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2003 Jaguar S-TypeR Road Test

By Brian Moody
Photos by Charles Ofria

Category: $60,000 - $70,000 Sports Sedan
Who should buy this car: Someone looking for a rocket sled in a stylish suit with room for 5 and an unmistakable personality.
Comparable models in this class: Audi A6 4.2, BMW 540, Infiniti Q45, Lexus GS430, Mercedes Benz E500,

The Jaguar S-Type R Uncompromising Power

Since its introduction, the Jaguar S-Type has received mixed reviews. Some say its nothing more than an expensive Ford, while most praise the elegant interior, luxurious ride and heritage inspired exterior design. Perhaps both criticisms have a root in truth, but the S-Type has evolved into a car that offers real world variety and a true Jaguar experience on the road.  

The 2002 S-Type suffered from a few minor problems. First, an automatic transmission that shifted clumsily and seemed easy to confuse unacceptable on a $40,000+ automobile. Second, the S-Type had a very Ford-looking interior. To quote myself from a previous review: Frankly it all looks as if it came straight out of a Ford Taurus. And that was a true statement at the time; the interior of the 02 S-Type was just too bland for a Jaguar. Third, the interior lacked adequate storage space for little things like sunglasses and wallet. 

These days of increasing competition in the luxury car market, Jaguar is listening to its customers and, in some cases, the motoring press as well.  Jaguar has addressed each of the previously stated problems and made improvements in many other areas as well. 

The 2003 S-Type has a better looking, and more user-friendly interior; it looks more like a Jag. The boring center stack is gone and gauges have a sportier flair, although still lacking the classy backlit feature found on other cars in this price range. For 03 the center console storage area/armrest is much larger and can easily accommodate such items as; cell phone, change purse, wallet etc. Also, the V8 has grown to 4.2-liters making an impressive 293 hp (up from last years 281). V8 models now sport a ZF, 6-speed automatic which is a HUGE improvement over the old 5-speed automatic transmission. The new S-Type is stiffer and benefits from power adjustable pedals as well. 

Of course the big news for 2003 is the addition of an R model to the S-Type lineup. Jaguar cars with the R designation are performance models similar to BMWs M-series cars or Mercedes AMG cars.

Stylistically, the S-Type R stands out in a crowd with beautiful 18-inch wheels, wire mesh grille and dramatic monochromatic paint. The R also has a sportier front fascia with fog lamps built in, a rear spoiler, and fabulous R badging on the rear deck lid and both front fenders. The R looks like a regular S-Type on steroids. Like a cat preparing to leap on its prey, the R has a muscular and menacing appearance that turns heads.

However, the 2003 Jaguar S-Type R is much more than a family sedan with fancy wheels and blacked out trim. The S-Type R is nothing less than a fire-breathing, ground-pounding, GS430-stomping, tire-smoking sport sedan fueled by a supercharged V8 cranking out a whopping 390 hp, all wrapped in a sleek package that is unmistakably Jaguar. You could spend $20,000 more on an AMG E55, but why? 

For all practical purposes, the S-Type R isnt even a luxury sedan at all. Unlike the compromising Lexus GS430, the S-Type R goes for the throat in what can only be called an all-out performance sedan. Similar to the BMW 540i in execution but with a less stern end result, the S-Type R is able to dispense this pavement scorching performance in a rather effortless manner. The R can reach 60 mph from a dead stop in just over 5 seconds, but the car never loses its composure. The V8 configuration of this car gives it adequate torque off the line, while the supercharger delivers rocket like acceleration at higher RPMs. Stab the gas at 3500 RPM, the supercharger whines aggressively, and the R leaps forward with all the verve and authority of a jet-fighter at take-off. The 6-speed automatic works well with this engine, never hunting or hesitating when the accelerator is stomped upon. Under hard acceleration, up-shifts are firm and precise. Downshifts are somewhat noticeable, but never annoying. A sport mode can be selected, which delays up-shifting in order maximize power. 

