The British International Motor Show at Birmingham in 1998 was particularly significant for Jaguar as it was the venue for the unveiling of the new S-TYPE, a car that would go on sale in March of 1999 and which the company hoped would see its sales double.
Introduced as ‘an all-new, more affordable, compact, luxury sports saloon’, the S-TYPE nevertheless drew heavily on the marque’s past styling successes, and on the engineering relationship with its then owner, Ford. So, while press shots showed the new S-TYPE alongside its 1960s predecessor, Jaguar also didn’t shy away from the facts that the car’s platform was shared with the Lincoln LS, and its entry level 3.0-litre AJ-V6 engine used a cylinder block derived from a Ford unit (unlike the AJ-V8, also available in the S-TYPE, which was an all Jaguar design). Inevitably, some quarters of the press seized upon the retro and Ford influences as reason for criticism, but those who chose to look beyond these easy targets saw a car that had plenty of Jaguar DNA, and that deserved to do well. And, despite some initial failings, the S-TYPE was a success.
At launch the model line-up was as simple as could be, 3.0-litre ‘base’ and SE models (five-speed manual and five-speed auto respectively), plus a 4.0-litre AJ-V8 engined model (five-speed auto only) with a spec of its own. Though termed by Jaguar a ‘compact’ saloon, the S-TYPE still offered good interior space – its wheelbase was actually 39mm longer than that of the standard X308 XJ – a reasonably sized boot, and sprightly performance; the slowest model, the five-speed auto 3.0-litre, covered the 0-60mph sprint in 8.0-seconds and went on to reach 141mph, the same figures for the 4.0-litre car being 6.6 seconds and 150mph respectively.
Jaguar was commendably quick to react and, in August of 2000, it announced the 2001 Model Year range with some significant developments. By that point, some 75,000 S-TYPEs had been sold, and it was vital the model’s appeal didn’t wane. To that end Dynamic Stability Control was made standard on all versions, a new ZF steering rack was adopted, the interior was tweaked (including the relocation of the optional CD changer from the glovebox to the boot), and the exterior mildly updated via the deletion of the side moulding strips. A Sports pack was also an option, a distinct ‘Sport’ model in both V6 and V8 forms – recognisable via their colour-keyed grille surrounds – being announced at the end of the year. On top of all that, Jaguar reduced prices across the range; it was determined the S-TYPE should stay competitive, and to that end yet more significant developments were in the pipeline.
The 2002 Model Year, announced at the end of 2001, introduced significant improvements. For starters, the 4.0-litre AJ-V8, which had a number of well-documented weaknesses, was replaced by the 4.2-litre version, an engine that has since proven to be nigh-on bullet-proof. Not only that, the range-topping S-TYPE R using the supercharged version of that 4.2 V8 was introduced, its performance figures adding some new lustre to the line-up. At the other end of the scale a 2.5-litre AJ-V6 became the entry level engine, all four engine choices being mated to a new six-speed ZF automatic gearbox, the V6s also still available with five-speed manual units. Just as significant, though, were the changes under the skin.
The front suspension was now subframe mounted (previously two separate cross members were used) with new two-piece lower wishbones and the ball-joint reversed to improve handling, this also being helped by new springs/dampers and a new anti-roll bar. The rear suspension subframe was revised too with improved rigidity and a lower roll centre. The entire structure of the car was stiffened by some 10 per cent, while weight was reduced by around 50kg. The interior was updated with new seats, a revised centre console with 7in touchscreen and improved safety features, while exterior tweaks saw the bonnet badge dropped and a new grille introduced that incorporated the ‘growler’. An electronic handbrake replaced the original item with its awkwardly positioned lever.
The sum of these changes was a tidier looking car with vastly better handling characteristics, improved model choice, better performance in the automatic models across the range – and searing pace from the S-TYPE R. Just three years into its model life, the S-TYPE was now a far better car than it had been at launch, but still it would be improved.
Though the S-TYPE’s original design was completed via a team led by the late Geoff Lawson (who died unexpectedly in 1999), by 2004 Ian Callum, Geoff’s successor, had been Jaguar’s design director for five years. The first car to be produced purely under his leadership had still to be revealed at that point (the aluminium XK sports car appearing late in 2005), but Callum was called upon to give the S-TYPE a mid-life refresh. And very effective it was too.
At the rear of the car a new bumper arrangement combined with a redesigned bootlid and new rear lights gave a fresher look, while the front end was similarly revitalised courtesy of a reprofiled bonnet – now in aluminium – plus a lower and more upright grille and updated bumper. New alloy wheels and instrument pack, with the option for the first time of an aluminium fascia, completed the skin-deep styling changes – but there was one more to come in the powertrain department, the 2.7-litre twin-turbo V6 diesel engine also being introduced in 2004. The diesel was smooth, torquey and refined, and, as a result, it immediately attracted customers to the S-TYPE who had previously avoided it on the basis of running costs.
In essence, 2004 represented the pinnacle of the S-TYPE’s place within the Jaguar range, but it would soldier on until 2007 when its acclaimed replacement, the XF, made its debut. In contrast to the rapid development in its early production life, those last three years saw the S-TYPE continue almost unchanged, bar some model-range rationalisation and minor cosmetic tweaks.
The 2.5-litre engine option was dropped by the end of 2005, and for the final year of production (2007) the naturally-aspirated V8 also disappeared from the UK price lists leaving just 3.0-litre petrol, 2.7-litre diesel, and the supercharged V8 in the S-TYPE R, the latter’s more aggressive nose with mesh grille being adopted by all models. By the time the very last S-TYPE was built and despite its initial shortcomings, the model had been an undoubted success for Jaguar.