JAGUAR S-TYPE FOR 2000
By TONY WHITNEY
Sir William Lyons would have loved the 2000 Jaguar S-Type.
After all, the autocratic founder of Jaguar was first and foremost, a stylist and oversaw development of some of the century's most beautiful automobiles. When he launched his Swallow Sidecar Company in 1922 it was to bring motorcyclists hankering after a ''chair'' something sleeker and more attractive than they'd ever dreamed of. He didn't spend all his time doodling on his drawing board though, maturing into a highly astute businessman who drove suppliers crazy with his picky attention to monetary detail. He was well aware that styling alone didn't sell automobiles and pioneered products blending remarkable value, innovative engineering and classic good looks. Jaguar's long-time slogan, and one that I remember from my boyhood, was 'Grace, Space and Pace.''
Jaguars have always been easy on the eye, but until Ford came on the scene, reliability and durability had begun to take a back seat. The blue oval saved Jaguar for sure and without the corporation's huge cash reserves and massive R&D backup, we certainly wouldn't have been celebrating an all-new Jag for the new millennium. By now, Jaguar would have been simply another dimly-remembered make over which to wax nostalgic at classic car meets.
It's been known for some years that Jaguar was working on a smaller car to compete with Mercedes, BMW and Audi in the mid-size luxury market and now, at last, it's arrived in the form of the 2000 S-Type. The new car sets Jaguar solidly in place as a near full-line luxury automaker - and there's more to come later in the form of a contender in the BMW 3-Series/Audi A4 market.
The medium-size luxury sedan market is one of the hottest sectors in the business and it's a smart move by Jaguar to get involved. Right now, it's dominated by cars like the BMW 5-Series, Mercedes-Benz E-Class and Audi A6. Jaguar built its new car on a platform shared with Lincoln, but we must consider this a Jag first and foremost.
The name obviously draws inspiration from the S-Type Mark II of the 1960s, which most Jaguar fans would agree was not a particularly successful piece of design. It had an ungainly stance and it's descendant looks a whole lot better. The earlier Mark II, one of which I owned, was more attractive by far and I like to think that this was the real motivation for the new car's looks.
I haven't spoken to anyone yet who doesn't think the new Jag looks absolutely stunning. The retro nose job, trad grille design and sweeping body curves capture all that's best in the history of the great Coventry automaker. It's a Jaguar from tip to toe and possibly the best-looking product from the storied automaker since the 1960s. Jaguar seems to have done everything right with this car.
The slippery shape contributes towards fuel economy too and wind noise is surprisingly low - even at quite high speeds. If I was to get picky, I'd say that this car looks best either head or side on. The rear end is luxurious enough, but doesn't shriek ''Jaguar'' in quite the same way as the rest of the car.
The interior is just about beyond criticism as an example of true Jaguar ambiance. Everything you'd expect is right there - the beautiful Connolly leather trim, the superb hand-crafted bird's eye maple and a full set of proper round instruments. But although there are lots of small stowage bins, none of them will take my standard (British made!) Filofax, I was disappointed to discover. Perhaps new-millennium Jag owners only use those tiny electronic organizers - I'll just have to make the switch.
If anything, it's roomier inside than its bigger brother, the XJ8 - there seems more hip and head room for sure. The bigger car is fine piece of work, but it's not a prime example of people-packaging, elegant though it is. The new car seems to have been designed with more practicality in mind, as indeed it should be as a ''clean sheet'' effort.
There are two engines available to S-Type buyers - a V-6 and a V-8. The three-litre V-6 produces an impressive 240 horsepower and is related to Ford's excellent Duratec engine series. The four-litre V-8 is the familiar silky unit used in other Jags and develops 281 horsepower.
The V-6 is a capable engine and will keep most owners happy, but for long, fast cross-country trips the V-8 would be my choice. Both engines are mated to a five-speed automatic with normal and sport modes. Other markets will get the choice of a manual gearbox for the V-6, but not North America, sad to say. Amazingly, the Lincoln LS will be available with a 5-speed manual in V-6 guise. Lincoln doesn't expect to sell many like this, but believes (as I do) that having a manual in the range cements the notion that the car is a serious ''sports sedan'' contender. I'm sure that if enough buyers demand a manual transmission, Jaguar will ultimately bring it in.
Driven hard, the V-8 model with sport handling package proved surprisingly good and far exceeded my expectations. Driving partner Jacques Duval and I gave the S-Type plenty of ''welly'' along the winding canyons of California's Angeles National Forest and it truly impressed us. Duval had the car well out of shape a couple of times, but it proved very forgiving and easy to get back under control. It's well up there with its BMW rival without a doubt. This is no boulevard sports sedan, although it's quite happy to be driven at city speeds all day long. In the safety department, the car has traction control, stability control and front and side air bags.
The sport package includes Jaguar's computer active technology suspension and 17-inch alloy wheels with grippy Pirelli P-Zero tires. This package isn't that expensive and it's well worth having. Other options include voice activated controls for the stereo and a navigation computer. Not surprisingly, even a basic S-Type comes with enough goodies to please the most discerning driver. This is a Jaguar, after all, and the options are just icing on the cake.
This year Jaguar plans to build 50,000 of these for sale worldwide and even more in 2000. People are going to love this new Jag - it's more stylish than its rivals and matches them in performance. What more could you, or the late Sir Bill, ask?
PERFORMANCE: Zero to 100 km/h in approx 6.8-secs (V-8)
Zero to 100 km/h in approx 8.2-secs (V-6)
PRICE: $59,950 (V-6), $69,950 (V-8) CDN