The Jaguar S-Type R: Britain’s Unsung Hero

Everyone seems to hate the Ford-era Jags. Considering Jag’s history in sports car racing and its reputation for carrying that experience into its road cars, the efforts made by the company at the turn of the millennium are scowled at by many. But being a kid that grew up during this Americanised time for Jaguar, there was something about the retro looks that always hit the spot with me.

One car that I have promised myself I’ll own one day is a Jaguar MKII; the flowing curves and quintessential grill have always engaged me since I was a kiddo. So considering these style ques were carried into the S-Type, I always yearned for one of the Lincoln-based brutes in my life.

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And after convincing Father Fernie that I actually knew a thing or two about cars and in particular future classics, he ended up buying an S-Type R within the depths of his mid-life crisis. So with the annual trip to Mallaig a day away and every dealership in Edinburgh telling me I was too young to drive any of their cars above 150bhp, it was time to admit defeat and grab the keys to the Old Boy’s aircraft carrier.

There’s no two ways about it, the R is a sledgehammer of a car. 400bhp from a 4.2-litre supercharged V8 is enough to propel the two-tonne car to 60mph in just 5.3 seconds, making the S-Type a bonifide noughties super saloon. But on the roads of Western Scotland, power is in no way the primary necessity for a car. To manage the undulating, frantic tarmac of Glencoe and Kinlochleven, a car must have poise and agility through proper damping and a tight suspension setup, so this trip would expose any shortcomings in the Jag as a performance package.

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Some serious company being kept in the convoy from Fife…

There’s no doubting its overtaking capabilities. Holy mother of Jehovah, this thing can produce torque out of literally nowhere. Plant the throttle, wait for the transmission to wake up for a half second or so and then those 245-section rears are more than happy pushing all 400 horses into the road. Along the conveniently-long straights that make up the first few miles through Glencoe, the S-Type is easily capable of numerous double and triple overtakes, making its colossal weight seemingly disappear like the lycra-covered cyclists in the rear-view mirror.

And the supercharged drivetrain never stops pulling, making the 185mph potential easily feasible from the driver’s seat. And with the inevitable tourist traffic thickening as the convoy delved deeper into the glen, the gigantic brakes that the S-Type sports make for an equally impressive performance. Again, the Jag seems to somehow shed its weight in such a way that it’ll decelerate like a pigeon hitting a window.

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The only real area that the car’s mass starts to hinder it is in the most intense of corner combinations. Combined with steering that is simply too light for countryside driving, the Jag just doesn’t quite cut it dynamically. It does a really good job up to a certain point, with the suspension setup being fairly stiff for an elderly saloon, but the car starts to wallow and tilt laterally once you start throwing it into the corners, nearing the limits of front axle grip.

There’s a fantastic ring road (the B863) that encircles Loch Leven at the foot of Bidean nam Bian – the second sister of Glencoe – which a hunkered-down, taught modern super saloon would be hoon-central, but the Jag is left heaving and pitching in the most demanding of corners. Especially in the fastest of esse bends, the rate of yaw and the momentum from that huge V8 block stuck out front sends the horrible vibrations of understeer from the front wheels back up and through the steering wheel. Don’t get me wrong, the Jag will still make remarkably swift progress up the tight and twisties, but as a whole performance package it is inevitably lacking in comparison to a modern M-car or something like a Lexus GS-F. Then again, you’d have to do something ridiculous to unsettle the Jag, its sheer weight laughing in the face of standing water, undulations and any form of unexpected braking that would send most cars squirming.

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A bit of off-roading at the hotel

But let’s not give the S-Type a hard time. This particular car is 12 years old, and back in the day it put the Chrysler 300C and Audi RS4 to the sword and came out the victor in numerous group tests. And considering prices have bottomed-out at just under ten grand, buying the cat at this stage was finally a stroke of genius from the Fernie Family’s car-collecting antics.

One thing you cannot fault the British brute on is its build quality; although it’s based on a Lincoln LS, the R is covered in the most sumptuous of leathers. You don’t place yourself in the Jag’s seats, you slide gracefully into the R-imprinted cow skin. The interior itself is huge; I’ve never been in a car that could transport five people in a more luxurious and comfortable environment. I’ve even slept in the back seat…and that’s all that needs to be said about that. When the chips are on the table, you have to remember that some of the classic Jaguars of the 20th century were built to be the ultimate cruisers. The MkIX, XJ12 and even the original S-Type were first and foremost built for long-haul luxury motoring with the addition of engines that could blow away many sports cars from other manufacturers of the time. So my generation’s S-Type holds on to everything that is Jaguar, but brings with it the power war that was the 2000s.

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Quite the line-up

Mallaig had been a near car-killer for me last year, putting my poor Alfa Romeo GTV in the dumps with a pothole-provoked puncture. But the Jag seems indestructible, a Tiger tank of a thing. The enormous 20-inch wheels fill the arches and when in all-black, it looks like the window might just roll down to expose a couple of Tommy guns. My editor at Car Throttle has said some very mean things about the S-Type’s design, and I can understand why people have a true hatred for the gawping-mouthed car. But it works for me. It’s like that girl at school that wasn’t classically pretty in the slightest but for some reason you had a little thing for, just because.

It slightly pisses me off that I only find the Sport button once I’m only a few miles away from the West Coast fishing town, but what a difference it makes. The transmission kicks down much quicker, turning the Jag into a whole different beast. It suddenly becomes a much more adjustable package and the car can be properly controlled with the throttle.

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A Ferrari 328 which is proving a nuisance to get past suddenly becomes a spec in the distance, and I turn my attentions to a pearlescent blue 360 in the convoy. The Italian car can’t seem to get away from the S-Type, no matter how much better his V8 sounds compared to mine. Sure, the car from Maranello can enter a corner slightly faster, but I stay firmly in its rear-view mirror. The owner saunters over once we reach Mallaig and says “that thing doesn’t half shift son, I could tell you weren’t going away any time soon”.

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I decided to take some time away from the convoy and visit Glenfinnan – a rather good call

So I think Jaguar deserves an apology from the motoring world as I feel that the S-Type will never really get the chance to redeem itself. Especially through its R guise, the Jaguar saloon definitely deserves a place amongst the best performance brutes to come from the British Isles. Despite the company’s much needed revitalisation with the XF and now the XE line, the S-Type R is a true great from the power-obsessed noughties. They say you can’t teach and old dog new tricks, and that may be true. But this big cat has been a supercar hunter since birth.

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