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.
The S-Type sedan is certainly a better car now than when it was launched in 1999. Even then we praised its beautiful exterior and rich interior, and enthused over its sporty handling. Jaguar re-engineered the S-Type for 2003 and 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 slight to deliver even 300 horsepower in its naturally aspirated form and 400 horsepower with a supercharger. At the same time, both the base 3.0-liter V6 and the normally aspirated V8 achieved ULEV emissions status. A new Conti-Teves braking system promised more stopping power.
For 2007, Jaguar has focused on interior refinement. All S-Types now come with the same grade of leather, the premium grade. And there is no more Premium Package for the base model because all of the features it added are now standard.
Another more gradual but no less significant change: Jaguar's quality has been dramatically improved over the past few years and recent buyers report being very happy with their new S-Types.
Jaguar S-Type 3.0 ($48,335); S-Type 4.2 ($55,335); S-Type R ($63,335)
Ironically, or perhaps appropriately, the current S-Type has evolved almost as thoroughly in its nine 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.
The changes continued for 2006 when the chrome mesh grille previously seen only on the high-performance R-model became standard across the lineup.
The 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. 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. For 2007, Jaguar still scores 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.
The 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.
The S-Type comes with a great transmission, perhaps the best available. The six-speed automatic ZF is the same transmission used in the BMW 7 Series. This transmission is extremely responsive and silky smooth. With more 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 at 5500 rpm, surging without lurching. 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 is a Ford Duratec.
We found cornering to be exceptional in the S-Type 3.0. It felt a little squishy when driven hard on a winding road, but the car didn't lean a lot, and grip was very good. Add 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. Completely isolating the driver from the road has never been a Jaguar design objective.
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 without being too harsh. There is some road vibration on badly rippled roads, but it smoothes out on better surfaces. The 4.2 is 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. 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 love it, but we wonder whether it would become tiresome. Superchargers deliver better low-end torque and more linear response than 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. Power is very linear. Handling is superb. Steering is precise and linear
With its sensuous looks, the 2007 Jaguar S-Type makes a statement when it rolls onto the scene. It combines that 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.
NewCarTestDrive.com editor Mitch McCullough contributed to this report, reporting from Spain and Los Angeles.