Name the first luxury automobile brand that comes to mind, and I’ll bet it’s something German or Japanese, or possibly American. Even narrowing it down to just Britain, and it is likely that said brand is the ultra-prestigious Rolls-Royce or the highly-relevant Land Rover. Jaguar, meanwhile, is often forgotten and for good reason. Quite simply, it doesn’t sell anywhere near as many cars as its rivals.
Over the past decade, total annual Jaguar sales in the U.S. have typically averaged around 15,000, while in Europe around 25,000. Unlike most luxury brands, Jaguar has had very little penetration in the Chinese market. Of course, the introduction of all-new products have typically caused significant upticks in Jaguar sales, most notably the recent F-Pace and E-Pace crossovers, which have allowed Jaguar to effectively double its U.S. and European sales since 2016, and even reach its best ever worldwide sales figure of 180,833 units in 2018.
Notwithstanding this feat, Jaguar has never been a volume brand, chasing the title of best in sales in the way that its German competitors do. Always more of a boutique retailer, I’d like to say that Jaguar focuses on quality over quantity, but I can’t even keep a straight face saying that and I work for JLR. Quality and reliability have never been strong Jaguar suits, dating back to its beginnings.
Nevertheless, lower volume has its benefits. Jaguar has always held on to a special sort of appeal and image, one of highly-distinguished and grandiose exclusivity — an appeal and image that has arguably been Jaguar’s most equitable quality over the years, and one which has kept its most dedicated owners.
While Jaguar has fewer model lines and longer product cycles than most competitors, it generally makes the introduction of a new model all the more significant and impactful. Jaguar’s recent and notable sales increase is completely due to the introduction of its F-Pace and I-Pace crossovers. Prior to this, the brand’s most drastic increase in sales was attributed to the S-Type, a very significant model for the brand that went on sale in the first quarter of 1999 as a 2000 model.
Just to put things in perspective, prior to the S-Type’s introduction, Jaguar had been a two-model regular production lineup of the XJ full-size luxury sedan and the XJS/XK personal luxury coupe for decades. At least in the United States, total brand sales had never topped 25,000 and for the decade prior to the S-Type, 1998 was the only year Jaguar cracked 20,000 units, largely attributed to the refreshed 1998 XJ.
Built on the new Ford DEW platform shared with the Lincoln LS, the rear-wheel drive S-Type shared relatively little with the LS beyond basic underpinnings and powertrain, offering its own distinctive styling, driving dynamics, and overall character. Offering Jaguar’s traditional blend of spirited performance coupled with a plush ride, the base V6 S-Type’s starting price undercut the XJ by some $13,000 USD, while its V8 model did so by some $7,000 USD, making it a much more attractive means of entry to the Jaguar brand.
Indeed for its time, the S-Type did offer impressive performance stats, particularly with its larger engines. Depending on market and model year, buyers had the choice between a 2.5-liter V6 (201 hp/185 lb-ft), 3.0-liter V6 (240 hp/216 lb-ft), 2.7-liter V6 turbodiesel (204 hp/321 lb-ft), 4.0-liter V8 (281 hp/287 lb-ft), 4.2-liter V8 (300 hp/310 lb-ft), and the S-Type R’s supercharged 4.2-liter V8 making 400 horsepower and 408 lb-ft torque.
Gasoline V6s were in the form of the all-new Jaguar AJ engine, the Jaguar-built version of Mazda’s AJ-V6, itself heavily based on the Ford Duratec V6, while V8s were Jaguar’s own AJ-V8, an engine that also had versions used in Land Rover, Aston Martin, Ford, and Lincoln products. As for the S-Type, it’s worth noting that V6 models offered 5-speed and then 6-speed manuals, while all were also paired with 5-speed and then 6-speed automatics.
The S-Type’s largest criticism fell upon its love-it-or-leave-it styling inside and out. Clearly paying homage to the original Jaguar S-Type from the 1960s, the new S-Type exuded traditional Jaguar styling cues such as quad round headlights, deeply fluted hood, prominent chrome grille, and a low boot.
The rounded greenhouse and bodywork also mimicked that of the original S-Type, giving the 2000 S-Type a heavy, rotund look that some including your humble author have never cared for.
The 2000 S-Type’s interior was also very traditional Jaguar, with of abundances of supple leather, polished wood trim, and sound deadening for a plush and coddling environment. A not-so traditional Jaguar element was the S-Type’s prominent U-shaped center instrument panel.
Featuring an unattractive jigsaw puzzle of hard plastic, Ford parts bin radio and HVAC controls, and an illy-placed nav screen when so optioned, it rightfully drew heavy criticism and was one of the first things changed with the S-Type’s mid-cycle refresh in 2003, with a more elegant-looking X-Type-inspired console replacing it.
In spite of any perceived shortcomings, the S-Type was an astounding success for Jaguar. Quickly becoming the brand’s best-selling model, the S-Type was almost solely responsible for Jaguar sales tripling in both the U.S. and European markets from 1998 to 2002. Unfortunately, the S-Type and its retro-ness proved merely a fad, as meaningful updates including a significant refresh for 2003 and the addition of the high-performance 400-horsepower S-Type R didn’t help the S-Type in keeping its momentum. By 2007, overall Jaguar sales had fallen below their pre-S-Type levels.
The S-Type was replaced by the new Jaguar XF in 2008, a car which despite some shared underpinnings, was far more beautiful by nearly all accounts. Sadly, it arrived just as most economies were going into a sharp recession, and at a time when sedans began rapidly losing their popularity in comparison to CUVs and SUVs.
While it’s doubtable whether or not Jaguar will ever find consistent success in the way which its German rivals have for decades, the 2000 S-Type gave it one of its most promising glimmers of hope, whether or not it was a worthy car of doing so. Regardless, total global sales of the S-Type came in just shy of 300,000 examples, making it one of the most successful single generations of any British-built car of all time.
Photographed in Blackstone Square, South End Boston – October 2018