What we Talk About When we Talk About The S-Type

Driven to Write (with no thought to our own safety) addresses the big one.

Image: Driven to Write

It’s somewhat overdue. In every Jaguar aficionado’s lifetime one has to approach X200 and try, (now come on, stop giggling back there) really try to view it with something remotely akin to an objective gaze. Because for many of us, 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? While remaining something of an ecumenical matter, that is something at least worth addressing.

The 1998 Jaguar S-Type is a car that enjoyed the briefest of honeymoons before stumbling messily into a backlash of critical opprobrium. Its most glaring stylistic misdemeanours were largely addressed by a creditable facelift in 2004, one which suggested the answers to the car’s visual problems were staring everyone in the face, even if Jaguar’s Ian Callum subsequently lamented it didn’t go nearly far enough.

And yet there is strong evidence to suggest that despite its near universal (if latterly bestowed) pariah status, the ‘much-appreciated’ X200 does possess an unlikely cheerleader in the ample form of Mercedes’ Chief Creative Officer and self confessed stylistic genius, Gorden Wagener and his current ‘Purity of Essence’ W205 C-Class, which has faithfully adopted the S-Type’s overall theme if not entirely its form.

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

In fact, the current C-Class’ ubiquity has succeeded in lending X200 a visual relevance that hitherto eluded it, in an similar manner to that of a C-list actor enjoying a career second-wind by dint of a cameo role in a Quentin Tarantino movie. (An analogy which probably does QT some notable disservice while lending G(sic)W too much creative significance – but I digress).

Time and stylistic tide wait for no man, but they have had the effect of lending the S-Type, if not necessarily a charm it lacked at the turn of the millennium, then at least sufficient clarity to see what was intended and how it was executed.

One thing I think we can say is this: The S-Type was based upon an ill-judged styling theme, a matter which was compounded by its imposition upon the hard points of an entirely different motor car – the co-developed Lincoln LS, which shared its DEW98 architecture. Adding insult to injury was the fact that in attempting to marry modernity with lambent nostalgia, Jaguar’s stylists ended up with the worst of possible worlds.

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. A matter perhaps more akin to comparing degrees of a somewhat unsightly and mildly irritating skin disorder.

Image: Driven to Write

It remains unclear who actually penned X200 and owing to this lack of attribution, it has latterly been (probably unfairly) placed at (former Jaguar Design Director) Geoff Lawson’s door. Now it’s known that Jaguar had planned (and partly styled) a car in this idiom during their brief period of independence, but it wasn’t until Ford took over in 1989 that the combination of Jack Telnack, William Clay Ford and latterly, the fragrant J. Mays saw Jaguar’s stylistic direction going maximum-Morse. Because, say what you will about Lawson, the pre-Ford designs emanating from Browns Lane (and later, Whitley) while honouring the past, were not pastiche.

It’s commonly understood that X200 was an amalgam of at least three competing styling proposals, something which is by no means uncommon practice within car design studios. However, in most cases the blending process is such that the joins appear (at least broadly) seamless. That isn’t so evident in this case. Because if you’re unclear as to what a committee car looks like, don’t bother looking at an XJ-S, you will find it right here.

Image: Driven to Write

And yet, while there are visual crimes aplenty, what X200 isn’t is inept. No, we’re not looking at Mercedes W210 levels of stylistic incompetence here. Overall, Jaguar’s stylists did an entirely satisfactory job, because there is little that is glaringly wrong with X200’s execution. Yes, we may roll our eyes at some of the creative decisions, but the design work is all quite correct. (Well, taken from a distance of several metres, and viewed in profile under favourable lighting conditions, at least).

Side-on, the S-Type 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 being ill-judged. Even the much criticised falling bodyside swage line now seems 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. (That rubbing strip is a disgrace) 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

Like all Jaguar’s from this period, S-Type’s surfaces are slightly flabby, lacking the surface tension that characterised the much-admired ‘Lyons line’ of old. With sufficient conviction in its execution, the Mark 2 inspired nose treatment might have worked. However, the shallow angle of the grille – itself an oddly unfinished, featureless device which was clearly intended to simply evoke a memory of the older car – ensures the effect is one of parody, rather than homage. The grille was hastily restyled in 2001, the same time as those frightful rubbing strips were expunged. In addition, the shutline management at the nose leaves something 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 the Lyons cars, you’ll find the rear tapers noticeably towards the tail, lending his cars an 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’s stylists either couldn’t entirely commit to the Mark 2 template at the rear, or (more likely) were being pulled in too many directions, because the tail styling is a fudge, having more in common with the XJ series than any of the so-called ‘Utah-bodied’ Sixties Jaguar saloons.

Most egregious is the oval shaped numberplate cutout. Clearly shaped to harmonise with the tail-lamps, but in fact, 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 outwards and downwards. Grille aside, it’s X200’s visual nadir.

If the S-Type had been the work of Kia or Hyundai (or similar), I’d probably have viewed it as cherishably bad. However, as a Jaguar it fell so far short of stylistic adequacy as to render it unspeakable. Despite being face and tail-lifted into respectability, X200 can never quite escape a whiff of embarrassment, but time is a great healer.

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 now when we do so, it’s with a good deal less vitriol than of yore.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding 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?

    https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-09-25/jaguar-land-rover-is-said-to-scout-for-luxury-brand-acquisitions

    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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