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December 11, 2018
Driving Dynamics
2003 Jaguar 1091 S-TYPE 3830 101107
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Mitch McCullough, Editor-in-Chief
powered by New Car Test Drive
Jaguar has re-engineered its S-Type sedan for 2003, but the differences are hard to see visually, at least from the outside. Driving it, however, reveals a big improvement in responsiveness, ride quality, and vehicle dynamics. Revisions to the interior bring improved comfort and convenience.

An exciting new S-Type R now rides at the top of the model line with a powerful supercharged engine, a sports suspension, and big Brembo brakes. But it's not necessary to spring for the R model to benefit from the improvements: The standard S-Type 4.2 delivers thrilling performance in its own right along with all of the class expected of a Jaguar.

Though transmissions seldom generate excitement, a new six-speed automatic transforms the 2003 S-Type cars, making them extremely responsive and an absolute joy to drive, whether quietly motoring around town, covering great distances, or attacking backcountry roads. The new six-speed automatic is available throughout the entire S-Type line and is the same transmission used in the new BMW 7 Series.

Jaguar's S-Type rear-wheel-drive sedans compete with such mid-size luxury cars as the BMW 5 Series and the Mercedes-Benz E-Class. The S-Type's distinctive styling won't be confused with anything else, and you're less likely to see a Jaguar in your neighbor's driveway. Inside, they offer lovely interiors with comfortable seats swathed in leather. They ride very smoothly and are capable of making the driver feel better after getting out of the car than he or she felt before getting into it.

Dynamically, the new Jaguar doesn't have quite the edge of a BMW 5 Series, but the performance advantages of the BMW are mainly evident when using stopwatches at a racing circuit. What's easier to measure is the price differential, and here the Jaguar shines.

Model Lineup
Three models comprise the S-Type range, distinguished primarily by their engines: 3.0 liter, 4.2 liter, and the high-performance R. Each model comes fully equipped with rich leather upholstery and all the other features associated with a premium luxury car. For 2003, all S-Type models boast new interiors, new suspensions, new transmissions, and new or revised engines.

S-Type 3.0 ($42,495) is powered by a revised 240-horsepower 3.0-liter V6. It comes standard with a new Getrag five-speed manual transmission. It's also available with the new ZF six-speed automatic ($43,875).

Option packages: Premium ($1500) includes adjustable pedals, power passenger lumbar support, electrochromic outside and inside mirrors, programmable garage door opener, rain-sensing wipers, memory system; Sport ($2000) includes Computer Active Technology Suspension (CATS), 17-inch sport alloy wheels, body-colored exterior trim, gray-stained birds-eye maple interior trim, sport shift knob, leather-wrapped sport steering wheel, sport seats; Communication package ($2250) includes portable cellular telephone, JaguarNet emergency messaging system, voice-activated controls. Standalone options: power moon roof ($1100); xenon headlamps ($675); premium sound system ($1800); heated front seats ($500); DVD navigation system ($2200).

S-Type 4.2 ($49,975) is powered by a new 300-horsepower 4.2-liter V8 (substantially more powerful than last year's engine). The V8 comes with the six-speed automatic. Standard features include the power moonroof and Premium package listed above.

S-Type R ($62,400) is powered by a new 400-horsepower supercharged 4.2-liter V8 mated to the six-speed automatic. In addition to the features found on the 4.2, the R model comes loaded with the xenon headlamps, premium sound system, and heated front seats.

Jaguar's S-Type stands out among other sedans in the $45,000-$55,000 bracket, evoking memories of the original S-Type and Mark II sedans of the mid-1960s.

Few styling changes set the new 2003 S-Type range apart from last year's models, however. Most people won't notice the subtle detail changes: The 2003 model year brings a revised grille with the Jaguar leaper and an integrated growler emblem. Along the sides, a new chrome window surround has been added to enhance the profile. New exterior mirrors, new wheels, and new badges complete the changes. Lever-style door handles remain, which are aerodynamic but harder to grab than the kind you slide your fingers through.

From the front, there's no mistaking the S-Type as anything other than a Jag. Two large headlamps and two small headlamps flank an oval radiator grille. The vertically oriented oval grille is canted forward at the bottom to such an extent that its lower edge is right at the front of the bumper. From the rear, the S-Type has a nicely crouched stance, as though the cat is about to pounce, with trademark triangular-shaped taillights.