Another improvement with regard to the transmission has to do with the J-gate configuration of the shift lever. While Jaguar has retained this unique feature, the action required to move the lever from D to reverse or park seems less of a hassle. 

Ride and handling are more sport than luxury. Low profile P275/35R18 tires dont offer much in the way of soaking up potholes, but boy do they bite. Never harsh, the S-Type R has a firmness that belies a luxury car. Again, this is similar in execution to a car like the BMW 540i but differs from other luxury/sport sedans such as the GS430 that never completely commit to either luxury or sport. While a car like the Lexus GS430 is able to tackle twisty back roads, the S-Type devours them and is more suited to this type of chore. There is little body roll, and the result is a feeling of enhanced control. The R has a light and tossable feel that is lacking in other luxury/sport sedans. 

Inside the S-Type R is a reasonably spacious cabin with plenty of room up front but less than roomy accommodations in the rear. The S-type in any trim can haul 5 adults, but 4 adults is a better fit if comfort is a concern.  R seats are sporty without being hard and uncomfortable. Improved thigh support keeps driver in place during spirited driving. Legroom is plentiful for front seat occupants, but only average for the rear passengers. Headroom and shoulder room are all more than adequate with not one passenger complaint during a week of business lunches and trips to the local shopping mall. Leather is soft and at the same time sporty. Dark wood trim adorns the R, but neither adds to or detracts from a cabin that is very attractive overall. Trunk space is average. The S-Types trunk is deep but rather narrow creative packing is key to maximizing cargo space. 

Overall, the 2003 S-Type is a significant improvement over last years model; what small irritations there were have been eliminated. The R version of the S-Type is not cheap, at just over $60,000 there are plenty of competent choices but the S-Type R holds its own against the competition. In the high dollar world of luxury/performance sedans, the S-Type often costs thousands less than the competition. An all-out performance sedan, the S-type R is unmatched in terms of handling, straight-line acceleration and stunning good looks. The S-Type R doesnt have to be everything to everyone and it doesnt try.   The S-type R offers aggressive stand out styling and the pure brawn to back it up. With V6, V8 and supercharged R styles to choose from, the Jaguar S-Type has something to offer every preference and pocketbook.

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2003 Jaguar S-Type R RearWheel Drive Sedan
Engine Type  4.2L double overhead cam (DOHC) 32 valve Supercharged V8
Horsepower 390 @ 6,100
Torque 408 @ 3,500
Fuel Recommended Premium  Unleaded.
Transmission  6-speed automatic transmission with "J" shifter
Drive Type Rear Wheel Drive
Tires P245/40ZR18 front on 8" wide wheels
P275/35ZR18 rear on 9.5" wide wheels
Overall Length 192"
Wheelbase 114.5"
Width 81.1"
Turning Diameter 37.7 ft Curb to Curb
Curb Weight 4,046 lbs.
Fuel Tank 18.4 Gals.
Miles Per Gallon N/A
Acceleration 0 to 60 5.3 Seconds
Base Sticker Price  $62,400   Plus $645 Destination Charge.

Standard Equipment

  • 16-way power driver and passenger seats
  • Electrically adjusted foot pedals
  • 2 position memory driver's seat
  • Heated front seats
  • Split-folding rear bench seat
  • Computer Active Technology Suspension (CATS).
  • Dynamic Stability Control.
  • 1 one-touch power window
  • Dual zone climate controls for driver and front passenger
  • Interior air filtration
  • Wood and leather interior
  • Alpine AM/FM cassette 6-CD stereo with 320 watts and 10 speakers
  • Rear parking sensors
  • Automatic headlamps
  • Xenon high intensity discharge (HID) headlamps
  • Rain-sensing windshield wipers
  • Windshield heated where wipers park
  • Universal Homelink garage door opener
  • Electronic parking brake

Major Available Options

  • Navigation System
  • Communications Package
    Includes: portable cellular phone with voice-activated controls, Navigation System and a 4-year subscription to JaguarNet (VEMS).

For more information on the Jaguar S-Type, visit

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