The Brave Pill: Jaguar S-Type R

It seems that the PH massive has a mature attitude to automotive risk. Reaction to our first Brave Pill, last week's Merc CLK 55 AMG, was positive enough that captain Nic has decided to give the format a second sailing. But also to send us into even murkier waters. It's fair to say that few are going to regard an elderly high-performance Jaguar as a cautious investment.

This S-Type R is here both on its individual merits - we reckon it looks like a properly good 'un - but also as exemplar for what has to be one of the best value performance sleepers currently out there. With the combination of a muscular V8 and right-wheel drive, like the '55, you might also be spotting a pattern here, and it's certainly true that a disproportionate number of potential Brave Pills share this worthy combination. Don't worry, all won't.

Cue up Survivor's Eye of the Tiger, because the S-Type R is a classic tale of automotive redemption, or how the bad became good. In the Museum of Terrible Automotive Ideas - something I'm planning to eke out my eventual retirement - there will an entire hall dedicated to retro styling. This strange fad gripped the car industry in the mid 1990s and led to a series of curious, time-shifted homages to an idealised past. The most successful, in terms of sales to overweight divorcees if not critical plaudits, was the new Volkswagen Beetle. Misses included the Chrysler PT Cruiser, 2002 Ford Thunderbird and - furthest from the board of all - the Jaguar S-Type.

Introduced in 1998, at the same motorshow as the fifties throwback Rover 75, the S-Type riffed half-heartedly on various themes that had originated with its 1963 namesake. So it had goggly headlights, rounded-off front wings and even an attempt at the curved rear door glass Jaguar used to do so well. It also had a strange 'accent' slash down the sides which made it look as if the owner had goaded Wolverine into a road-rage incident. It shared a platform with the almost entirely forgotten Lincoln LS and - like its US cousin - had a palpable air of cheapness about it, especially its low rent interior plastics.

It was also completely unexciting, especially with the entry-level Ford V6 engine. I remember driving one in a magazine comparison against an E39 530i and W210 E320 and feeling acutely embarrassed at the S's mehness. Amazingly - given the ownership profile of the XJ and XK at the time - the S-Type actually managed to increase the average age of a Jaguar buyer.

Which is where the S-Type R came in, an antidote to the dullness of the standard car. Ian Callum had become Jaguar's design boss by the time it was launched, and under his watch it was made far more modern, losing the chrome trim and Ye Olde half-timbered cabin, gaining a bodykit and some arch-filling 18-inch alloys. Power came from a 4.2-litre version of the AJ-V8, but with a yowly Eaton M112 supercharger to add some gravel to the standard engine's cream. With 396hp it had 102hp more than the regular V8 and the same as a contemporary E39 M5. Jaguar claimed a 5.3 second 0-60mph time and that - without the standard 155mph limiter - the car would be able to reach 191mph, given a long enough straight.

It worked, too. The R sold in respectable numbers - meaning there are still plenty to choose from - although depreciation has since done some spectacular reaping. Although prices have stabilised, the S-Type R is still one of the cheapest ways to experience 400hp without the serious risk of winning a Darwin Award. For £7,495 before haggling this privately-sold one isn't the cheapest - ratty versions can go for a fair bit less - but it does look like an enticing prospect for somebody with a stout heart and a high tolerance for sometimes painful running costs.

While the S-Type R has lived its life in the shadow of the M5, it has also tended to appeal to a different clientele, one that - all things being equal - you'd probably prefer to buy a car from. The R is softer edged and, although its huge fun to make its supercharger yowl like a yodeling cat, its real forte has always been as a high-speed cruiser than a racetrack warrior. (At this point I have to add a link to the time a visit to a circuit in one went catastrophically wrong for Jaguar F1 pilot Antonio Pizzonia.) That means less abuse and a fair chance of getting a generous quantity of carefully preserved invoices.

This advert claims a full service history, which would need to be verified, but we should take more encouragement from the fact the vendor is using a branded Jaguar paper protector to keep the passenger floormat immaculate. It certainly looks pristine in the pictures, it's wearing a matching set of Michelin Pilot Sport tyres and boasts an MOT history clean enough to eat your dinner from. Advisories warn of little but the sort of brake and rubber consumption you'd be surprised not to see in something big and heavy and, in 2014, a solidary oil leak which hasn't come back since. The only obvious downside to this one is that it was first registered in June 2006, meaning it is one of the few Rs to have slipped into the higher VED rates: £555 annually, rather than the £315 if it had been registered before the 23rd March.

Ah well, although painful, the extra tax will just be where the wallet-hurt starts. Even cautious S-Type R owners admit it's hard to get mpg into the 20s and staying on top of routine maintenance will be pricey. Oil changes are at 12,000 miles intervals, it needs plugs every 30,000 miles and the six-speed auto 'box should have its oil swapped at 50,000 miles. Electrical problems are a possibility, as is rust in sills and wheelarches (although with no sign of that here.) You'll be getting Christmas cards from your Jaguar specialist in other words, maybe even a hamper.

But don't concentrate on the negatives, they're not why we're here. This is a 400hp saloon with room for the kids and a Mad Max soundtrack for less than a three-year old diesel hatchback. Someone needs to give this stray cat a good home.

Click here to see the original advert.

P.H. O'meter

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Comments (69) Join the discussion on the forum

  • powerstroke 02 Mar 2019

    Brave pill !!! I think you need to find things that would bankrupt not pocket money cars that cost less than the first year depreciation
    on a family hatchback ... look for a rusty Italian exotic with a noisy camshaft that's also insurance cat C perhaps ....

  • Ahbefive 02 Mar 2019

    powerstroke said:
    Brave pill !!! I think you need to find things that would bankrupt not pocket money cars that cost less than the first year depreciation
    on a family hatchback ... look for a rusty Italian exotic with a noisy camshaft that's also insurance cat C perhaps ....
    I disagree. I believe the point of the article is to be looking at things a PHer might be brave enough to buy and enjoy rather than something knackered that nobody wants.

  • legless 02 Mar 2019

    I'm almost certain that this exact car started out life as my boss's company car when I worked at JLR.

  • AC43 02 Mar 2019

    Back in early 2000's a mate of mine had one of these and took me out in it for blast and, oddly enough, I was impressed - it had 100bhp more than my DD at the time. The damping wasn't quite as good but overall I thought it was a pretty good package. Plus nobody had a clue what it was which really appealed.

    Having said that his had had a catastrophic engine failure, He lived in Twickehman and the car spend a lot of time in traffic doing stop strart stuff. My memory is very vague but I seem to remember him telling me that it had started running oddly and he'd had it back in a few times before the engine grenaded. I seem to remember him telling me that it turned out that the root cause had been that the cats had become blocked which in turn caused the failure.

    He was asked to pay for a new engine but in the end Jaguar covered 80%+ as he'd argued that they should have diagnosed this during their frequent attempts to solve the poor running.

    He sold it shortly afterwards and I did toy with the idea of buying it but in the end I was happy with my C43 so stuck with it.

    I've kept an eye out for V8 Jags ever since (especially the s/c ones) and am happy to say that the neighbour over the road has two - an XKR and an XFR. Conceptually these cars are close the large engined Merc thing that I like and he agrees - the few times he hasn't had a Jag in his life he's had a V8 Merc.

  • dme123 02 Mar 2019

    No brave pills required for these or the contemporary XJ; for all the styling was questionable the quality was not. Just avoid the diesels and watch out for rusty sills on S-Types.

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