What We Talk About When We Talk About the S-Type

Driven to Write (with little thought for his own safety) addresses the big one.

Image: Driven to Write

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.

Note the Ford KA-sourced repeater flasher ahead of that hateful rubbing strip: Two crimes. Those wheels – make it three. Image: Driven to Write

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.

So much going on to so little effect. Image: Driven to Write

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.

Image: Driven to Write

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.

Everything goes South at the rear. Image: Driven to Write

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.

Image: Driven to Write

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.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

13 thoughts on “What We Talk About When We Talk About the S-Type”

  1. “Now it is 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.”

    I’m honestly not sure I can concur with even this low standard. I walked past an LS on the street the other day and was just musing it has aged better than the S. You could hardly call the LS a terrific piece of work and it has more than its fair share of its own aesthetic sins (not the least of which is the truly diabolical model lettering over the ungainly rear lamps), but the Lincoln at least manages a basic level of consistency throughout, which is a standard the Jag fails to attain in my opinion. Some elements of the Jag are appropriately contemporary in their handling, but consider the rear screen/C-pillar/upper rear door DLO in isolation and it could have come straight out of the 1960s. The same also applies for the interiors. The Lincoln’s is supremely uninteresting, but at least not egregious – think similar-era GS300 minus the quality or attention to detail. The lower centre console aesthetic of the launch-spec S-Type is completely unacceptable for a car of its standing, rather reminiscent in theme of the equally unacceptable interiors in the AU Falcon and 1996 Taurus. Those were at least cheap.

    1. I should probably stress this is largely intended as a commentary on the inadequacy of the Jaguar than any particular esteem for the Linc…

  2. Eoin, you very charitably avoid any mention of the S-type’s interior – specifically its dashboard, which was an absolute horror show.

    Again, the extensive (and expensive) mid-life facelift did much to right these wrongs.

    1. I won’t take issue with any of the comments above. I simply wanted to establish if it was possible to discuss this car’s styling in a mildly dispassionate manner – a matter that had hitherto eluded me. Like most great disasters, the X200 fascinates. I’d dearly love to properly understand what took place, how those decisions were reached and by whom.

      As to the interior, I deliberately omitted to mention it – largely due to the fact that it would have entailed another 1200 (or so) words and frankly, I’m in enough trouble over wordcounts as it is. However, it is a matter I will return to in the fullness of time…

  3. You make a very good point about today’s Mercs being a kind of echo of the S-Type (and Rover 75, whilst we’re here in this time-warp). The falling feature line down each side is, admittedly, better done on the Mercs, but I’m not sure I like it on either car. The biggest problem the S-Type has comes in the form of the Mitsuoka Viewt, which shows it the real way to drive a parody of a 60’s Jag!

    1. It was the S-type’s misfortune to be launched in the same month as the Rover 75. I remember an Autocar cover story which gave them equal billing.

      The Rover was 2/3 the price of the Jag, and while not a perfect piece of design itself, still looked about a million times better.

  4. Nice post, Eóin. Since over two thirds of the S-Types imported to Brazil came before the first facelift, I wonder if the X200 would be more pleasant if I take off the rubbing strips, paint the bumper chrome and do some other minor tweaks. Or I can simply go X-Type.

    (I’m pretty sure my next car will be a pre-2008 Jag or a 1st-gen CLS 500).

    semi-off-topic: Bloomberg said JLR plans to buy another luxury brand. would they it be the Lancia’s saviour?


    1. Richard, Sergio would like to offer you his portfolio of fantastic luxury brands. they may not be officially for sale but you know, he wants to do business with you!

      well, seriously: some weeks ago, Sergio said he could offload Maserati and Alfa Romeo, so I think Lancia could be up for sale, too. other than these Italians, maybe Buick or even Lincoln (what about a PAG revival?). can’t see other living luxury brands for sale today.

      money-wise, JLR’s best bet would be buying Lancia or bringing Daimler back. maybe DTW could write a text offering JLR some advice.

  5. You’re being very benign, Eoin. X200 is definitely closer to the W210s, Scorpio Mk 2s and Kia Opiri of this world than, say, the current Audi A4. It would be one of those ironic ‘so bad it’s charming’ cars, if it wasn’t wearing a Jaguar badge. Which is why I laugh at the Kia and Scorpio, and look the other way whenever I see a W210 or original X200 (the facelift cars are surprisingly bearable).

    Maybe we can conclude that executive saloons with round headlights were among the most challenging of tasks a designer could be presented with in the ’90s…?

    1. One thing I think we can say with almost total certainty is that X200 (in launch form) was a car that was designed in an environment of uncertainty, interference and most likely, outright conflict. Close to twenty years on from its launch, X200 has attained an almost kitsch quality. Well, it might if they hadn’t meant it…

      What we’re discussing here (to paraphrase Mrs Clinton) is a basket of deplorables, of which the S-Type is but one. What I am attempting to assert however, is that it not the most deplorable. I’m not (quite) mad. When one compares the concurrent BMW 5-Series and the ’97 Audi A6, the level of inadequacy displayed by these cars develops a herculean weight. Nevertheless, I’d have one of these over a W210. Okay, I’d probably have anything in preference, but realistically I’d have a Kia Magentis over either…

  6. The RD-6 and R-Coupe concepts both show how the same themes could have been handled with more conviction and a greater eye to modernity. Old tropes needn’t look old, as the current Mustang amply demonstrates.

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