2003 Jaguar S-Type Review: Stunning, Sporty, and Superb

Put those claws away, Tiger – the redesigned 2003 Jaguar S-Type addresses many of the concerns and problems of previous models, and may now be one of the finest mid-range luxury vehicles in the jungle. Don’t let the buck-toothed grille fool you – this cat is ready to roll, and it purrs like none other.


The Jaguar S-Type may not have the distinguished pedigree of the XJ or XK, but ever since its debut in 1999 as a 2000 model, the S-Type has made subtle improvements and refinements and is now poised near the top of its perch. For 2003, Jaguar continues to improve the S-Type, most noticeably in the performance, safety and ergonomic departments. Jaguar (wisely) chose not to focus on any styling changes, so upon first glance the S-Type may seem relatively unchanged. We like the current body style – we think it lends to a sleek, sexy and crouched appearance that definitely stands out in the ever growing crowd of “me too” look-a-likes.

We took delivery of a 2003 Jaguar S-Type 3.0L that was outfitted with Jaguar’s new 6-speed automatic transmission. A 5-speed manual is available in the base package. Other engine choices include a 4.2L V8 and the recently announced 4.2L R-model, complete with a supercharger that helps produce 400 horsepower. For those with insecurity issues, the 4.2L may seem like the only logical choice, but in reality, the 3.0L V6 is more than adequate for daily driving duties.

The S-Type 3.0L derives its power from a 24-valve, DOHC, 3.0L Ford-built V6 that produces 235 horsepower and 216 lb-ft of torque. Despite the rather low torque figure, the engine feels powerful and linear, thanks in part to the six-speed automatic and a relatively flat torque curve. Despite some very spirited driving, we averaged nearly 21 miles per gallon – we’d expect around 16 mpg with the V8 powered S-Type. With its zesty 3.0L, the S-Type was able to propel itself from 0 to 60 in 7.7 seconds, and the 1/4 mile came in 16.1 seconds with speeds in the high 80’s. Top speed is limited to 127 mph.

Throttle response is spot on, thanks to variable valve timing and a multi-staged intake manifold. While the torque was linear, horsepower definitely came on strong above 4,000 rpm, and the raspy growl that accompanied it made spirited driving fun.

Jaguar was quick to point out that there was more to the S-Type than its powertrain. Jaguar engineers have stiffened the S-Type chassis by more than 10% and have included several suspension revisions including updated dampers (struts), springs, bushings and sway bars. Prodigious amounts of aluminum are also used in the fully independent front and rear suspension to help lower unsprung weight and increase rigidity. We found the handling to be tight and precise, although we did notice one very unsettling trait: When driving quickly over uneven terrain, the engine cuts power momentarily when wheel slip is detected.

The system is so quick to respond that it can be quite unnerving, especially when you’re not expecting it. Our hearts skipped several beats when one of the rear-driven wheels apparently lost traction with the pavement “mid bounce” and the car cut power instantaneously. After realizing what was happening, we still felt uneasy with the system, due in large part to its abrupt and immediate operation. The S-Type R benefits from Computer Active Technology Suspension (CATS) and may alleviate some of the handling issues we experienced.


The S-Type 3.0L brakes are of the 4-wheel vented disc variety and come equipped with ABS and yaw control. The latter helps keep the vehicle level under heavy braking, and despite what looks to be a great system on paper, we experienced average braking results – 70 to 0 came in just under 200 feet (for comparison, the similarly priced BMW 530i stops in 167 feet).

Inside, we found the newly redesigned seats to be comfortable, supportive and roomy. Our lanky, 6’4″ editors had no problems with head or leg room, and all commented on the improved cabin quality. The navigation system was easy to operate, the stereo controls were well placed and the climate control system worked flawlessly.

From behind the wheel, our only complaints included some cluegy controls (window controls, stalks and cruise control), but the issues were minor and would go largely unnoticed after a few days. The new for 2003 dashboard features real bird’s-eye maple and an improved instrument layout – both of which are welcome additions. Dual stage airbags are coupled to sensors that determine the size and weight of occupants to better protect them in the event of a crash. Adjustable pedals help to accomdate all body types, and power memory seat/pedal/mirror and steering settings remember each driver’s individual preferences.

While the 2003 Jaguar S-Type 3.0L may not be the King of the Jungle, it’s definitely positioned near the top of the food chain. Thanks to the recent revisions, the S-Type is more comfortable and capable than ever, and is poised to give class-leaders such as the BMW 530i and the Mercedes-Benz E-Class a run for their money. With an optional sport package and some added amenities, a well equipped S-Type will set you back about $50k – that’s less than the BMW and Mercedes, and helps make the S-Type an even more serious contender in its class.

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