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Write What You Drive

A showcase of independent motoring journalism and automotive travails

On the Contrary: Jaguar S-Type

I've always had a soft spot for Jags; even when I was a 12 year old boy and they were building supercharged sideboards for retired financial advisors. Even I though, found it difficult to love the smaller saloons they produced during The Ford Years.

The X-Type was never reported to be a bad car as such, but I'm sure I'm not proclaiming anything new in saying that it was styled and delivered as a somewhat backward approximation to what a British saloon should be like - clinging grimly to that retro twin-headlamp front end. It was also a victim of the Mondeo effect, where it shared the basics of a FWD platform (the CD132, if you're asking) with Ford's repmobile and despite the fact the X-Type was supposed to be released first, Ford jumped the gun; leaving the Jag wide open to "Mondeo with a posh badge" accusations.

The S-Type wasn't much easier to love; with its odd front grille that, at best, made it look like somebody's fireplace and at worst like a dead fish. I'm not sure I'd have agreed that this is how people wanted their cars to look like going into the 21st Century. That said; the S-Type was a Jaguar creation (not Ford) and was a relative success for the company, making enough money for the development of the current XK and XF models. Again, it was never reported to be a bad car, merely a bit off the pace of its German rivals and left behind a little in a world of brushed aluminium furniture and neon-lit vodka bars.

The common expectation of such golf-club barges is a big lazy engine and comfy ride that leans the car onto its door handles if any spirited cornering is attempted. I actually ended up driving an S-Type around a handling circuit as part of a vehicle assessment techniques course...and it ranks amongst some of the most fun I've ever had driving a car.

The car was a manual with the 240 bhp 3.0L AJV6 petrol engine (loosely related to the Ford Duratec 30) - which, mated to a surprisingly connected RWD chassis, allowed me to put in some quick and tidy laps without scaring my instructor into curtailing the course early.

One of the best things about sitting in an S-Type is that you don't have to look at that front end, and whilst the decidedly '90s switchgear has dated terribly; being a Jag you get full leather, dual-zone climate control and a supremely comfortable driving experience.

You sit fairly low down for a saloon and it actually feels quite compact on the track, perhaps due to the sweeping rear haunches that drop to a much lower boot line than the current generation of mid-sized luxury saloons. The steering is consistent and nicely weighted and you always feel like you know what all four corners of the car are doing.

The AJV6 made such an impression, with its syrupy but direct torque delivery and lovely engine note that I'm investigating the lengthy list of vehicles that would allow me to get my hands on a similar unit.

But why look further than the S-Type itself? Granted you may have to put up with a fair amount of ridicule for driving one and I'm not sure the driving experience could ever make up for the front end looks, but if you can land a V6 with a good bottom end and manual gearbox (I can't imagine the drive in a lazy auto would be quite so involving) it puts forward a compelling case.

I'd go for a post-2002 model with the updated dash and if you manage to land one in Sport trim it even loses the chrome from the front end and looks less like your Gran's fireplace as a result. 3.0L manuals are a bit thin on the ground - high milers can be found around the £1k mark but even I wouldn't advocate taking that punt given the likely cost of any serious repairs.

Something around £3k to £4k seems like a better bet and although it will continue to depreciate beyond this point (as all big Jags do) - I honestly think you'd be too busy listening to the engine and enjoying the growler staring back at you from the steering wheel to care.

So, for a cheap to buy, fun, usable car with a slightly flawed image add to the list of MX5, 106 GTi and Puma the name of S-Type V6.

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