The Knowledge: The Jaguar S-Type offers you a champagne lifestyle for beer money
It might not be an all-time classic Jag, but if you pick the right one, the S-Type is a very decent machine. And it's cheap
Alex has been a road tester and motoring writer for more than 10 years, and has written on new, used and classic cars for What Car?, Autocar, The Daily Telegraph and PistonHeads, among many others.
It’s fair to say the Jaguar S-Type was not universally loved when it first hit showrooms in 1999. Blame the overtly retro styling, blame the distinct lack of sportiness – or simply blame the all-round excellence of its biggest rival, the BMW 5 Series. Either way, the S-Type was not exactly an instant hit.
Nor has the S-Type aged all that well. These days there’s more than a hint of chintz about early examples of Jaguar’s middleweight contender, especially compared with the night-and-day freshness of modern Jags.
So why would we recommend it? Well, the thing is, while the S-Type was a bit of a wobbly old hector when it was new, Jaguar spent its lifetime refining it. And as a result, later S-Types were a bit of alright. So much so, in fact, that Jaguar based the S-Type's successor, the XF, on the same platform.
The word to the wise is that you’ll want to look out for 2003-on cars. These gained a completely revised suspension setup that gave not only a more stable and composed ride, but sharper handling that brought the S-Type right into contention with the class best.
The cherry on top was a new interior, with smarter styling, higher-quality materials, and a sense of opulence that none of its rivals could contend with. A further facelift in 2005 tidied up the styling, making the S-Type look just a little more modern.
The good news doesn’t end there. All S-Types had either a V6 or a V8 engine, and all of them were super smooth and gutsy – no wheedling four-pots to speak of. All, of course, are rear-wheel drive, too, and you could even spec a manual gearbox – though we reckon the S-Type’s cosseting nature means it’s best served with an auto.
If fuel consumption is a concern, the lusty 2.7-litre V6 diesel introduced in 2004 is worth a long, hard look. And if it isn’t, there’s always the fabulous S-Type R – an E39 M5 rival for a fraction of the price.
Why you should buy one now
Ah yes, price. Big, thirsty engines and deeply unfashionable looks mean nobody wants an S-Type at the moment. For those of us with an eye for a bargain, however, that fact only adds to the S-Type’s appeal, especially now that we know the later examples are actually a bit good.
It’s perfectly feasible to get hold of a low-mileage, fully historied 3.0-litre V6 for less than £1,000 these days, which is monumentally good value. Diesels will set you back a little more – expect to pay £1,500 for a good one – while V8s will set you back more again; £2,000 is the starting point for a clean, tidy example with reasonable miles.
And if you’re after an S-Type R, the good news continues, for prices start at a distinctly reasonable £5,000, and rise to around £8,000 for a tidy, fully historied low-miler. Not bad for a 394hp supercharged hyper saloon that can do this:
What to look out for
Electrical problems are the S-Type’s biggest bugbear, so check everything works – particularly the electric windows, electric seats and central locking.
Early V8s have plastic timing chain tensioners that can shatter, wrecking the engine. Check these have been replaced with the later steel items, which were fitted as standard from 2005 onward.
The seals around the boot and rear lights are known to let in water, so check for a damp boot carpet or puddles in the light units themselves.
Early five-speed autos aren’t the most reliable and tend to fail at reasonably minuscule mileages; the later six-speed is a much better bet.
You’ll also want to pay attention to the S-Type’s servicing, and steer clear of anything that’s been neglected.
Find a well cared-for example, though, and the S-Type is a canny way of getting a true luxury car for banger money. If, of course, you can live with the looks.