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MOTORNET: Jaguar's 'Character Building' S-Type

Jaguar's 'Character Building' S-Type

SCOOP MOTORNET with Karl Ferguson
Images by Neil Mackenzie -

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It's a Saturday night, and town is heaving. Courtenay Place is alive with people and cars of all shapes and descriptions cause a bottleneck in Wellington's party central locale. The Carnival red Jaguar S-Type looks oddly at home amongst the neon and glare of the night, the lights reflecting brilliantly across its gleaming paintwork.

My first instincts for this Saturday were to head home after a fairly muted evening out but as the Jaguar's analogue clock swings towards midnight, I change my mind. The night is young and people all around me are enjoying the first taste of spring. It's a night I want to be a part of.

The Jaguar is hemmed in between a lowered Mazda 323 and a Holden Barina, seemingly too small for its five occupants. Around us drivers jostle for position in the crowded surrounds, some accelerating swiftly to close a small gap, others edging forward to within an inch of the bumper ahead to ensure maximum chance of making the next light.

The Jaguar S-Type is hardly new having first been released in 1999 but juxtaposed against black Nissan Skylines, Mitsubishi's, and the odd snub nosed Mercedes C Class, the Jag looks distinctive, even a bit special. From the outside, most punters would be hard pressed to know that this car underwent a major revamp in 2003 it looks so similar to the car it replaced, but it still attracts admiring glances, its sleek lines and four round headlights an oddity in this sea of mostly Japanese automotive expression.

Inevitably, as I slip through the collected traffic, I end up at the same place as everyone else, the dual drag strip that is Kent and Cambridge Terrace. Some time ago, the Police erected traffic barriers on cross streets in an attempt to curb weekend boy racers. It hasn't worked. Every modified car in the region gravitates here on a Saturday, eager to go head to head...

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I merely tickle the accelerator of the S-Type, mindful of the Police presence that even unseen cannot be far away. The Jaguar is not especially fast compared to some European sports sedans, but neither is it slow, dispatching the 0-100 km/h in around eight seconds. I decide that this is not the best place to put to the test the Jag's silky 3.0 litre V6, and begin to head for the city limits. After all, I am merely an onlooker in this particular scene, not a true participant.

As I head out of the city, the traffic and the boy racers start to thin out. The Lancer seems innocuous enough as it slips past me on the inside lane, but apparently not to the Police car discreetly tailing us from behind. The blue and red flashing lights recede in my rear view mirror as the Lancer dutifully pulls to the side. I congratulate myself on my earlier prudence as I gently increase the volume on the S-Type's sublime Alpine stereo and ease back into the tremendously comfortable leather seats.

Hitting the motorway, the S-Type comes into its own. While its sublime suspension does a great job of soaking up bumps around town, it feels most relaxed - yet agile - while on long flat stretches of bitumen. The new six-speed electronic auto transmission slurs gently from gear to gear under modest acceleration, but nail the accelerator and the motor responds enthusiastically in perfect unison with the transmission, the tachometer needle busily cutting up the dial as the Jag's 179 kilowatts of power do their work. Even so, the cabin of the Jag remains unruffled at all times, the sonorous growl of the V6 barely registering.

My route is unplanned but takes in all manner of roads as I drive a long slow loop back towards the city. On some entertaining B roads, the Jag has once again brought a smile to my face, its handling and general deftness belying its size and weight. In tight corners, the nose tucks in predictably enough, with near neutral handling the order of the day. The steering is direct and quick with good feel and the wood-leather wheel is easy on the eye and nice to the touch. It is a much improved car over its predecessor.

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The S-Type has plenty of competition in the closely fought mid-size luxury stakes with BMW, Mercedes and Audi all fielding extremely capable cars that in many instances could have the upper hand in terms of dynamics and newness. That said, this Jaguar - like all Jaguars I have driven - is an easy car to connect with, something that can't always be said of its German rivals. It also enjoys a comparative price advantage weighing in as it does at a whisker under $114k - which is still a lot of money any way you look at it.

Nearly 100km's have been added to the odometer as I again rejoin the motorway. It's virtually traffic free as I helm the Jaguar towards home and while I am not tired - the drive has been exhilarating - I am mindful that Sunday is marching on and sleep is inevitable. I doubt sleep was on the mind of the Subaru driver that accelerated past me on the inside lane, and even less so after the flash of the speed camera pierced the night 100 metres on. I couldn't help but reflect that it says a lot for the character of a car when you can happily drive it within the speed limit on a near deserted motorway at 1.30am in the morning. Fortunately for Jaguar, the S-Type has that in spades.

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***** ENDS *****

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