By E. Layton Dorey
These are dark days for Jaguar. Sales have not reached the lofty heights once envisaged; the F1 racing team is up for sale and the “traditional home” of Brown’s Lane in England is to be shuttered. Jaguars will continue to be built in the UK, but the company was not generating the volume to support three separate plants, and (sadly for traditionalists) the long-time home of the leaper (a reference to the traditional cast jaguar “leaping” forward off the car’s hood) is also the oldest, least modernized facility – so the axe falls in its direction.
To some, the closing of the Brown’s Lane facility marks the ultimate “Fordization” of Jaguar. Once a proudly independent British manufacturer lauded for the beauty and technical innovation of its products, the company sank so far as to ultimately become merely a division of an American based mass-market manufacturer.
In fairness to Ford, the parent has done much to restore some luster to the leaper. It has invested heavily in manufacturing facilities and in product, and Jaguar has leaped from consistently bottom of the barrel reliability to class leading scores. (I remember focus groups among Jaguar owners shortly after Ford bought the company, and among some owners it was actually considered a mark of status not only that they could afford to buy the car, but that they could also afford to keep it running!)
Ford has also been reasonably hands-off with the product. Whereas some brands have been virtually submerged by overreaching parent companies (particularly where GM is involved), Ford has allowed Jaguar a lot of autonomy. Many say the subject of this week’s column – the S-Type – as the beginning of the end, however.
The S-Type, Jaguar’s mid-size car, shares a platform with the Lincoln LS and quite a bit of “under the skin” elements consumers don’t see. As noted, the Jaguar faithful considered this heresy (until the X-Type arrived to really stir them up), but the market doesn’t seem to mind. Either that, or they are blinded by the blatant “retro-Jaguar” styling of the S-Type.
The retro-styling hasn’t changed much with 2005’s mild freshening either. That is intentional, because according to data that I’ve seen (and which is public domain, having been reported by Automotive News and others) “styling” is the number one reason buyers choose this car.
Personally, I don’t get it. To me, the styling – especially at the front – is a caricatured pastiche of great old Jaguars. I think it is heavy handed and overdone – but that’s just me. The side profile improves the look, and the rear is actually the best view. Apparently, Jaguar didn’t share my opinion, as the front and side views are untouched by 2005’s update, and only the rear is perceptibly different (and even that only barely so!).
Love it hate it, it is very clearly a Jaguar though, which in this day and age of look-a-like cars isn’t all bad.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the interior. Already freshened a few years ago (because the launch interior was really, truly awful), there is the requisite huge slab of wood on the instrument panel, and leather everywhere. Unfortunately, these traditional elements are overwhelmed by far too much cheap plastic and cheap switch gear.
Maybe some won’t mind, but for me, the experience of being in the car was a real let down. Everything from the power window switches to the audio system to the heater/air controls seems like it was loaned to this $40,000 car by a much less expensive cousin. Which is too bad, because the overall layout and design theme is actually appealing, and I think appropriate for a Jaguar.
If you can get past the exterior styling (or you like it) and execution of the interior, this is actually a fine car to drive. The handling is really very impressive – especially because the presentation is all about luxury rather than performance. The car hangs in tightly through corners (though the all-season tires do scream a bit) and yet rides beautifully over all manner of pavement. The steering is reasonably communicative and provides adequate feel – and is much better than the rather dead electro-hydraulic systems some (German) competitors seem enamored of.
Generally, the more I pushed the car, the better it felt. Initially lethargic acceleration wakes up when on-the-move, and while not excited about cornering slowly, the initial body role never gets worse and the car actually feels lighter when pushing on hard.
The Jaguar brand’s reputation was built on cars that were both gorgeous to look at and good to drive. This newest S-Type 3.0 IS good to drive. If the corporate master’s had been brave enough to create beauty rather than caricature it (with this car and throughout the range) its possible that Brown’s Lane would still be in the car making business.