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Motornet: S Is For Jag's New S-Type V8

S Is For Sporty, Sinister And... Jag's New S-Type V8

What do you get when you take a standard S-Type Jag, lower the ride, add flash new wheels and hit the delete button on the chrome? One stylish ride, that's what...

It is not hard to imagine classic Jaguars of old tearing up the twisty hills of Wellington, their drivers wearing scarves and speaking with clipped English accents. In actual fact, I doubt whether Jaguars were ever rallied through Wellington's townbelt, but it seemed an appropriate place to take the S-Type Sport V8.

In the not so distant past, you needed to be a romantic dreamer to purchase a Jaguar, let alone race one. Build quality problems, poor design, and reliability issues all conspired to nearly topple the brand. But Ford’s bailout in the early 90s was a turning point and only two years ago the S-Type was launched to both critical acclaim and sales success.

And now there is the Sport derivative, a car that clearly aches to be driven. You expect to get a bit of of attention when driving a new car that car costs as much as a reasonable piece of real estate, or $139,000 in V8 form to be precise. Visually, this car has a sinister, more muscular look than the standard S-Type. It's incredible, really, how a little facelift can change a personality. It's not especially evident from photos, but all those taking a second glance as the Sport flashed by them can testify to the significance of the makeover!

Still, I wasn't prepared for driving the latest Jaguar.

Jaguar drivers are unlikely to sit at lights revving their engine looking for someone to drag, but I could forgive them the lack of etiquette if they were unable to resist while driving this car. Slipping through the night on a truly unforgettable drive, I felt compelled to open the sunroof just to hear the engine. Its note is music to the ears of any purist - forget turbochargers, the sound of a naturally aspirated V8 is just glorious.

The insulation of the cabin is such that you feel the potent V8 below the bonnet rather than hear it. It is an amazing powerplant, truly the heart and soul of this car. The 32 valve, double overhead cam all alloy V8 develops 209 kW at 6100rpm and 378 Nm at 4300 rpm. I challenge anyone to drive the V8 and then consider the V6 - there is no going back.

Fortunately, the engine is mated to a chassis that is capable of the demands placed upon it. The car’s handling is a marvel, especially when compared to its non-sport stablemates. It's not that the standard S-Type is a bad handller, but it is a little soft. In contrast, the Sport hunkers down in any corner, sitting flat and low and responding to every request the driver makes of it. Frankly, I struggled – and failed - to keep the grin off my face. Keep in mind, too, that this car weighs nearly 1800kg, yet handles like something half that weight. A 0-100 km/h time of eight seconds (recorded by NZ Autocar) is pretty impressive and if anything, the car feels even faster.

Much of the brilliant handling can be attributed to the CATS (Computer Active Technology Suspension) which is standard kit. Basically, the system adapts the suspension to how the car is being driven within a microsecond - firm for fast driving, supple and bump absorbing for sedate. Meaning of course, that Sport buyers get the best of both of Jaguars' worlds. To read the Jaguar blurb which claims it provides the 'ultimate in ride and handling balance,' you might be sceptical. Believe me though, it's a claim they can verify.

Fortunately, the Ford-sourced steering found in lesser S-Types has been dumped, replaced by a ZF unit the XJ and XK series Cats have as standard. Also standard is a decent Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) system which counters oversteer and understeer by braking wheels where needed to prevent any nasty mishaps on the road - a system that proves useful in tight spots and not overly intrusive when not required. In saying that, doing quick turns on loose chip for another pass for photographer Neil, makes lighting up the system easy!

The lowered ride gives the car a purposeful stance that is lacking on the non-sport models, while the colour keyed bumpers and grill are more integral with the car than their chrome adorned counterparts. But it's the wheels that really set off the package. Stunning 18" Monaco alloys shod in low-profile Pirelli P-zero radials give the Cat the decent sized paws, or claws, it needs to compete with its Bavarian counterparts.

The interior gets a makeover, too. Most notably the new smoke maple on the dash and doors, which is much more in keeping with the car's sporty overtones than the traditional Jaguar burr walnut. The front seats are great too, sporty and secure, while comfortable at the same time. Headroom for anyone much over average height could be a problem though, a situation not helped by the sunroof which steals a few precious inches. The low-as-you-can-go electric sport seat saves the day, fortunately, and ensures that potential purchasers are unlikely to be put off.

Of course the Jaguar is not perfect. The aging J-gate automatic transmission is not as sophisticated as its German, and even Swedish counterparts, lacking a multitronic capability and a fifth gear. For all that, it is a gearbox that suits the car and can still be rewarding when changed manually.

The low profile tyres might be great for grip, but they do increase road noise. And some of the gadgetry could be a bit more reliable - the schizophrenic auto wipers are a case in point. Full on during light drizzle, barely moving in torrential rain. But the Parking Distance Control works well, and having recently backed into a tree while test driving another European car lacking this (with only very slight damage I might add!), it is a feature I would definitely appreciate as a Jaguar owner.

The Jaguar makes a very convincing case for a V8 sporting sedan. It may not be cheap, but compared to many of its German rivals, the price could almost be described as a bargain. Incredibly, it could even be a more convincing overall driver’s package than those very same competitors - certainly not something that could have been said even 12 months ago of a Jaguar sedan. If the new Jaguar X-Type - recently released in New Zealand - proves as good, the Germans better hope they have some exceptional products on the drawing board. It looks like they're going to need them.

Look out for Motornet's review of the new Jaguar X-Type V6 Sport in the new year!

Specifications

Price - Jaguar S-Type Sport V8 $139,000 (S-Type V6 $113,000)

Engine - longitudinal, 32 valve, dohc, all alloy V8, multipoint fuel injection, 209kW at 6100rpm, 378Nm at 4300

Weight - 1750kg

Performance - 0-100 km/h - 8.0 seconds (as recorded by New Zealand Autocar, June 2001)

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