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Future Classic Friday: Jaguar S-type

Published 01 December 2017

When Ford bought Jaguar in 1990, the company was in a bad place. It had a model range that consisted of two models: the XJ40 and the XJS. The former was selling reasonably well but had a reputation for poor quality, while the latter was extremely long-in-the-tooth.

In order to help Jaguar compete in the luxury market, Ford needed the brand to diversify. Job number one was to sharpen up quality, which happened towards the end of XJ40 production, while the next job was to replace the XJ40 with the X300 - a car that may have been based on the XJ40, but was much better made. Then came the XJS replacement, the X100 - or XK8 as it was better known.

But to really be taken seriously, Jaguar needed to reposition itself to compete with the premium German marques, by offering smaller cars that would appear on the same fleet user-chooser lists as BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz.

Jaguar S-type (3)

The first of these would be the S-type, a car that recalled a name from the past and would go head-to-head with the Mercedes E-class and BMW 5-series. Work on the S-type began in 1994 and was expedited, with a view to it being in showrooms within the space of less than five years. In car development terms, that's quite a short time for a ground-up project.

In order to keep costs down and speed up its arrival, the S-type would share its platform with the new Lincoln LS, which Ford's US luxury brand was readying for launch at the same time, though there would be little in the way of styling overlap between the two cars. 

The S-type made its debut at the 1998 British Motor Show, at the same time as the equally retro Rover 75 - a move that drew instant comparisons between the two, even though the Jaguar was the bigger and more expensive of the two. 

While Jaguar was at pains to point out that the S-type was thoroughly modern, the company wasn't shy in using its original compact sports saloon, the Mk2, in promoting it. This wasn't, after all, new territory for Jaguar, and the round headlamps, oval grille and curved D-pillar gave more than a nod to Jaguars of the past. Besides, with such a rich heritage, there was no harm in exploiting it.

When it arrived in showrooms the following spring, the S-type was initially well received. It was complimented for its exceptional ride and handling, which many pundits didn't expect because of the American-influenced platform. It also came with a choice of punchy new V6 and established V8 powertrains, both of which delivered excellent performance and whisper-quiet high-speed refinement. 

Future Classic Jaguar S-type (2)

By far the biggest criticism was levelled at the car's interior - its overuse of light-coloured plastics, bland dash and weird-looking steering wheel weren't in keeping with what people had come to expect from Jaguar, and it took the company just two-and-a-half years to completely revise the fascia to replicate the look of the new, smaller X-type (whose cabin was allegedly quickly redesigned following the S-type's reception).

At the same time as the interior facelift, Jaguar revealed the supercharged S-type R, which had been rumoured to have been in development from launch. The 4.2-litre powerplant came with a Eaton supercharger and kicked out 400bhp, making it a real beast. 

In late 2004, the S-type received another facelift, this time with new rear lights and revised rear badging. The boot release was also moved away from the chrome trim, as a number of US buyers were mistaking the round button for an extra letter in the car's name and mispelling it 'Jag-o-uar'. True story - the author was told this by a Jaguar designer on the press launch. 

At the same time, the S-type was given a diesel engine for the first time, getting the PSA-Ford co-developed 2.7-litre V6; one of the first diesels to offer genuinely good refinement. Jaguar purists weren't happy, but it was soon jostling for position with the 3.0-litre V6 petrol in terms of being the brand's best seller. 

Jaguar S-type (2)

In many respects, time has been unkind to the S-type. While it was well received when new, it went out of fashion very quickly, its old-fashioned apperance and overt curvaceousness being seen as a pastiche of the fine Jaguars of old. It didn't help that the hosts of BBC's Top Gear described it as 'the weakest Jaguar ever' - a particularly harsh and unfair judgement, given the S-type's sales success, decent reliability and likeable driving characteristics.

At the moment, it's a car that remains relatively unfashionable. An anachronism among a sea of modern, lean, angular Jaguars that appeal to the mass market, but move further and further away from that traditional image. As a result, you can pick them up for pennies, with roadworthy examples available for under £500. Look out for sill rot, though, as the plastic covers can hide all manner of nasties.

