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Star Cars - JAGUAR S-TYPE R

 

Shed a tear for S-Type’s passing

 

I can’t say that I’ve ever seen myself and Jaguar as having shared hopes and aspirations.

I’m just an old motoring hack with about enough money to spare to afford a second-hand Ford Ka, or maybe an EF model Ford Falcon XR6 wagon.

Jaguar is a purveyor of cars well outside my reach and pretty well all in the six-figure bracket. Purveyor? Well when you’re writing about the luxury/sporting British marque, you even start talking posh.

But Jaguar and I both had high hopes for the retro-influenced S-Type sedan, a sinuously beautiful car that took styling cues from one of the best-looking saloon cars ever built, the Mark 2 Jaguar of the 1960s.

We were both to be disappointed. Though its looks still turn heads, the S-Type wasn’t the sales success Jaguar had hoped for, and it didn’t strike the chord I had expected it to when I first saw photographs of this stunningly-styled car.

And now the S-Type is dead, gone from the Jaguar line-up to be replaced by a much more contemporary and exotic-looking car, the XF; though I have yet to see an XF in the metal, its doesn’t do for me in photographs what the car it’s replacing did.

For me, the departure of the S-Type, even though I’d never be able to afford one is the saddest motoring story of 2007.

I’ve driven a few within the past two or so years, but the $149,000 Type R that came our way in February of 2007, was the best of them, and a highlight of a year in which we’ve driven many very nice cars.

For many people, the S-Type still has wow factor when they see one parked on the side of the road or purring past, especially the macho S-Type R with its mesh grille, no chrome and more purposeful stance.

More than one person actually stopped and watched it pass by as I drove around Auckland.

I took it to a family function and every bloke, no matter what age, had to check out the S-Type R, and have a look under the bonnet, though there’s little to see except an expanse of plastic shrouding.

The only one unimpressed was the master mechanic who remembered the groans that issued from his and his workmates’ lips any time a Coventry cat turned up at the workshop.

He peered at the hide-everything-away plastic shrouding and muttered: “it’ll still be a nightmare, everything will be hard to work on.”

So why couldn’t Jaguar sell S-Types in anywhere the numbers that all this attention suggests it should have?

Let’s face it. It does look downright gorgeous, evoking as it does the classic Mark II sports sedan of the 1960s, though brought up to date with a degree of brutishness the older car lacked.

Where the older car had an elegant menace – like that other 1960s thug in velvet gloves, James Bond – the S-Type R is more like a slightly-softened Charles Bronson on a revenge rampage.

And though most everybody seems to like looking at it, not enough people wanted to buy it.

The S-Type’s relative lack of sales success mystifies me, unless it has to do with Jaguar’s tarnished image as an outfit that builds unreliable cars – no longer an accurate as the marque’s good performance in JD Power owner satisfaction surveys shows.

The S-Type R is powered by a 4.2-litre supercharged V8 engine which will push the car to 100km/h in 5.6 seconds, and on to an electronically-limited top speed of 250km/h.

Maximum horsepower is 298kW at 6100rpm, and peak torque is an impressively meaty 553Nm at 3500rpm.

So there’s power aplenty, and vivid acceleration from standstill or for overtaking.

The Type R’s superbly-sorted chassis combines truly sporty handling with excellent ride quality.

The steering sometimes lacks a touch of feel, but the car turns-in to corners crisply and tracks true.

On the motorway and State Highway 1, it provides fast and unfussed travel, loping along in absolute refinement and impressive silence.

Turn on to a twisting country byway, and the cat within is unleashed, the Jaguar leaping from corner to corner in an effortless flow.

It’s a car that rewards a gentle touch, and is at its best being finessed through demanding going, using minimal steering inputs and to some extent letting the car find its own way.

The six-speed automatic gearbox is silkily-smooth, gliding between gears even when the car is being pushed hard.

Like all thoroughbred performance cars, the S-Type R is easy to drive at a constant speed. It will hold a steady 98/100km/h without too much driver input: it’s not the sort of car that will creep to 120km/h without your noticing it.

This is a car of enormous speed and accelerative potential but it’s no willful tearaway. If you want it to go faster you have to ask; and when you ask it responds enthusiastically and instantly, eager to please.

It offers a superb driving experience, whether threading through city streets or storming the open road.

I had gained the impression – maybe from the lithe and low look of the car – that rear seat room wasn’t all that flash. How wrong I was. When I clambered into the rear cabin to photograph the dashboard and steering wheel I was pleasantly surprised at how much room there was.

The leather upholstered seats are comfortable and provide real support during hard driving.

Front seat passengers were impressed by the feeling of stability and confidence that the chassis engendered even when the car was being driven very hard on twisting roads.

They said the car felt composed and rock-solid and they weren’t being thrown around even during vigorous cornering – the sign of superb chassis engineering.

Standard equipment is par for the course for a luxury car – leather, top-drawer sound and a good air-conditioning system among it – though the R replaces wood trim with modern, more technical ornamentation.

The S-Type R looked very good on my driveway – I had to step out on to the elevated back porch several times an evening to admire it.

Jaguar’s top-of-the-S-Type-range, $149,990 barnstormer is now a model of the past, and motoring is the poorer for that – the consolation is that it should become an instant classic, much sought after in years to come.

The S-Type R is one of the most satisfying cars I’ve ever driven, and its relative lack of market success remains one of the car world’s great mysteries.


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