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Jaguar has re-engineered its S-Type sedan for 2003, but the differences are hard to see visually, at least from the outside. Driving it, however, reveals a big improvement in responsiveness, ride quality, and vehicle dynamics. Revisions to the interior bring improved comfort and convenience.
An exciting new S-Type R now rides at the top of the model line with a powerful supercharged engine, a sports suspension, and big Brembo brakes. But it's not necessary to spring for the R model to benefit from the improvements: The standard S-Type 4.2 delivers thrilling performance in its own right along with all of the class expected of a Jaguar.
Though transmissions seldom generate excitement, a new six-speed automatic transforms the 2003 S-Type cars, making them extremely responsive and an absolute joy to drive, whether quietly motoring around town, covering great distances, or attacking backcountry roads. The new six-speed automatic is available throughout the entire S-Type line and is the same transmission used in the new BMW 7 Series.
Jaguar's S-Type rear-wheel-drive sedans compete with such mid-size luxury cars as the BMW 5 Series and the Mercedes-Benz E-Class. The S-Type's distinctive styling won't be confused with anything else, and you're less likely to see a Jaguar in your neighbor's driveway. Inside, they offer lovely interiors with comfortable seats swathed in leather. They ride very smoothly and are capable of making the driver feel better after getting out of the car than he or she felt before getting into it.
Dynamically, the new Jaguar doesn't have quite the edge of a BMW 5 Series, but the performance advantages of the BMW are mainly evident when using stopwatches at a racing circuit. What's easier to measure is the price differential, and here the Jaguar shines.
Jaguar's S-Type stands out among other sedans in the $45,000-$55,000 bracket, evoking memories of the original S-Type and Mark II sedans of the mid-1960s.
Few styling changes set the new 2003 S-Type range apart from last year's models, however. Most people won't notice the subtle detail changes: The 2003 model year brings a revised grille with the Jaguar leaper and an integrated growler emblem. Along the sides, a new chrome window surround has been added to enhance the profile. New exterior mirrors, new wheels, and new badges complete the changes. Lever-style door handles remain, which are aerodynamic but harder to grab than the kind you slide your fingers through.
From the front, there's no mistaking the S-Type as anything other than a Jag. Two large headlamps and two small headlamps flank an oval radiator grille. The vertically oriented oval grille is canted forward at the bottom to such an extent that its lower edge is right at the front of the bumper. From the rear, the S-Type has a nicely crouched stance, as though the cat is about to pounce, with trademark triangular-shaped taillights.
Sport models are distinguished from the rest of the range by color-keyed exterior trim around the grille, trunk lid and bumpers, along with special 17x7.5-inch alloy wheels.
S-Type R is distinguished by its mesh grille. Subtle but unmistakable, when you see it in your rearview mirror, you'll know it's an R. It comes with a rear spoiler, special wheels and a unique front air dam with extra ducting for cooling the supercharged engine.
Originally launched for model year 2000, the S-Type sits in the middle of Jaguar's sedans. It fits between the luxurious XJ range and the new X-Type sedan, about 6 inches shorter overall than the XJ but the same width. The S-Type is not small, however. It's a little bigger and heavier than the 2002 BMW 5 Series, but retails at a lower price.
All Jaguar S-Type models come with rich leather upholstery. Attractive birds-eye maple stained bronze trims 3.0 and 4.2 models, adding more warmth to a warm interior. Sport models and the S-Type R are trimmed in gray-stained birds-eye maple veneers. Beautiful light ivory leather seats and trim with tan leather uppers and handsome stitching graced one of the S-Type models we drove.
Three new seat styles are available for 2003. Comfort, sport, and R respectively offer increasingly aggressive bolstering for spirited driving. The driver's seat is narrower in R models.
Sumptuous leather is used on the surfaces of all seats and door panels. The steering wheel is made in a combination of matching wood and leather and feels good. 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.
S-Type is close in interior dimensions to the standard-wheelbase XJ models. Actually, there's a tad more room rear-seat legroom than in the standard XJ. There is a decent amount of space for rear-seat passengers. Rear legroom is on par with other similar sized cars and is actually better than in the standard wheelbase XJ sedan.
For 2003, Jaguar added more storage to the S-Type interior. 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 due to the curvy rear end. What's more, Jaguar engineers use swan-neck hinges that intrude in the cargo space; their advantage is that the trunk lid will conveniently pop up when opened. For greater trunk storage, the rear seats can be folded down in a 60/40 split.