Sport models are distinguished from the rest of the range by color-keyed exterior trim around the grille, trunk lid and bumpers, along with special 17x7.5-inch alloy wheels.

S-Type R is distinguished by its mesh grille. Subtle but unmistakable, when you see it in your rearview mirror, you'll know it's an R. It comes with a rear spoiler, special wheels and a unique front air dam with extra ducting for cooling the supercharged engine.

Originally launched for model year 2000, the S-Type sits in the middle of Jaguar's sedans. It fits between the luxurious XJ range and the new X-Type sedan, about 6 inches shorter overall than the XJ but the same width. The S-Type is not small, however. It's a little bigger and heavier than the 2002 BMW 5 Series, but retails at a lower price.

All Jaguar S-Type models come with rich leather upholstery. Attractive birds-eye maple stained bronze trims 3.0 and 4.2 models, adding more warmth to a warm interior. Sport models and the S-Type R are trimmed in gray-stained birds-eye maple veneers. Beautiful light ivory leather seats and trim with tan leather uppers and handsome stitching graced one of the S-Type models we drove.

Three new seat styles are available for 2003. Comfort, sport, and R respectively offer increasingly aggressive bolstering for spirited driving. The driver's seat is narrower in R models.

Sumptuous leather is used on the surfaces of all seats and door panels. The steering wheel is made in a combination of matching wood and leather and feels good. A well-designed toggle on the left side of the steering column quickly, easily and precisely controls the power tilt and telescopic adjustments for the steering wheel. The front seats are comfortable and supportive, with a nice firm seat bottom that minimizes fatigue on long trips.

S-Type is close in interior dimensions to the standard-wheelbase XJ models. Actually, there's a tad more room rear-seat legroom than in the standard XJ. There is a decent amount of space for rear-seat passengers. Rear legroom is on par with other similar sized cars and is actually better than in the standard wheelbase XJ sedan.

For 2003, Jaguar added more storage to the S-Type interior. Two glove boxes are provided in addition to the center console storage. Sunglasses can be stashed in an overhead console case lined with soft rubber. Dual cupholders are provided, but are mounted far enough to the rear as to be a bit awkward to reach while driving.

Trunk space is only average due to the curvy rear end. What's more, Jaguar engineers use swanâ??neck hinges that intrude in the cargo space; their advantage is that the trunk lid will conveniently pop up when opened. For greater trunk storage, the rear seats can be folded down in a 60/40 split.

The S-Type interior offers a unique character that separates it from its closest competitors. It starts with the dashboard that stretches across the width of the car rather than wrapping the driver in a cockpit-type environment. The lower center of the dash is arranged in a distinctive semi-circular panel; it is a bold design element that draws mixed reactions: Some love it, others don't. We love it. This panel, which is finished in a smooth glossy metallic-looking finish, contains the automatic climate controls, sound system and optional navigational system display. The buttons are big, easy to discern and easy to operate. The instrument pod contains just a fuel gauge and water temperature gauge besides the speedometer and tachometer. All told it is a pleasant design, but not as exotic as Jaguars of the past.

New for 2003 is an electronically controlled parking brake. It is designed to work intuitively and will automatically release in certain circumstances: Switch on the parking brake with the car in Drive at an intersection and it switches off when you accelerate, handy when stopping for traffic lights on steep hills.

Driving Impressions
Though you can't tell by looking at it, Jaguar has transformed its S-Type sedans for 2003 with a new transmission, a new suspension, redesigned engines, and more sophisticated technology. Driving one of the S-Type cars is highly satisfying. It imparts a feeling of class and sophistication to passengers. It is beautiful to behold, and it offers a compelling alternative to Mercedes and BMW.

The importance of a good transmission can't be underestimated and the new S-Type comes with a great one, perhaps the best available. The six-speed automatic ZF is the same transmission used in the new BMW 7 Series (which starts at $67,850). This transmission is extremely responsive and silky smooth. It offers improved drivability around town, a benefit of the additional ratios. It delivers both better performance and improved fuel economy. It features a Sport mode, allowing the driver to shift manually. Select this mode and the transmission will not shift above the highest gear selected, though it will shift up and down below this gear according to conditions. The transmission has two overdrive ratios. Sport mode stays in fifth unless the driver maintains a steady state for 30 seconds. But most of the time we preferred to simply leave it in Drive and let it do its thing, as it does it so well. It's a smart transmission: lift off the throttle for a corner and it senses the steering angle and holds it in gear. It also holds a gear on hills, eliminating hunting between gears.

