And that, really, is the point of any Jaguar: If you are charmed by its looks, then there is no alternative.
But even from a more objective point of view, we like the Jaguar S-Type. It's a comfortable car, it handles well, and it makes a statement when it pulls up to a five-star hotel. The base 3.0-liter V6 delivers responsive performance, thanks partly to the superb six-speed automatic transmission. Opt for the 4.2 model and you get thrilling performance from its powerful V8 engine. If that isn't enough, you can spring for the high-performance S-Type R, which boasts a supercharged engine, adaptive sports suspension, and bigger front brakes.
Jaguar is marking the S-Type's departure with some final styling changes. All 2008 S-Types will wear the more conspicuously racy three-scoop front bumper that formerly belonged exclusively to the super-performance S-Type R. Eighteen-inch wheels have also been made standard; and 19's are now optional on base V6 and V8 models, and standard on the R. Additionally, the final 750 S-Types produced will be specially equipped Satin Editions, with distinctive interior trim and exterior colors.
We'll miss the S-Type which, in its ten year life span improved in some way almost every year. Even when it was launched in 1999 we praised its beautiful exterior and rich interior, and enthused over its sporty handling. Jaguar re-engineered the S-Type for 2003, and again revamped its styling for 2005, when the wonderful ZF six-speed automatic transmission became standard across the range. Additional refinements arrived with the 2006 models: The premium-level 4.2 liter V8 was re-tuned just slightly to deliver a nicely even 300 and 400 horsepower in its naturally aspirated and supercharged forms, respectively. At the same time, both the base 3.0-liter V6 and the atmospheric V8 achieved ULEV emissions status. And a new Conti-Teves braking system promised even more stopping power. Last year, 2007, saw significant upgrades in standard equipment.
Jaguar S-Type 3.0 ($48,335); S-Type 4.2 ($55,835); S-Type R ($64,335)
At a glance, the 2008 S-Type still looks much the same as it did when it was introduced in 1999, as an intentionally retro tribute to some of the best-loved Jaguars of the past: specifically the 1956 compact saloon that became the wider-tracked, bigger-windowed Mark II in 1960 and, ultimately, the longer-tailed, all-independent-suspension S-Type of 1963.
Ironically, or perhaps appropriately, the current S-Type has evolved almost as thoroughly in its ten years on the market. Jaguar substantially re-styled the S-Type for 2005, giving it a sharper, cleaner, more assertive face, with a more sharply defined V-shaped bulge in its hood. At the same time, the S-type acquired a longer, leaner look down the side with better integrated door sills. Around back, its distinctive round tail lamps provided a more technical, jewel-like appearance and blended smoothly into the new curves of the tail. The wider rear trunk finisher was simplified, running the full width between the new rear lamps. Jaguar claims the subtly re-shaped trunk reduced both lift and drag.
A trend began in '06 when the chrome mesh grille previously seen only on the high-performance R-model became standard across the lineup. Now, for 2008, the R-model's more deeply sculpted front bumper has been applied to entire line as well. It features three sharply defined scoops in place of the single, wide-oval opening of the previous bumper. Base-level 3.0 and 4.2 models will, however, keep their bright bumper and grille trim, all of which turns body color on the R. Unless, of course, you order the Luxury Package, which decorates the R with base-level brightwork.
Both 3.0 and 4.2 upgrade to 18-inch wheels for 2008, but not the same 18-inch wheels. V6 S-Types get a 10-spoke pattern that Jaguar calls Triton, while base V8's get a five-spoke wheel called Vulcan. Optional on both, and standard on the R-model, is a new 19-inch wheel Jaguar calls Barcelona.
The S-Type's wipers feature an interesting washing system, with the washer jets incorporated into the wiper arms for better coverage. Lever-style door handles remain, which are aerodynamic but we find them harder to grab than the kind you slide your fingers through.
Body panels fit closely together. Overall, quality has improved dramatically in recent years. In 1989, Jaguar ranked at the bottom of the list in the J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study, one rung above Yugo. By 2003 Jaguar had risen to third from the top, just below Lexus and Cadillac. In 2007 Jaguar still finished in the top eight in an increasingly competitive race, where that rating represents a much higher standard of quality than it did a decade ago.
All Jaguar S-Types come with rich leather upholstery, with contrasting piping on most models. Sumptuous leather is used on the surfaces of all seats and door panels. Burl walnut wood veneer is standard as well, with new matt-finish Satin Mahogany now serving as the more performance-oriented motif for the supercharged R-model. And even there, walnut can be substituted as part of the Luxury Package.
The standard wood-and-leather steering wheel looks and feels good; and it harmonizes visually with the colors of the instrument panel behind it. A well-designed toggle on the left side of the steering column quickly, easily and precisely controls the power tilt and telescopic adjustments for the steering wheel. The front seats are comfortable and supportive, with a nice firm seat bottom that minimizes fatigue on long trips.
