– Interesting exterior styling
– Beautifully crafted interior
– Lots of customising options
– Fuel economy of larger engines
– Limited rear passenger room
– Trunk-mounted CD changer
For the better part of a century, Jaguar has been regarded as the epitome of “Britishness,” even more so than the limited-production Rolls Royce and Aston Martin nameplates. When asked what the name “Jaguar” stands for among automobiles, most will think of fast cars preloaded with a dose of passion. But it also became a poster-child for unreliability in its later years, until Ford came to the rescue and brought the brand back up to European standards. Now a part of Ford’s Premier Automotive Group, the current range shares componentry with various other vehicles under the Ford umbrella, while still maintaining a unique identity that hasn’t been diluted in the slightest.
The courteous folks over at Jaguar Middle East contacted us to try out their cars, and swiftly handed us the keys to a brand new Jaguar S-Type R without tying us up in bureaucracy. The S-Type has been a part of the Jaguar range for more than half a decade, surviving with only minor occasional facelifts, but in monochromatic “R” trim, it looks as classically elegant as the 1963 S-Type with which it shares styling cues.
Available engine choices include the 2.5-litre V6, the 3.0-litre V6, the 4.2-litre V8 and the 4.2-litre supercharged V8 monster, while trim choices include the SE, the Sport and the supercharged R. There are also countless 17-inch or 18-inch wheels to choose from, as well as multiple interior trim combinations and a new body kit option. There certainly is an abundance of choice, although the preferred transmission is a new 6-speed automatic with sport mode, but you could probably ask for a manual with the V6. And the diesel versions are not sold here. But considering the market segment, we doubt many would want a manual or a diesel.
The interior design is largely similar in all the S-Type trim levels, with minor differences in upholstery material and badging. Customers can choose to have different wood or aluminium dashboard inserts, while going for either monotone or two-tone seat colours, all in leather. Everything inside feels good to the touch and seems to be very well put together. We’d say it is built as well inside as any Audi, Benz or Bimmer. The seats can fit any size of person, and the R has more aggressively bolstered front seats. There is enough legroom for front passengers, but tall rear passengers might complain about kneeroom a little. Headroom is enough for most people, but anyone close to six-and-a-half feet tall might have find the roof headliner only an inch from the top of their head.
Everything in the car worked perfectly, except for a rear-seat retractable cupholder that wouldn’t pop out. Considering we had the same issue in a German-built Audi, we let that pass. Every button and switch was within arm’s reach, and the in-car computer was the most intuitive we have ever used. Everything from the radio to the navigation system was easily accessed and programmed via the straightforward touch screen, unlike the joystick-operated system in current BMWs. There are also redundant buttons on the centre console as well as the steering wheel for quicker access to certain features such as the excellent TV/DVD/CD/cassette stereo and the strong automatic a/c. Most of the luxury conveniences were present, such as electric seats, mirrors, windows, sunroof and all that, but the DVD/CD changer is inconveniently mounted in the trunk. All-round visibility is surprisingly excellent thanks to thinner-than-average rear pillars and decent-sized mirrors, and an audible rear sensor helps reverse parking.
There is something for everyone in terms of engine choice. The 2.5-litre V6 packs only 201 hp and 250 Nm of torque, which runs out of wind pulling the weight of this beefy sedan. Most people would be happy with the 3.0-litre V6 that has 240 hp and 300 Nm to motivate the car. The 4.2-litre V8, at 310 hp and 420 Nm, has more juice than anyone may ever need on the road, and can hit 100 kph from standstill in less than seven seconds. Our S-Type R, however, plays with the big boys from Germany, including the BMW M5 and the Mercedes Benz E55 AMG. Playing with 400 hp and 553 Nm, the 4.2-litre supercharged V8 is a beastly yet smooth operator.
With as much horsepower on tap as some recent Ferraris, you can imagine what the R can do. In a straight line, we managed to go from zero to 100 kph in just a tick over six seconds in Sport mode, with four people in the car. We even embarrassed a brand new BMW Z4 3.0 and a 1990 Porsche 911 in brief stoplight derbies. It can go faster still without the weight of passengers, with the sweet whine of the supercharger audible under full throttle. The gearbox shifts, which went unnoticed in standard mode, still tried its best to do its job as smoothly as possible in Sport mode, and largely succeeded. Alas, driving with a heavy foot results in seriously poor fuel economy, though we are sure soft driving will achieve much better mileage since the engine is only revving at 1500 rpm doing 100 kph on the highway!
Handling the rear-wheel-driven S-Type R can be a tricky business, as we found out. Excessive throttle input during cornering easily induces wheelspin, leading to oversteer. The stability control eventually cuts in, but not before making your heart stop for a second. Taking high-speed corners in this car requires precise right-foot control. Turn off the stability control, and you’ll be spinning in circles all day around the front wheels. Getting wider rear tyres would probably improve grip. Or else we’d recommend a smaller engine for the weak of heart. Mind you, once you become a pro at modulating your foot, it is possible to drive the R in a civilised manner within city limits. The brakes on the R are huge, and can quickly bring the car to a stop, with excellent pedal feel that we missed in pretty much all the top German brands.
Highway ride is surprisingly compliant for a sport-suspended car, yet there is almost no wallowing or body-roll that defines “comfort” cars like the Lexus LS430. The computer-controlled suspension–standard in the R–is probably responsible for the Jag’s two-faced character. Wind noise is largely non-existent even at illegal speeds. We took the car up to 200 kph on a deserted road, and it felt like we were doing 100. Nutty enthusiast drivers may complain about the lack of steering feel, but we appreciated the ease of parking the car with one hand.
There is no shortage of safety equipment to save your skin should you manage to do the inevitable. There are the usual bunch of front and side airbags, as well as whiplash-resistant seats for rear-end collision protection. The structure is also exceptionally stiff, as there was hardly a vibration when we slid the car sideways–manoeuvres that usually shake pieces off more budget-friendly cars.
The new generation of leaping cats certainly make a compelling case as a top-level luxury brand. We found little wrong with the S-Type, and a lot to like. The controversial yet charming design still turns heads and the customisation options are mind-numbingly extensive for a regular production car. The British nameplate is definitely putting in the right kind of effort to woo away buyers from the traditional Germans.