Driven to Write (with little thought for his own safety) addresses the big one.
In every Jaguar aficionado’s lifetime he must approach X200 and try, really try to view it with something remotely akin to an objective gaze. Because, let us not mince words, it’s the Sargasso Sea of Jaguars. The mad aunt in the attic, the great un-namable. But has sufficient time elapsed to view the S-Type with a modicum of dispassion?
The 1998 Jaguar S-Type is a car that enjoyed the briefest of critical honeymoons before entering the realm of pastiche. But time and stylistic tide wait for no man, and if they haven’t quite had the effect of lending the S-Type a charm it most assuredly lacked at the turn of the millennium, then perhaps sufficient clarity will allow us to review the design intent and its execution.
Unsurprisingly, nobody has owned up to designing X200 and owing to a lack of reliable attribution, it has been (perhaps unfairly) placed at (former Jaguar Design Director) Geoff Lawson’s door. But while it is known that Jaguar had planned (and partly styled) a car in this idiom during the 1980s, it wasn’t until the Ford takeover that the combination of Jack Telnack and William Clay Ford Jr saw Jaguar’s stylistic direction going maximum-Morse. Because, say what you will about Mr. Lawson, the designs emanating from Whitley during the pre-Ford era, were not pastiche.
X200 was based upon the hard points of the co-developed Lincoln LS which shared its DEW98 architecture. It’s worth pointing out the S-Type’s styling has over the fullness of time proved the more visually robust of the pair, but that’s faint praise indeed. A matter perhaps more akin to comparing degrees of a somewhat unsightly and mildly irritating skin disorder. Because in attempting to marry modernity with nostalgia, Jaguar’s stylists ended up with the worst of all possible worlds.
It has been stated that X200 was an amalgam of at three competing styling proposals, a matter which is common practice within car design studios. However, in most cases the blending process is such that the joins appear broadly seamless. That isn’t evident in this case. Because if any lack of clarity exists as to what a committee car looks like, the answer lies before you.
But while there are visual crimes aplenty, X200 isn’t entirely inept. Certainly not by Mercedes W210 levels of stylistic incompetence anyway. Overall, Jaguar’s stylists did a workmanlike job, at least if we can divorce our distaste at some of the creative decisions, but taken as a whole (at a respectful distance at least) the design work is quite correct. Let’s be kind and simply call it a dog’s dinner cooked to a nicety.
In profile, X200 almost works. The glasshouse is well resolved and the pillars pleasingly (and now unfashionably) thin. Only the inconsistent treatment of the brightwork framing the DLO stands out as ill-judged. Even the much criticised falling bodyside swage line could almost be called prescient, rather than awkward.
The lower light-catching body crease employs a very slight wedge shape which lends the sheer sides some much needed dynamism. Even the difficult A-pillar junction is competently handled – watch and learn Mercedes-Benz. But as we move to the car’s extremities, it all starts to unravel.
With sufficient conviction in its execution, the Mark 2 inspired nose treatment might have worked. However, the shallow mounting of the Mark 2-influenced grille, itself an unfinished looking device which was clearly intended to be a modernist take of its earlier iteration, ensures the effect is one of parody, rather than homage. The grille was hastily restyled in 2002, the same time as those detestable rubbing strips were expunged. Additionally, the shutline management at the nose leaves a good deal to be desired.
For the retro nose treatment to have been convincing, it needed to be supported by an equally nostalgic rear. Here, X200 falls apart entirely. Firstly, when you look at a Lyons-era Jaguar, you’ll find the rear tapers noticeably, lending his designs a grace and athleticism their sheer sides would otherwise have denied them. Here, no such thing occurred, so from the rear three quarters, the car appears flabby, limp and under-resolved.
One gets a clear sense that Jaguar stylists either couldn’t entirely commit to the Mark 2 template, or (more likely) were being pulled in too many directions. Because the tail styling is a fudge, having more in common with the later XJ series cars than any of the Sixties Jaguar saloons from which it is said to have been inspired.
Most egregious is the oval shaped numberplate cutout. Shaped to harmonise with the tail-lamps, both are simply varying degrees of wrong. The coup de grâce however was the mammoth protruding bumper panel which has the effect of pulling the eye simultaneously downwards and outwards.
If the S-Type had been the work of a Kia or Hyundai, it would probably have simply been viewed retrospectively as cherishably bad. However, as a Jaguar it fell so far short of stylistic adequacy as to codify its eternal pariah status. And yet there’s evidence to suggest that X200 does possess an unlikely cheerleader in the ample form of Mercedes’ Chief Creative Officer, Gorden Wagener and his current Purity of Essence W205 C-Class, which has faithfully appropriated the S-Type’s overall theme if not entirely its form.
Indeed, the current C-Class’ ubiquity has succeeded in lending X200 a visual relevance that had hitherto eluded it, in a manner not dissimilar perhaps to that of a discredited D-list actor enjoying a career second-wind by dint of a cameo role in a Quentin Tarantino movie.
X200’s most glaring stylistic misdemeanours were largely addressed by a creditable stylistic reworking in 2004, which suggested the answers to the car’s visual demerits were staring everyone in the face. But despite being face and tail-lifted into respectability, the S-Type can never quite escape its early blush of mortification.
These are some of the things we talk about when we talk about the S-Type. We talk about failure, about missed opportunities too, but when we do so, it’s now with resignation, rather than opprobrium.