There is a decent amount of space for rear-seat passengers. Rear legroom is on par with other similar sized cars.
The instrument pod contains just a fuel gauge and water temperature gauge besides the speedometer and tachometer. All told it is a pleasant design. Climate controls and sound system buttons are big, easy to discern and easy to operate.
Two glove boxes are provided in addition to the center console storage. Sunglasses can be stashed in an overhead console case lined with soft rubber. Dual cupholders are provided, but are mounted far enough to the rear as to be a bit awkward to reach while driving.
Trunk space is only average at 14.1 cubic feet, due to the curvy rear end. Old-fashioned swan-neck hinges intrude into the cargo space, but their advantage is that the trunk lid will conveniently pop up when opened. The rear seats can be folded down in a 60/40 split for 28.6 cubic feet of cargo space.
The electronically controlled parking brake is designed to work intuitively and will automatically release in certain circumstances: Switch on the parking brake with the car in Drive at an intersection and it switches off when you accelerate, handy when stopping for traffic lights on steep hills.
Driving the Jaguar S-Type is satisfying, while the car imparts a feeling of class and sophistication to passengers.
The S-Type comes with a great transmission, perhaps the best available. The six-speed automatic ZF is extremely responsive and silky smooth. With so many gears to choose from, it offers excellent drivability around town. It delivers both good performance and decent fuel economy. A Sport mode allows the driver to shift manually. Select this mode and the transmission will not shift above the highest gear selected, though as needed it will shift down and back up below this gear. The transmission has two overdrive ratios. Sport mode stays in fifth unless the driver maintains a steady speed for 30 seconds. But most of the time we preferred to simply leave it in Drive and let it do its thing, as it does it so well. It's a smart transmission: lift off the throttle for a corner, and it senses the steering angle and holds the lower gear. It also holds a gear on hills, eliminating hunting between gears.
The 3.0-liter V6 engine is smooth and delivers plenty of power for most drivers. We found it offers good power for passing. Floor it at 50 mph in fifth gear and in a heartbeat the six-speed automatic smoothly downshifts to second, without lurching, and the engine surges to 5500 rpm. Jaguar says the S-Type 3.0 can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 7.5 seconds. The V6 was smooth and civilized when cruising, and noise from the engine was isolated. Under hard acceleration, however, the sound it made reminded us that it's a Ford Duratec.
Even in the base model, we found cornering to be exceptional. The 3.0 felt a little squishy when driven hard on a winding road, but cornering was relatively flat (the car didn't lean a lot), and grip was very good. Factor in the Dynamic Stability Control, and it's hard to get into trouble.
The S-Type rides smoothly and is nicely damped, even if it is tuned more for handling than a soft ride. Driving through the Texas hill country outside Austin, the car jiggled a bit from side to side on bumpy rural roads, a little more than we would have liked. And you can hear the hiss of the tires. When asked about this, a spokesman said Jaguar does not build Buicks.
The 4.2-liter V8 engine delivers truly spirited performance with strong low-rpm torque for quicker acceleration. Jaguar says the S-Type 4.2 can accelerate form 0 to 60 mph in 6.2 seconds, which is quite quick. The 4.2 feels relaxed and responsive around town and cruising on the highway, but delivers spirited performance when driving quickly on back roads. The 4.2 V8 generates 86 percent of its maximum torque at just 1500 rpm for greater flexibility around town. This is a very strong car by any measure.
The 4.2 offers a firm ride. There is some road vibration on badly rippled roads, but it smoothes out on better surfaces. The 4.2 is also quiet, with some wind noise at high speeds. It's stable at high speeds with precise, linear steering that makes the driver feel part of the car. Handling is firm without being too harsh. The S-Type is not as stiff as the BMW 5 Series. It is the type of car that inspires confidence for those who enjoy driving without being a chore for those who do not. It felt wonderful when driving hard on narrow, winding roads. In short, it's a wonderful automobile, very pleasant.
The S-Type R offers fantastic acceleration performance. Jaguar says it can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in just 5.3 seconds with a top speed electronically limited to 155 mph. We could clearly hear the whine from supercharger when hard on the gas. Hot rodders would love it, but we wonder whether it would become tiresome. Positive-displacement superchargers deliver better low-end torque and a more linear response than centrifugal superchargers or turbochargers, and the R model offers significantly more torque than the normally aspirated 4.2. It's very responsive at low speeds as well as when being driven hard.
It may be in its final year, but the sensuous-looking Jaguar S-Type still makes a statement when it rolls onto the scene. It combines that visual impact with a luxurious, crafted interior in understated British fashion. The S-Type cars are effortless to drive with a relaxed, refined ride. They offer cutting-edge technology that's relevant and free of gadgetry.
The S-Type is a compelling alternative to the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class. The Jaguar is less expensive and more than holds its own in curb appeal, performance and features. We really like the basic 3.0 and love the 4.2 with its powerful V8.