SEE ALSO: Jaguar Buyer's Guide
SPECIFICATIONS MODEL: Jaguar S-Type ENGINE: 4.0-liter DOHC V-8 HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 281 hp @ 6,100 rpm/ 287 lb-ft @ 4,300 rpm TRANSMISSION: Five-sped automatic WHEELBASE: 114.5 in. L X W X H: 191.3 x 71.6 x 55.7 in. LIST PRICE: $48,595 (base)
Approximately 30 years ago I bought my one and only Jaguar, a 3.4 sedan. This "bathtub-style" compact sedan was aging (it only cost $300), but it still had the panache that has served Jaguar so well for 45 years.
When I couldn't keep the transmission fixed I traded the 3.4 in on something else, but I always loved the car. Jaguar, meanwhile, moved on with the 3.8, Mark II versions of the 3.4 and 3.8, 4.2, 420, and eventually the XJ Series of sedans, seemingly abandoning the compact car class.
In 1999, though, Jaguar re-entered the compact class with the S-Type, a dead ringer from the front for the 3.4. The S-Type is a much better car than the 3.4 was, even when it was new. Powered by either a 3.0-liter DOHC V-6 or a 4.0-liter DOHC V-8, the S-Type has more power than the older cars, it puts that power to the road through a better five-speed automatic transmission, and the wood veneer and leather don't show signs of aging yet.
I had an opportunity to drive a restored 380 sedan a few years ago (a later variation of the 3.4), and remembered that the memory of my old car made it better than it was. True, I had a manual transmission and the 380 had an automatic with the shifter a simple lever on the dash, but it wasn't the same. Jim Spooner's car was gorgeous, though, and it, too, was probably better than it was when it was new.
Our tester had the 4.0-liter V-8, which is the same engine in the XK8 sports car and XJ8 sedans. With 281 horsepower available, this engine is smooth and powerful. In a car like the S-Type it moves you well through any situations, and has enough oomph to get you out of trouble if those situations get testy. I liked the gearbox, too, although the gating was sometimes annoying. This was especially evident at night, because the maze isn't lighted and you rub off the corners trying to find which direction the lever goes.
What has impressed me most about every S-Type I have driven is its smoothness. Acceleration isn't jerky, even when you mash your foot to the floor. Handling is Jaguar excellent, yet it isn't rock-hard like some sport sedans. The S-Type has a compliant suspension that will accommodate itself to anything the driver wants to do.
Seating is leather-upholstered, of course. The front buckets offer decent side support, while there is room for three adults in the back. I wouldn't want to be in the center of the seat on a long ride, though.
Some of the 3.4's styling was lost in the modernization. In order to create a larger trunk, the "pinched in" tail of the 3.4 was widened. The S-Type's trunk now will carry at least two golf bags or enough luggage for a decent trip. The smooth sides of the 3.4 also went the way of fluting and (probably) better door protection, but I preferred the simpler sides. Part of this is personal, part is because I've never really been a fan of sculpted door panels.
The S-Type also has a proximity sensor in the rear bumpers. As you approach an object behind you, the sensor emits a beep. The closer you get, the higher the frequency of the beep, until it becomes a solid tone. This is a definite safety advantage.
I wasn't disappointed in the S-Type. In fact, I loved it. I expected some letdown, since I had owned the original, but Jaguar has always been true to its heritage, and kept that fidelity in the creation of one of the more interesting cars on the highway today.