But there is a huge financial gulf between the best and worst, though, and that's all the evidence you need that classic interest for the S-type is starting to pick up. Genuine enthusiasts are prepared to pay top money for the best, low mileage examples, with Jaguar specailists now actively seeking them. Buy a half-decent one now, before they get too expensive, and you'll get a luxurious, characterful sports saloon that's quite forwards in looking backwards.


   on 1 December 2017

Have a feeling that the S-type numbers are going significantly drop soon as serious rust problems are coming more widespread. I recently found this out as i bought a 2003 S-type sport 200 with 67k and full service history. upon removing trims found that the outer and part of the inner sill had rotted away. 5 weekends later it was rust free. They are deffinatey worth saving and spending a few grand on to put right. the S-type is a nice drive and has been quite reliable and can be serviced yourself quite easily.

jaguarR    on 3 December 2017

I ran a three litre petrol for more than 12 years. Fabulous car, quick, comfortable, and reasonable to service at one of the many independent specialists. High point was 'seeing off' a WRX on a Belgian motorway - it couldn't keep up. I sometimes wonder if I should have sold it. It was widely admired in stunning sea frost green (a light metallic colour).

   on 20 October 2018

I have a beautiful 2006 S Type.It has had a Type R body kit on it and it looks stunning.I have renewed the brakes including discs ,new Rad and hoses and Tyres.I intend to get the wheels refurbed soon and I have her serviced every year.I am in no doubt that this is a classic of the future.It is a real head turner and with the best car emblem the leaping Jaguar on the bonnet,it looks great.The power is superb.It is quiet,smooth and classy.Dont listen to these people that say they are old fashioned,they have obviously never driven a good example.My advise...........Get one.

Gus Wilson    on 21 October 2018

The S type jaguar is pure class.i must admit that the earlier models were not as nice looking,inside and out but after the facelift they became a classic of the future.Fast,quiet they have a presence of class.Its a shame that it came out around the time of the Rover 75 because it seems to have been linked with it and it is a much more refined car than a 75.It has been successful because without the s type we would not have the beautiful Jags we have today.

Clive D Goodwin III    on 28 April 2019

I have a 2003 S type, V8, purchased new in September, 2002. I currently have 64,000 miles on it and still love it. It has become a head turner, do to the retro, classic look, which is fast becoming a very likable asset, seemingly, with the public. Would not consider selling it!

Alastair Patterson    on 31 July 2019

I have a jaguar stype sport 200 limited edition 2003 3 litre petrol in racing green .Jaguar heritage have told me only 19 were made in that colour and .with that engine onthe limited edition. .I have problems with rear sticky brakes but overall a great car .It has been driven to Spain and back to Scotland and I had no problems. The trick is service it regularly and use genuine part .Get the paint work spayed with clear wax coat which all high end cars get to stay show room condition. Do change auto gear box oil and filler about 70000 miles this will help pre long the life of your auto transmission. Rear end dif oil should be changed if you do a high yearly milage .Overall treat the car like your pet and it will not let you down its a jaguar pure style and class.

   on 16 December 2021

I have a 07 s type 2.7 diesel with 15000 genuine miles yes you read that right its such a beautiful car to own and drive

   on 8 October 2022

I have a white 2006 S type V6 gas/petrol.
Bought it used with 181,000 kms on it with a full service history. Got it as a Valentine gift for wife to use as a daily car, and realized that the car is a jewel. So decided to keep the Jag as a weekend drive and quickly bought Infinity G35 for wife to abuse, instead :-)
S-types are very uncommon to spot on Canadian roads these days. The car definitely has a classic look and gets compliments all the time. And it drives awesome! The most stylish car I ever had.

Shyam Bagga    on 14 October 2022

Would like some advice on this 147000 miles Jag S type auto, full service history by a jaguar specialist until, by the look of it, its has d everything and anything completed on the car, no rust, all mechanically works fine. Just unsure of the miles so high, am i going to run into problems. It will be kept as a weekend cruiser, and mainly judmst here and there.

Many thanks.

Greg Moger    on 29 October 2022

Have owned my 2003 V8 4.2 SE since 2005 and she's been pretty reliable over her 66k miles. She now needs new sills and attention to the rear subframe to future proof her and I love the car so will get it sorted before the next mot. Bodywork above, mechanics, interior etc etc pristine. More of a heart than head decision but too good to scrap. Greg

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