The 3.0-liter V6 engine is smooth and delivers plenty of power for most drivers. Jaguar revised the V6 with an improved variable induction system and continuously variable cam phasing. That means the engine can breathe better at different engine speeds for faster response around town. We have not driven an X-Type 3.0 since the V6 was revised nor have we tried it with the optional six-speed automatic, which should further improve responsiveness and performance. Acceleration performance and fuel economy are improved over the 2002 model. Also available for the 3.0 is a Getrag five-speed manual transmission. Like other S-Type models, the 3.0 comes standard with Dynamic Stability Control, traction control, and the new electronic parking brake. About 65 percent of S-Type buyers choose the 3.0 V6 model.

The 4.2-liter V8 engine delivers truly spirited performance. Jaguar has redesigned this engine, improving its low-rpm torque for quicker acceleration. Jaguar says this model will accelerate form 0 to 60 mph in 6.6 seconds, which is quite quick, though not quite as quick as the 2002 BMW 540i. Changes over last year's 4.0 engine include new cylinder heads, forged pistons, a new exhaust manifold, and many other changes to the breathing. Those changes increased horsepower from 281 to 300, while torque jumped from 287 to 310 foot-pounds, and those power increases come at lower rpm. As a result, the 4.2 feels relaxed and responsive around town and cruising on the highway, but delivers spirited performance when driving quickly on back roads. It feels more refined than before with more torque through the entire rev range. The 4.2 V8 generates 86 percent of its maximum torque at just 1500 rpm for greater flexibility around town. The new six-speed automatic dramatically improves the responsiveness of this 2003 model, making this a very strong car by any measure.

The 4.2 offers a firm ride. There is some road vibration on badly rippled roads, but it smoothes out on smoother roads. The 4.2 is quiet, with some wind noise at high speeds. It's stable at high speeds with precise, linear steering that makes the driver feel part of the car. Handling is firm without being too harsh. Jaguar's S-Type is not as stiff as the BMW 540i. It is the type of car that inspires confidence for those who enjoy driving without being a chore for those who do not. It felt wonderful when driving hard on narrow, winding roads in the hilly country on the Spanish Mediterranean. In short, it's a wonderful automobile, very pleasant. After driving the 4.2, we saw no need to spring for the R model.

This whole notion of "need" becomes a subject of debate after driving the S-Type R, however. As Jaguar Formula 1 racer Eddie Irvine said, the new S-Type R offers "fantastic acceleration" performance. It can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in just 5.3 seconds with a top speed electronically limited to 155 mph. Big race-engineered Brembo brakes are terrific. Handling is superb, with the latest version of Jaguar's CATS as standard equipment. Yet the ride quality is quite comfortable. This balance between athletic handling and a smooth ride gives the S-Type R a dual personality. Most of the time, it's a relaxing, refined luxury sedan, but stand on it and it acts like a sports car, agile, quick, fun. It's not at all intimidating to drive as we discovered on some foggy mountain roads in Spain.

We could clearly hear the whine from supercharger when hard on the gas. Hot rodders may like that, but we wonder whether it would become tiresome. The S-Type R offers significantly more torque than the 4.2 model. It's very responsive at low speeds as well as when being driven hard. Power is very linear. The Brembo brakes are excellent. Steering is precise and linear. The R is very stable at high speeds. Handling is very predictable when working the tires. Pushed to the limit, it goes into a four-wheel drift.

The S-Type uses rear-wheel drive with a fully independent suspension. Though the S-Type shares its basic architecture with the Lincoln LS, there is less in common with the 2003 models, and the Lincoln and Jaguar are completely different in character, a tribute to the engineers for both cars.

