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MOTORNET: The Comeback Cat

Only a few short years ago, the rarefied Jaguar brand was looking like it might not survive to see the new millennium. Thanks to a much needed cash injection from new owner Ford the day was saved. Luckily, the latest S-Type shows why it was such a good move…

Photographs in this report are by Neil Mackenzie – contactable at neilmack@paradise.net.nz

"Please be careful," said the friendly, if slightly nervous car salesman as he handed me the keys to a brand new Jaguar S Type 3.0 V6 Sport Saloon one glorious Saturday morning.

He visibly paled as I turned the key of the hundred grand plus motorcar and gunned the engine to life, carefully shadowing me as I steered it from the yard and into the 'dangerous' street. Perhaps I should have rethought the T-Shirt and shorts approach I thought as I helped photographer Neil load up the boot with his assorted bits and pieces.

"I'm not surprised he was nervous," laughed Neil as we headed off. "Your not exactly a stereotypical Jaguar driver now are you!"

And that got me thinking. What sorts of people do drive Jaguars these days? The cravat wearing, pipe smoking businessman type or would any upwardly mobile, BMW aspiring, professional now consider a Jag as a serious personal transport option? I hoped the drive would help reveal the answer...


I last properly drove a Jag - an XJ6 - a few years back. Although it was a post Ford-buyout model (meaning build quality was actually pretty good) and was a pleasant car to drive, it was relatively ponderous and felt a bit old fashioned. In total contrast, the S Type feels thoroughly modern.

The stunning 'Platinum' colour of the test car accentuates the Jags lines, making it appear more muscular and, in my humble opinion, better looking than the darker colours including the ubiquitous British Racing Green. It doesn't hurt that the 'sport' has a lower ride height than standard models and is shod with great looking low-profile 17-inch wheels either.

From the front, nobody could mistake this car as anything but a Jag. The distinctive headlights and trademark grille quickly give the game away to anyone with a passing eye on their rear-view mirror. From the back, it's not so clear. Critics have suggested the S-Type has more than a passing resemblance to a Ford Mondeo (with which it shares a platform) but I'm not so sure. At worst the rear is a bit bland, though the twin fist-sized exhausts clearly mean business.


The sumptuous interior is all Jaguar. Those worried that the Ford influence would be at the expense of Jaguar's traditional look and feel need not have worried. The combination wood/leather steering wheel is cool and pleasing to the touch, while the perforated sport leather upholstery is first rate. The switchgear is tactile and, with the odd exception, of good quality. But most importantly, it doesn't feel like it will break or fall off! In fact, unlike some Jags of the not too distant past, the S-Type feels extremely well screwed together while the doors shut consistently and with a reassuring thunk.

Not surprisingly, the car has everything the discerning purchaser might want and more. In addition to traction control, airbags for Africa, a great sound system, and a comprehensive security system, it comes equipped with CATS (Computer Active Technology Suspension) which firms up when driving hard to improve handling, and softens in normal driving for a better ride. Not to mention the reversing distance control (beeps when you get to close to something) and the electro chromic rear view mirror, whatever that is.

For six plus footers the interior might be a bit cramped, though there's plenty of rear legroom and the interior is, overall, extremely well packaged. Be warned though - if you like lots of storage compartments, you could be in for a shock. With the CD stacker taking most of the space in the glove box, there is barely room to stow a map and the odd cassette in the other meagre cabin storage spaces.

Curiously - for a Jaguar - our test car was equipped with a five speed manual transmission. Autos outsell manual Jags 10 to 1; so finding a third pedal to play with was a bit of a novelty frankly. While the manual wasn't as slick as say that of a BMW 3 series, it wasn't half bad. With a few more miles on the clock and bit more familiarity, it might have been quite fun. What wasn't fun was stalling nearly every time I took off from start. There isn't a great deal of feel from the initial accelerator travel, so if you ever needed an excuse to plant the boot, this cat provides it.

Fortunately, the lusty V6 with 179kw on tap and 300nm of torque is well and truly willing to rev. For such a heavy car (1704 kg) it gets up and boogies with surprising ease. We only had the car for a short period so performance testing of any description was out of the question, but even a few rolling starts convinced me that this car does not lack for straight out acceleration. Jaguar claims 0-100km/ph in 7.6 seconds and 7.1 seconds for the automatic V8 model - figures that are probably not wildly optimistic.

Most importantly, the S-Type's lowered ride and low profile tyres mean you can take advantage of the great motor and still get around corners without any nasty accidents. When put through its paces, the nose of the Jag simply pushes wide into gentle, easily corrected under steer. No doubt the CATS suspension has a big part to play in this equation, but with no direct comparison it is hard to judge quite to what extent. The same is probably equally true of the standard traction control. Either way, this cat offers performance and handling - which is more than can be said for some of its more recent predecessors. The only trade off in choosing the sport model is a slightly firmer ride and some increased tire noise - a trade-off I personally would be more than willing to make.

And for a car that is hardly new to the market, it certainly attracts its fair share of attention. Open stares and the odd gape were commonplace as we whizzed around town. At one point, while stopped to take photos, a car load of young ladies cruised up to ask us questions about the car. One even volunteered her services as a bonnet model! And I guess that answers our question pretty convincingly. If Jaguar is trying to attract a younger market with this car, they certainly seem to be on the right track. Now we can't conclude that any of these young women might potential purchasers, but the fact that they were interested at all is a pretty good endorsement and reinforces my initial assessment that this is a very good looking car. Of course, we can't be certain it was the Jaguar that they were truly interested in....


Inevitably, not long before returning the car, we began to make value comparisons with other vehicles. After all, $111,000 is not an insignificant amount of money to be spending on a motorcar regardless of what kind of dollars you make. Photographer Neil, who drives a big, late model Mitsubishi with all the bells and whistles, was unconvinced on the value front. "Is it really worth spending another $50,000+ on a car like this?" he asked. "I mean, what more does it really offer?"

At the time I couldn't really answer him. Did he perhaps have a point? Would this kind of purchase simply represent an obscene waste of money by some deluded individual with misguided motives? After some consideration, I decided 'no'. What the simple dollar equation fails to convey is the sense of occasion that comes with every drive of a Jaguar - a feeling that will always exist with this car, now and in years to come. And I can’t think of too many cars I can say that about. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if many proud S-Type owners out there think they might just have got the bargain of the millennium. Some things, it would seem, you just can't put a price on.

ENDS

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