by Jeff Mullins 09/11/12
Jaguar had a rich heritage of producing mid range executive and sports saloons throughout the 1960’s, culminating in the Mark II which bowed out of production upon the arrival of XJ6 in 1968, with no direct replacement. For many decades this left a void in the manufacturer’s line-up leaving less expensive versions of the XJ Series as the entry point into the range. While BMW emerged as a competitor through this period it had the sector all to itself and came out with the 5 Series in the early 70’s. Mercedes of course was also in the picture, providing its sturdy but somewhat staid Autobahn cruisers.
The 1990’s saw a shake-up of the Jaguar business following its acquisition by Ford in 1989. Antiquated production equipment at Browns Lane was thrown in the skip and much investment was pumped into the redevelopment of existing models consisting of the XJ40 and XJ-S coupe. Reliability and quality took a significant step forward and soon Jaguar was topping ownership satisfaction surveys in the US, where Lexus had caused a revolution in the luxury car business. 1994 saw a heavy facelift of the XJ40 which turned it into the X300, swapping the square styling featured on the original 1986 model for a retro look more in line with the series one, two and three XJ. The round headlamps and bulbous bonnet were key features of this new theme which came at the expense of blunted aerodynamic efficiency at the front end. The X300 was followed by the XK8 grand tourer in 1996, which replaced the by then twenty-one year old XJS. It built upon the significant improvements Ford had made to that car’s platform and structure, which was carried forward as a basis for the new replacement.
At the tail end of 1998, Jaguar showcased the all new S-type at the Birmingham Motor Show. Launched at the same time as the Rover 75, parallels were obviously drawn between the two cars due to their common emphasis on retro British styling. Many felt that the Rover was the better design and was less heavy handed in its execution, which they were probably right. Based on the US market Lincoln LS (DEW platform) and styled under the late Geoff Lawson, early S-types were thought to look quite untidy from some angles and had a rear end that drooped down too excessively for many. Inside, its interior felt like an American rental car’s and featured a centre console which was unflatteringly christened ‘the urinal’. The Rover 75 on the other hand had grace and elegance in spades, combined with the most opulent cabin of a car in that segment probably seen until this day.
The opening advertising campaign for the S-type featured Sting travelling in the back of the car to the tune ‘Desert Rose’; a chart song of 1999. Aside from the car’s retrospective styling, it was intended to be modern and contemporary, in keeping with the culture of present day. Under its bonnet were advanced engines consisting of the 3.0 litre V6 Duratec producing 240bhp as well as the 281bhp 4.0 litre AJV8. These engines would carry the car through to its significant under the skin makeover three years later.
2001 saw the arrival of a ‘Sport’ trim, with BBS split-rim alloys and a de-chromed exterior. In this year the car also lost its side mouldings in what was the beginning of a gradual nip-tuck of the exterior that would lead to a much improved facelift of 2004. In ’02 the car received a completely new X-type influenced interior with a more European feel. This internal redesign saw the deletion of the conventional handbrake and relocation to the dashboard. Underneath was a redesigned front subframe and numerous improvements which combined lead to driving characteristics that moved the S-type to the top of the class. Externally, a key identifier of this update is the bonnet badge now integrated within the grille rather than on top of it. A new range of engines brought the standard up further, with a brand new 2.5 litre V6 (201bhp) placed at the bottom entry level and an excellent M5 rivalling S-type ‘R’ becoming the new flagship. The bolting of a supercharger to the new 4.2 litre AJV8 gave birth to a serious performance saloon with 400bhp and a limited top speed of 155 mph. It is rather forgotten and overlooked today among people who are not Jaguar aficionados, which is good news for punters.
In 2004, the S-type received an Ian Callum styled update which addressed many of the criticisms people had of the original design. At the rear the tail lights were raised and the bootlid reprofiled in an effort to reduce the baggy look. Fresh bumpers were added, featuring less chintzy chrome and came together to present a much improved looking car with elegant proportions. This update coincided with the introduction of the 2.7 litre twin turbo (207bhp) ‘Lion’ V6 diesel engine; a first for the car and a revolution in refinement and general suitability for purpose in an executive car. Combined with a six speed ZF auto gearbox, it was more than good enough to take on the 530d of the time and won the S-type many plaudits rather late in its life.
In ’06, the S-type received one last minor revision consisting of a new front bumper and deletion of fog lamps across the range. This carried the car through until 2008, when the XF took over. This car took the engines and the chassis of the S-type, which had been honed to an excellent standard by that stage, and re-clothed them in a modern design which aimed to banish the golf club image the brand had gained in recent years. It proved a great success and remains at the top of the class today, with an XF ‘Sportbrake’ variant being launched as we speak.
Major flaws of the S-type centre on the rare 4.0 litre AJV8 variant of earlier models. Similar to BMW, this engine was subject to erosion of the ‘Nikasil’ bore linings due to low quality fuel or unsympathetic driving. Many units were replaced under warranty at huge cost to the manufacturer in their first couple of years on the road. In addition, timing chain tensioner failure is also an issue on these engines and is noticeable by a rattle on start-up, signifying either the primary or the secondary tensioners have failed.
An issue with the transmission on all models is due to the location of the cooler in the radiator. If there is any fracture, this can cause coolant to leak into the transmission oil and spell the end of its life.
The Jaguar S-type is a car that polarises opinion and is adored by the owners who it finds favour with. The high tax bands each and every version of it fall under affect values hugely and as a result you should pay no more than 15k for a last of the line low mileage diesel model. As a result, a very nice one owner ’06 3.0 litre V6 model is on offer at present from a private seller for 6k, with average miles and a great deal of spec.
Moving further down the years they are cheap like any big engine petrol car of that age and are a buyer’s market. Although bear in mind that early ‘99/00/01 cars will be very different to the last ones of ‘07/08 due to the extent of the changes the model received throughout its life time. Whatever S-type you buy, you are likely to obtain high running costs with a low purchase price that combined are likely to be lower than the average annual expenditure of Ireland’s typical motorist.