Suspensions for the S-Type come in three grades: Comfort, the softest, is standard on the 3.0 and 4.2 models. Sport is firmer and comes on the 3.0 and 4.2 models with the Sport package. R is the stiffest suspension, using a unique CATS calibration and stiffer springs. Each of the three suspensions uses specially tuned dampers (shocks) and anti-roll bars and unique CATS calibrations. CATS, Jaguar's Computer Active Technology Suspension is optional on V6 and V8 models, standard on the R. CATS optimizes ride and handling by using uprated springs to increase roll stiffness and electronically controlled two-stage adaptive dampers (shocks). Accelerometers and a brake sensor send signals to an electronic control unit to dynamically tune the suspension to driving conditions. The result is an optimized balance between ride comfort and handling agility. It's completely automatic and requires no intervention from the driver. We found that CATS does a great job of filtering out road vibration and rough surfaces without isolating the driver from the road. With it, the car feels unflappable in the corners without riding like a race-prepared sports sedan on city streets.

Anti-lock brakes with Brake Assist come standard on all S-Type models. ABS allows the driver to brake and steer at the same time by preventing wheel lockup in an emergency stopping situation. Brake Assist senses a panic stop and maintains maximum braking force if the driver makes the mistake of relaxing pressure on the brake pedal.

Dynamic Stability Control or DSC is standard on all S-Type models. This anti-skid system works great and can help a driver stay on the road by preventing a skid. DSC links the brakes, steering, and traction control systems and analyzes information from on-board sensors to determine when the car is deviating from the driver's intended path. It then applies brake force to each individual wheel to readjust the car's course. This system helps the driver avoid losing control of the car, by reducing oversteer (sliding rear wheels) or understeer (sliding front wheels).

With its sensuous looks, Jaguar's S-Type makes a statement when it rolls onto the scene. It combines that with a luxurious, crafted interior in understated British fashion. The S-Type cars are effortless to drive with a relaxed, refined ride. They offer cutting-edge technology that's relevant and free of gadgetry.

The S-Type is a compelling alternative to the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class cars. We really like the 4.2 model. Not only is the Jaguar less expensive than its German competitors, it more than holds its own in terms of curb appeal and performance. With its increased performance, the $62,400 Jaguar S-Type R is an interesting alternative to the $69,900 BMW M5 and $71,350 Mercedes E55 AMG cars. Any performance difference between the Jaguar and the BMW and Mercedes is going to come down to the driver.

Model as tested
Jaguar S-Type 4.2 ($49,975)
Basic Warranty
4 years/50,000 miles
Assembled in
Birmingham, England
Destination charge
Gas guzzler tax
Base Price
Price as tested
Options as tested
Sport ($2000) includes Computer Active Technology Suspension (CATS), 17-inch sport alloy wheels, body-colored exterior trim, gray-stained birds-eye maple interior trim, sport shift knob, leather-wrapped sport steering wheel, sport seats; Premium Sound System ($1800) includes 320-watt system with 6-disc CD changer, 10 speakers, DSP and power amplifier
Model Line Overview
Model lineup
S-Type 3.0 V6 5-speed manual ($42,495); 3.0 V6 6-speed automatic ($43,875); 4.2 V8 ($49,975); R ($62,400)
Safety equipment (standard)
ABS, traction control, dynamic stability control, front airbags, front side airbags, ARTS, front seatbelt pretensioners, child safety belt lock, front and rear fog lamps
Safety equipment (optional)
4.2-liter dohc 32v V8
6-speed automatic
Specifications as Tested
dual automatic climate control, AM/FM/CD/cassette stereo, power windows, power mirrors, power locks, cruise control, power tilt/telescopic steering, aluminum alloy wheels, three-position memory system, leather upholstery, birdseye maple, split fold-down rear seat, HomeLink garage door opener, one-touch power moonroof, eight-way power driver├?┬ó??s seat with lumbar support; Premium package with adjustable pedals, eight-way power passenger├?┬ó??s seat with lumbar support, electrochromic outside and inside mirrors, programmable garage door opener, rain-sensing wipers, memory system
Engine & Transmission
4.2-liter dohc 32v V8
Drivetrain type
rear-wheel drive
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
300 @ 6000
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)
Brakes, front/rear
disc/disc with ABS, Brake Assist
Suspension, front
Suspension, rear
Seating capacity
Head/hip/leg room, middle
Head/hip/leg room, front
Head/hip/leg room, rear
Fuel capacity
Trunk volume
Turning circle
Towing capacity
Track, front/rear
Ground clearance
Curb weight
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2003 Jaguar S-TYPE
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