Thursday

2006 Jaguar S-Type R review

After years of making just a large sedan and a large coupe, Jaguar decided that they needed to offer more choices to more people. In order to “broaden brand appeal” (i.e. increase production by making cheaper cars) Jaguar brought out two smaller models that came in below their XJ and XK lines. One of these is the S Type, a midsize car that shares its roots with the departed Lincoln LS. Naturally of course Jaguar will quickly tell you about all the differences between the two so you don’t THINK they’re cut from the same cloth, but we know the truth. It’s irrelevant anyway because of all the platforms in Ford’s engineering buckets, the LS platform was actually one of the better ones. In 2003, Jaguar added an R version to the S-Type, putting a supercharger atop their V8 engine and producing about 400 horsepower. My first experience with Jaguar’s R spec vehicles was in their XJ line. I LOVED that car (To see my review click here). It was a blast to drive, classy looking, and perfect for subtle warp speed runs. The S-Type R is smaller, lighter, and produces similar power figures as its big brother. Sounds like the right recipe to me! I couldn’t wait to drive this one.

The S-Type’s design is definitely unique. It recalls Jag’s of old, blended of course with modern updates. It is polarizing – some like it, some hate it. For the R version, the body has been tweaked with tasteful add-ons, large wheels with high performance tires, a tightened up suspension, and pizza dish sized Brembo’s at all four corners – in addition to the engine mods noted earlier. It definitely looks like it means business in R form – it sits lower, looks meaner, and in black looks downright menacing. Good start.

Sitting inside, it’s all Jaguar. Space is tight all the way around to give way to style. Materials used are of premium quality, including Conolly leather all around. Trunk space is tight, just like in its big XJ brother. Let’s face it though – Jaguar’s have always been more about style at the expense of ultimate practicality. One interesting note is an electronic e-brake. Instead of a pedal under the dash or a pull handle, it is simply a switch on the center console. Fire up the engine and you get the appropriate V8 burbling that tells you you’re about to experience something more than the Jaguar nameplate suggests.

Going down the road to get the feel of the car, and you can tell the suspension is tuned towards sport. While it’s not plush, it’s not uncomfortable either, not even on Michigan’s bombed out roads. Communicative would be correct term. You can tell what’s going on at all times. Even when you press the chassis around a corner, the way they’ve tuned the suspension is great – it firms up the harder you push and handling feels superb. You feel confident in tossing the car around without triggering any surprises, and the R always gives enough feedback to let you know exactly how it’s responding to your commands. It’s softer than other Euro supersedans – more of a “gentleman’s” approach, if you will, vs the hard edge of an M product or the sledgehammer approach of AMG. Even the transmission continues the gentleman theme. Shifting is smoother than you might expect. There’s definitely some pudding or Jello in between the gears to soften transitions. It won’t beat you up or snap your neck. After all, that just wouldn’t be ‘proper’.

One big demerit is the brakes. Oh yes, they’ll stop you with authority. But I found them to be very ‘grabby’. Modulation was difficult to control at low speeds. While getting the right feel might come with time, the entire time I drove this car I never quite got the hang of it. You approach low speed intersections and jerk to a stop in the unstateliest fashion – certainly improper for a car with a Jaguar on the hood. The S-Type R’s competition doesn’t have this flaw – there’s no reason it should be present here either.

Getting on the highway = getting on the power. And boy will the Jaguar go. Sort of. In the first couple of gears it wouldn’t pull all the way through the RPM range. That’s odd. The engine felt willing. Jaguar does not put any kind of auto-manual setup in its car, so what the computer says is what you’re stuck with. Something that really seemed out of place was the engine roughness. If I didn’t know any better, I would’ve thought they raided Ford’s tractor division and plucked the V8 from there. It was not smooth and did not have a pleasant sound at full song. Honestly it was to the point of distraction. I know what you’re thinking – it’s an R model – it’s supposed to be heard and felt. I agree 100%. But not like this. There was an ad I saw for high-end audio equipment that had a picture of a grenade and the caption read “Just because it’s loud doesn’t mean you want to listen to it.”
That couldn’t be more accurate, and the same principal can be applied here. If you’re going to take the time to modify an engine for all out performance, for crying out loud make it sound good too. Make people that buy it want to romp on it – ESPECIALLY if you’re going to price the car north of $65,000. People that buy R series cars know what they’re buying and why they’re buying it. They’re paying a premium to get that power for one reason and one reason alone. Hint: it’s not for the gas mileage.

So at the end of the day, I have to say that this car really disappointed me, especially after the thrill I got out of driving the XJR. I expected it to perform better, to be more fun, and more tossable than the XJR. It just wasn’t anywhere near as fun. It didn’t feel faster, and that’s probably because Jaguar seems to have deliberately toned down the power in the lower gears where you’ll use it the most. The engine doesn’t tug at enthusiast hearts, and the brake setup is unacceptable. It feels like a half-hearted effort at best with a premium price tag attached. The things they got right, they really got right. But the things that are wrong are just plain WRONG and wouldn’t be acceptable in a lesser make, let alone from a Jaguar. There’s nothing here to make you pick this one over any of its competitors who do a much better job integrating the whole package.

Next time Jaguar, do it right - or don’t do it at all.

Photos property of Jaguar

1 comment:

Văn Sát said...

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