John Rettie, Contributor
Although you'd be hard pressed to differentiate it externally from the 2002 model, the 2003 Jaguar S-Type R is substantially changed.
That's no problem, in fact, it's good. Style is what frequently differentiates a Jaguar from other luxury cars. People frequently swoon over the looks of Jags whether they are 5, 15, 25, 50 or 65 years old it doesn't seem to matter whether it's the age of the car or the person.
In the past, Jaguar's cars remained largely unchanged for long periods. That was fine as far as the exterior styling went, but the cars' interiors became dated all too easily and the mechanical aspects invariably left much to desire.
This situation has changed thanks in part to Ford's masterly care and feeding of the famous feline nameplate.
The S-Type was launched four years ago, and here's Jaguar already touting a heavily revised 2003 model. The designers sensibly didn't alter the exterior. The S-Type still has that nice crouched look to it with a relatively long hood, a short trunk and curves in all the right places. There's no mistaking it for anything but a Jaguar. OK, from the rear it might still have some Taurus design cues, but that's not necessarily bad.
Instead of messing with the sheetmetal, Jaguar has spent its money under the skin, improving the car's suspension, powertrain and interior.
Up front, the car gets an all-new suspension that includes several parts in aluminum to cut down on weight, as well as retuned springs, shocks, bushings and antiroll bars. The rear suspension design is the same as before but with refined tuning to help give the car an improved ride and more agile handling.
Jaguar says the new S-Type's body is 10 percent stiffer. This helps improve the ride and handling of the car as it provides a more rigid mounting point for suspension components. Despite the added rigidity, the car's overall curb weight is down by about 100 pounds due to use of aluminum and even magnesium in places such as the complicated fascia structure under the dashboard.
Inside, the car gets a revised dashboard with a much more luxurious look to it. Of course, there's still plenty of genuine wood trim and nice soft leather all round. The optional navigation system has a touch-sensitive screen that is actually intuitive to use (that is, you do not need to read a handbook in order to operate it). A new feature is an electronically operated parking brake: a small chrome lever located behind the transmission is pulled up to put the brake on. It is also activated automatically when the ignition is switched off, and it disengages automatically when the transmission is moved from "park" on a car with automatic transmission.
Another feature, picked up from Ford, is an electrically adjustable pedal set. The pedal position can also be programmed into memory along with the seat and mirror positions. This feature is optional on the V6 model and standard on V8 models.
One of the complaints about the old S-Type was the automatic transmission's propensity to shift abruptly while also being slow to react to driver input. This has been rectified with an all-new six-speed automatic transmission that is standard on V8-powered S-Types and optional on V6 models. The 3.0-liter V6 engine is unchanged, still producing 240 horsepower.
The displacement of the normally aspirated V8 engine increases to 4.2 liters (from 4.0 liters). This raises horsepower from 281 to an even 300.
The really exciting news is the S-Type R. It's powered by a supercharged version of the 4.2-liter V8 that pumps out 400 horsepower, one-third more than the normally aspirated engine. To cope with this substantial increase in power, the R model gets a sport-tuned suspension, huge Brembo brakes and 18-inch wheels. Appearance-wise, the only difference is a mesh front grille with a body-color surround and a rear spoiler. Although subtle, the minor changes are just enough to give the car a slightly aggressive look while still remaining refined in overall appearance.
We got to spend a few hours driving the new S-Type along a variety of highways. Needless to say, the highlight was the R. It provides gobs of power yet it is really smooth in operation. The new six-speed transmission responds promptly to messages from one's right foot, shifting down quickly and propelling the car forward seamlessly. Although the car is available only with the six-speed automatic, it's not a shortcoming, as there is more than enough power on tap. It's also still set up in the traditional J-gate fashion of all Jaguars.
Jaguar claims the S-Type R can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in about 5.3 seconds. We can't confirm this, but it's a figure that feels accurate. The steering is just right, giving enough feedback without being too heavy. The handling is adequate for a sport sedan, and the ride quality is not too stiff for those looking for a luxury ride, which is remarkable. The brakes feel really powerful, easily bringing the 3,700-pound car to a stop rapidly and without drama. Overall, the car may not deliver the ultimate performance and handling of the BMW M5, but it's a car that should prove to be a much more pleasant daily driver, even for true-blooded enthusiasts.
We also had an opportunity to try a regular V8 S-Type and were pleasantly surprised that it was not at all disappointing even after getting out of the R. It still moved along at a decent pace and, although its ride was somewhat softer, it still handled capably.
Unfortunately, Jaguar did not have a V6 S-Type with the manual transmission on hand. However, based on our experience driving the similar Lincoln LS V6 with a manual transmission, we can expect it to be a fun car with enough performance to satisfy many enthusiast owners who like to use a manual gearbox.
This new entry-level S-Type will retail for $42,495, almost $2,000 less than the least-expensive 2002 S-Type model. At the other end of the scale, the S-Type R will empty $62,400 out of your bank account. Either one will appeal to enthusiasts. For the rest, Jaguar hopes potential buyers will be attracted by the S-Type's mid-life upgrade, the price of the most commonly equipped V6 will be around $45,000 while the V8 version will start at $49,975.
Jaguar hopes to double its sales in the U.S. in 2002 to around 90,000 cars. Judging from the way the 2003 S-Type has improved and the range expanded at the low- and high-end, the company should have no trouble meeting its goal. The new S-Type goes on sale in May 2002.
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