Marc Stengel, Wed, 31 Aug 2005 08:00:00 PDT
I fell in love in May 1964. As I put the finishing touches on a plastic model of the then-new Jaguar E-Type roadster, I somehow sensed that I was ensnared--never again to be entirely extricated--by a passion for automobiles. My eight-year-old self could not have foreseen, four decades later, a series of vocations and avocations dedicated to driving, racing, filming, tinkering with and writing about cars. It was enough for him to predict--to know--that I would still have that plastic model car in my possession, that I would remain passionate about automobiles.
Passionate about Jaguars, too, as it turns out. It would be natural to attribute this fateful attraction to a sentimental gratitude for the marque that first kindled my longings to sit behind a steering wheel. And, indeed, I would be grateful for Jaguar, even if it had disappeared over time (as it has narrowly escaped doing on several occasions) or if it had evolved into some kind of joyless automaker (as several of its former rivals have done).
But Jaguar doesn't deserve this sort of barren sentimentality. Although now a division of Ford Motor Company, Jaguar retains a spirit and a personality that is unique among automakers. It is the best recognized ambassador of a once-dominant British auto industry; it is the embodiment of an English inclination towards both self-indulgent luxury and uncompromising performance; it is the designer of some of the world's most beautiful cars. The automaker has been unflinchingly conservative in these respects ever since the Jaguar name first made its appearance in September 1935.
Some 70 years on, the 2005 Jaguar S-Type R "saloon" is proof that the company's passionate conservatism endures. For one thing, the "R" car is very little changed since its debut in 2003 as a stunning grand tourer boasting 390 supercharged horsepower in a mid-sized sedan configuration. Jaguar's other S-Types first appeared in the 2000 model year, and in terms of exterior styling at least, evolution has been tastefully slow. Meant to compete with the likes of German E-Class Mercedes and 5-Series BMWs and with Japanese Lexus GS430s and Infiniti M45s, the S-Type's sweeping lines are unique. From the side, pronounced curves resemble nothing so much as a leaping cat; square on at the front, the car's squat, jowly stance playfully evokes that archetypal British icon, the English bulldog.
The car may share its pedigree with Lincoln's LS sedan, but in appearance and spirit the S-Type and the LS are oceans apart. Whereas the Lincoln is all about commuting and cruising, in workaday American style, the Jaguar transforms even the merest errand into an automotive equivalent of the English gentry's Victorian Grand Tour. Within a stately coach, swathed with leather and accented with burl--or, new for 2005, with scored and brushed aluminum--occupants in an S-Type are conscious of the luxury that ensconces them. In an S-Type the "going" is almost always superior to the "arriving," particularly at destinations as tediously mundane as Walgreen's or Kroger.
For 2005, there are three different powertrains to choose from: a 3.0-liter twin-cam V6 produces 235 hp, 216 ft.-lbs. of torque and costs $44,895, base price; a 4.2-liter twin-cam V8 delivers 294 hp and 303 ft.-lbs. for $51,995; and the supercharged version of the V8, the "R" car tested here, makes 390 hp and 399 ft.-lbs. for $58,995. All are equipped with Jaguar's fabled 6-speed "J-shift" automatic transmission, which means, of course, that a V6 with manual transmission is no longer available.
Evolutions for the new model year are few and, for the most part, invisible. An aluminum hood improves overall weight distribution, which is most welcome for a two-ton sedan. Subtle tinkerings with the geometry of the nose and grille of the car induce even more of a bulldog scowl. The S-Type is somewhat stiffer for 2005, as well. This improvement, coupled with newly re-balanced weight distribution, yields gains in both handling and ride quality.
Both the V6 and standard V8 models are pricier than last year, by $500 and $2,000, respectively. What's more, a new, especially deluxe trim kit for the V8 model, dubbed "S-Type 4.2 VDP," features Medici leather with contrasting piping along with other self-indulgences popularized in Jaguar's larger XJ Vanden Plas sedans. Base price for the VDP is $55,295. Best of all for performance hounds, however, is the $4,125 reduction in price for a 2005 S-Type R, compared with 2004.
A five-passenger sedan capable of zero-to-60 in 5.3 seconds is a formidable car. The surge of instantaneous torque that supercharging makes possible is breath-taking. To the accompaniment of the supercharger's air-gulping siren, occupants are buried into their seatbacks when the driver mashes the accelerator. This very sensation is even more uncanny in a car already doing 75 miles-an-hour.
It is thoughtful, then, of Jaguar to have incorporated an electronic counter-measure to a driver's over-exuberance. Radar-sensing Adaptive Cruise Control monitors traffic ahead of the Jaguar and backs off the throttle automatically with a chime when vehicles come within a range pre-set by the driver.
It may seem counter-intuitive to declare that Jaguar's S-Type R--a sedan, after all--is a high-performance car with a taste for the twisties. But the fact of the matter is, manufacturers have wrestled with the competing demands of mere transportation and sport-driving since the birth of the automobile. Sir William Lyons and his pride of Jaguars managed to bridge these two extremes three-quarters of a century ago. It is only fitting that the new S-Type "R" car has changed only so much--and so little--that it can continue do the same.
2005 Jaguar S-Type R; 5-pass., 4-door; RWD, 6-sp. auto; 4.2-liter DOHC V8 w/ supercharger & vvt; 390 hp/399 ft.-lbs.; 16 mpg/City, 23 mpg/Hwy; trunk: 14.1 cu. ft.; base price, incl. dual-zone auto HVAC, active suspension, 18-in. wheels, sunroof, Alpine AM/FM/in-dash 6-CD, fog lamps, front/side/curtain airbags: $58,995