The S-Type interior offers a unique character that separates it from its closest competitors. It starts with the dashboard that stretches across the width of the car rather than wrapping the driver in a cockpit-type environment. The lower center of the dash is arranged in a distinctive semi-circular panel; it is a bold design element that draws mixed reactions: Some love it, others don't. We love it. This panel, which is finished in a smooth glossy metallic-looking finish, contains the automatic climate controls, sound system and optional navigational system display. The buttons are big, easy to discern and easy to operate. The instrument pod contains just a fuel gauge and water temperature gauge besides the speedometer and tachometer. All told it is a pleasant design, but not as exotic as Jaguars of the past.
New for 2003 is an electronically controlled parking brake. It 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.
Though you can't tell by looking at it, Jaguar has transformed its S-Type sedans for 2003 with a new transmission, a new suspension, redesigned engines, and more sophisticated technology. Driving one of the S-Type cars is highly satisfying. It imparts a feeling of class and sophistication to passengers. It is beautiful to behold, and it offers a compelling alternative to Mercedes and BMW.
The importance of a good transmission can't be underestimated and the new S-Type comes with a great one, perhaps the best available. The six-speed automatic ZF is the same transmission used in the new BMW 7 Series (which starts at $67,850). This transmission is extremely responsive and silky smooth. It offers improved drivability around town, a benefit of the additional ratios. It delivers both better performance and improved fuel economy. It features a Sport mode, allowing the driver to shift manually. Select this mode and the transmission will not shift above the highest gear selected, though it will shift up and down below this gear according to conditions. The transmission has two overdrive ratios. Sport mode stays in fifth unless the driver maintains a steady state 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 it in 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. Jaguar revised the V6 with an improved variable induction system and continuously variable cam phasing. That means the engine can breathe better at different engine speeds for faster response around town. We have not driven an X-Type 3.0 since the V6 was revised nor have we tried it with the optional six-speed automatic, which should further improve responsiveness and performance. Acceleration performance and fuel economy are improved over the 2002 model. Also available for the 3.0 is a Getrag five-speed manual transmission. Like other S-Type models, the 3.0 comes standard with Dynamic Stability Control, traction control, and the new electronic parking brake. About 65 percent of S-Type buyers choose the 3.0 V6 model.
We also got about 300 miles in an S-Type with the 240-horsepower 3.0-liter V6 engine, which was just as impressive in its own way. The acceleration was so good that we came away believing a driver would have to be fairly power-hungry to need the 4.2. It was enormously smooth and civilized; for many years Jaguar was known for building silky inline six engines, and now it does the same with V6s.
But it was the ZF six-speed automatic transmission that seemed to make the engine more powerful. Torque is not an issue, because of the way the transmission kept the engine so magically in the muscle of the powerband. Passing on a two-lane, you floor it at 50 mph in fifth gear and in a heartbeat (no, quicker) you're directly in second gear at 5500 rpm, surging without lurching. Whether in the manual mode or in Drive, it does exactly the same thing. In manual, however, you have to upshift yourself to stay off the rev limiter.
The 300 horsepower of the 4.2-liter V8 engine might provide more visceral pleasure, and still quicker passing, but it can't offer more practicality or perfection. We might add that our 3.0-liter S-type did not have the Sport package with its firmer suspension, but we still found the cornering to be exceptional.
The 4.2-liter V8 engine delivers truly spirited performance. Jaguar has redesigned this engine, improving its low-rpm torque for quicker acceleration. Jaguar says this model will accelerate form 0 to 60 mph in 6.6 seconds, which is quite quick, though not quite as quick as the 2002 BMW 540i. Changes over last year's 4.0 engine include new cylinder heads, forged pistons, a new exhaust manifold, and many other changes to the
With its sensuous looks, Jaguar's 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 cars. We really like the 4.2 model. Not only is the Jaguar less expensive than its German competitors, it more than holds its own in terms of curb appeal and performance. With its increased performance, the $62,400 Jaguar S-Type R is an interesting alternative to the $69,900 BMW M5 and $71,350 Mercedes E55 AMG cars. Any performance difference between the Jaguar and the BMW and Mercedes is going to come down to the driver.
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