As an automotive writer, I sometimes attend new car introductions sponsored by various vehicle manufacturers. This article is about the launching of the Jaguar 2003 S-Type.
Jaguar made sure our accommodations were more than adequate. We stayed at the Four Seasons Hotel in Washington D.C., the same hotel where the Prime Minister of Canada was also staying during his visit to our nation's capital. I noticed that Jaguar had the best parking spots directly in front of the hotel main entrance. The visiting Canadians, who were driving black domestic limos and an SUV, were relegated to curbside parking in the street! Talk about clout!
When a vehicle manufacturer hosts an event like this, they usually invite a diverse assortment of journalists and automotive writers, many of whom are columnists and freelancers for various newspapers, consumer magazines or radio shows. There are even a few technical types like myself who like to poke around under the hood and ask the engineers technical questions about parts and service.
The "new" S-Type is actually a refinement of the previous S-Type, which was introduced in 1999. No drastic changes in how the car basically looks, rides or feels, but a quantum leap in how this car performs.
The 2003 S-Type has three engine options, a revised 3.0L V6 with dual overhead cams, variable valve timing, 24 valves and rated at 240 horsepower, a new 4.2L V8 with dual overhead cams, variable valve timing, 32 valves that produces 300 horsepower, and an absolutely awesome supercharged version of the same 4.2L V8 that pumps out 400 horsepower and 408 ft. lbs. of torque. The supercharged V8 is only available in the new S-Type "R" model and adds a hefty $20,000 to the price tag.
Two new transmissions are also offered for the first time in the S-Type for 2003: a 5-speed manual for those who want a more sporty driving experience, and a 6-speed ZF-6HP26 silky smooth automatic with a "J-Gate" shifter (allows manual shifting-by-wire). My pick here is definitely the 6-speed automatic. It shifts so effortlessly that you can hardly detect the gear changes. This has to be the best automatic I've ever driven. The ratios are right on too, to deliver maximum performance with any of the engine options.
The suggested retail prices for the various S-Type models are as follows:
* 3.0L V6 with 5-speed manual -- $42,495
* 3.0L V6 with 6-speed automatic -- $43,875
* 4.2L V8 with 6-speed automatic -- $49,975
* 4.2L supercharged V8 "R" model -- $62,400
Underneath, the front and rear suspensions have also been upgraded for improved ride and handling response, and make extensive use of aluminum forgings to save weight. On the twisty backroads of rural Virginia, the S-Type feels as stable and predicable as it does on the expressway. The Computer Active Technology Suspension (CATS) constantly adjusts the valving of the struts to changing road conditions. The supercharged S-Type R model has a somewhat firmer suspension than the other models, which you can feel on rough pavement. But with the added performance provided by the supercharger, which responds instantly to the drivers input, the extra firmness is welcome and isn't objectionable.
WHAT I THINK
When we started our ride & drive evaluation, I hopped into a V8 S-Type but failed to notice if it was an R model. The only external difference is a sexier open mesh chrome grille, 5-spoke alloy wheels and a couple of subtle "R" badges on the bodywork. When we hit the open road, I punched the accelerator to see how this comfortable luxury sedan compares to other performance vehicles I've driven. It took right off and didn't hesitate a bit, all the way up to.... shall we say something well in excess of the posted legal speed limit (top speed is electronically limited to 155 mph on the R model). When we later stopped for gas, I was surprised that the model I was driving was the naturally aspirated V8, not the supercharged R model!
My chance to get behind the wheel of a supercharged R model came after lunch. The extra 100 horsepower provided by the blower transforms this car into a serious competitor against vehicles like the BMW M5 and Mercedes AMG (which cost $8,000 to $9,000 more). The unofficial zero to 60 mph time for the supercharged R is around 5.3 seconds -- which puts it within half a second of a Z06 Corvette.
What's really amazing about the S-Type is that it isn't a sports car but a true luxury sedan with all the trimmings. You can drive a car like this all day long (we did!) and feel none the worse for your effort. It's quiet, comfortable and absolutely predictable -- everything you'd expect from a luxury class sedan in this price range.
What about fuel economy? Who cares. If you can afford a car like this, you don't have to worry about the price at the pump. Actually, the cars I drove got around 25 to 27 mph on the highway -- and that's with a heavy throttle.
Inside are all the amenities including electronically adjustable pedals, steering wheel and seats complete with memory settings for different drivers. Also fun to play with was the large 7-inch LCD touch screen for the climate control, navigation, audio and communication system. The optional "JaguarVoice" speech recognition system even allows you to change the settings without having to touch any buttons or the LCD screen -- and in any of five languages including English, Spanish, German, French and Italian. The instrumentation is crisp and easy-to-read (though I never did figure out how to reset the odometer), and the trademark maple wood dash and leather everywhere never let you forget you're behind the wheel of a Jaguar.
MORE TECH STUFF
Like other auto makers, Jaguar has incorporated the latest air bag technology into the S-Type. The Adaptive Restraint Technology System (ARTS) uses 17 different sensors to control the deployment of the driver, passenger and side air bags during a collision. Sensors detect the front passenger's weight, the position of the driver relative to the steering wheel, whether the occupants are belted in, and the severity and direction of the impact.
For added strength and protection, lightweight magnesium castings are used as bulkheads behind the instrument panel and the rear seats. The body is 10% stiffer overall, and ultra high strength steel is used in the body sills and roof pillars for added strength.
The S-Type is equipped with a Teves Mark 25 ABS system that also has "Panic Brake Assist." The system senses driver pedal input to increase braking effort during a sudden panic stop. An "active" booster on the master brake cylinder is capable of applying brake pressure without driver input.
The Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) system also monitors vehicle oversteer and understeer to keep the vehicle stable when cornering or making sudden steering maneuvers. The DSC system uses a steering angle sensor, yaw rate sensor and all four wheel speed sensors to monitor vehicle dynamics under all driving conditions. If the system senses counterbraking is needed to keep the vehicle stable, it will apply individual wheel brakes to bring the vehicle back under control.
Another new feature is an electronic parking brake. A small switch on the center console activates a second pair of rear calipers to lock the rear brakes. When the transmission is placed in Drive, the brake automatically releases.
The S-Type also has twin piston, aluminum sliding calipers up front with large 11.8 inch diameter by 1.18 inch vented rotors, which are more than adequate to stop this car on a dime. The supercharged R models have larger 14.3 inch diameter rotors up front with four piston calipers designed by racing specialist Brembo for added stopping power.
SELLING LIKE HOT CAKES?
Jaguar hopes to sell a bunch of S-Types, and probably will as the company works to combine and grow its Jaguar, Land Rover and Aston martin dealer base. Jaguar currently has only 153 dealers in the U.S. versus over 300 dealers each for BMW and Mercedes, and 200 for Lexus. The new S-Type as well as the recently introduced all-wheel drive X-Type (which starts at an affordable $29,995) has helped boost Jaguar sales to record highs. Jaguar reported its sales for the first quarter of 2002 were up a whopping 93%! Better yet for Jaguar, nine out of ten customers were first time Jaguar buyers. Looks like the other luxury auto makers have their work cut out for them.
One other thing. I learned I've been pronouncing Jaguar wrong all these years. The British say "Jag-u-r" while I've always said "Jag-wire." Hey, I'll call it a winner in any language.
For more information, visit the Jaguar website at: www.Jaguar.com