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The Honest John Road Test  

Jaguar S Type 2002 Range Road Test

Wed, 03 Jul 2002

Since I wrote the original road test, which follows, Jaguar has been hard at work improving its hugely successful S Type, and broadening the range.

Now you can buy a 201bhp 2.5 V6 as well as the 240bhp 3.0 litre. The 281bhp 4.0 litre V8 has grown to 300bhp and 4.2 litres. There’s an automatic parking brake. Automatic transmissions are now six-speed. And, to top off the range, there is Jaguar’s most powerful road car to date: the supercharged 400bhp S Type R.

I’ve driven them all, but first a re-cap of my original road test of April 2001:-

To anyone who ever drove a Jaguar Mk II 3.4 or 3.8, the new S Type V6 manual is its spiritual reincarnation.

For a start we get flowing retro Jaguar lines, which somehow manage to combine elements of the MkII, the first S Type and even the Mk X. You could argue that the styling isn’t 100% successful, but then neither was the styling of the original, and that somehow adds to its character.

This car simply oozes personality. The smooth 3.0 litre 240bhp Ford Duratec V6 thrums, whoops and bellows, yet remains smooth to quite high revs. It's also very powerful, with 20bhp more than Audi's new 3.0 litre V6, 19bhp more than Mercedes 3.2 litre V6 and 9bhp more than BMW's much vaunted 3.0 litre straight six. The five-speed manual gearbox has a heavy, ponderous, occasionally obstructive shift (something ‘Autocar’ magazine criticised it for). But what Moss boxed Mk II or original S Type didn’t? To my mind, this adds to the character of the car. The new ZF variable ratio power steering has a mechanical oilyness to it, yet allows enough feedback to make the driver feel attached to the car rather than detached from it. And you get that amazing Jaguar buzz of endless acceleration, just as I remember from my first ride in a 3.8 E-Type in 1965 when we went out to double the newly imposed 70mph speed limit.

You can, of course, simply go for the looks and opt for the Ford supplied automatic. If you want the most powerful S Type, the 281bhp 4.0 litre V8, you have no choice. But the autobox isn’t a very good one and is apt to change ratio when you least want it to while pressing on. And to my mind, the automatic ceases to be the characterful car which the looks of the S Type promise. The V8 doesn’t sound Jag-like either, so I’d plump for the V6 manual every time.

It’s a surprisingly big car. Bigger than a BMW 5-Series rather than 3-Series sized. (We’ll soon see the X Type Jag to compete with that.) The boot looks absolutely huge until you start loading it up when you find it’s a lot shallower than you first thought. However, it does have the advantage of fold-down rear seats, and a optional ski flap if required. The ride is smooth, even on the huge 18 inch alloy wheels and liquorice strip thin 245/40 Pirelli P Zeros of the Sport. Wind noise is pleasantly subdued. And the engine pulled our car to an indicated 146mph on a German Autobahn with commendable ease. The slight roughness of the engine at these high speeds was simply cured by switching to Superunleaded, but this isn’t necessary for normal day to day running. Fuel consumption worked out at 23.9mpg overall which wasn't bad for the speeds plus a lot of stop-start town work. Handling is fine, though definitely big-car-like rather than hot-hatch-nippy. And I have to admit I didn’t press this particular car to find its limits of adhesion.

With Volvo and Jaguar building its top of the range cars, Ford no longer needs a Granada or Scorpio. Volvos provide a feeling of immense strength together with old-fashioned, police-car-like front-drive handling on one hand. Jaguar successfully interprets its core values of smoothness, pace and rear-drive handling on the other. The four wheel drive X Type will soon complete the range. But the S Type is by no means eclipsed by it.

I’d also better mention Jaguar’s impressive scores in all recent Top Gear J.D. Power Customer Satisfaction Surveys. My own mail-bag reflects this. Hardly a single complaint about Jaguars, compared to significant numbers about Mercedes and a fair few about BMWs too.

If you want a real Jag, the S Type Sport V6 manual has to be the one to go for. It costs £30,600 on the road and the price includes leather seats, leather steering wheel, leather gear knob, climate control, floor mats, those huge 18" Monaco alloy wheels, P Zero tyres and front fog lights. You can get an S Type V6 manual from £27,000, but the Sport's extras make the car. Do, however, be careful to specify electric lumbar support for the driver's seat, as this is one very worthwhile accessory.

On the other hand, if you want superb, less traditional looks, coupled with fine, Mercedes S Class-beating handling, a decent Mercedes sourced autobox and truly immense performance, Jaguar can always fix you up with an XJR8.

That was the original test: Now for the additions:

‘Autocar’ had a high opinion of the new entry-level 2.5 V6 automatic and I can confirm it’s a very pleasant car. The automatic parking brake comes as a slight surprise (on the automatic, you do nothing; one the manual you switch it on and off by a console control that looks like the hood switch on an Audi cabrio). But it works far better than, for example, the Mercedes Benz arrangement.

With six ratios to help haul the car along, the new autobox makes the best of the engine’s 201bhp. But if you’re not happy with its decisions, you can always use Jaguar’s ‘J’ gate which allows you to stop the box changing up from 2nd, 3rd, 4th or 5th and has a natural, intuitive action of moving forward to go lower or backwards to go higher.

The bigger 240bhp 3.0V6 manual has been re-mapped a bit. So, while it’s now officially cleaner and more fuel efficient, it’s just a tiny bit slower off the mark. But it makes up for that with more settled handling than the original S Type. It now feels more like a modern E Class Mercedes than like it did before, which is saying a lot. And a really useful feature is electrically adjustable steering wheel and foot pedals so almost anyone can find the ideal driving position.

Next up, the 4.2V8 is sublime. Most drivers will simply burble along in fully automatic mode. But, if the mood takes you, you can hold the lower ratios and shoot up to 110 or so on almost any short, open straight. It’s an excellent long distance cruiser, too, with 70mph corresponding to exactly 2,000rpm in sixth. And it’s also better value for money than the old car was.

Finally, there’s the bonkers, screaming-mad, supercharged 400bhp Type R. Whether you use the ‘J’ gate or not, this will howl its way to sixty in just 5.3 seconds and on to around 175 if you can find a way to disconnect the limiter. But it’s far from leery or uncouth to drive. Even on the wettest July day in history with mud all over the country roads and the traction control switched off it was still easily manageable. I actually had to try quite hard to get the tail out and it came back again very obediently. Yet of all the new S Types, surprisingly enough, this was the nicest to drive slowly.

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