When the S-Type went under Ian Callum’s knife in 2004, the result was a visual success, although only a qualified one.
The 1999 (X200) S-Type was a car which was initially received with an element of enthusiasm from the buying public, but what appeal it had, quickly faded. There were a number of reasons for this – one being the early cars’ frightful cabin ambience and issues with driveline refinement. The other unsurprisingly was its external appearance, which rather screamed its ‘committee design’ gestation.
Certainly, during the post-millennium era, it had become obvious both to Jaguar and to their Ford masters that the creative execution was the wrong one, but with the carmaker committed to additional and expensive model programmes, there wasn’t the money available for a change in course. 2002 did see a series of revisions, most of which were aimed at improving the chassis and interior, but a more comprehensive revision was scheduled for 2004.
This was to be Ian Callum’s first significant opportunity to place his stylistic stamp upon a production Jaguar design. With firm instructions from above to carry over the centre section of the car (including door pressings), Callum did not have a great deal of room to manoeuvre, telling chroniclers from Jaguar World in 2014, “we tidied it up a bit, and took the fussiness out. In retrospect, we should have changed the front end.”
However, given the constraints Jaguar’s stylists had to work with, the revisions were broad-ranging and for the most part, rather clever. The primary visual intent was to pull the eye inwards (and at the rear), upwards. Broadly inspired by the 2001 R-Coupé, the S-Type’s bumpers were pulled in towards the body, which lent the car more dynamism. The grille was reworked (for the second time in the model’s lifespan) and positioned in a slightly more vertical position, while the headlamps were now recessed.
But what both the S-Type and the later Lancia Thesis illustrated however, is that vertical grilles are notoriously difficult to incorporate from a proportional perspective, especially if you wish to emphasise an impression of width.
The revised taillamps were also directly inspired by the R-Coupé, but were also perhaps unintentionally reminiscent of those fitted to the B6-generation Audi A4 series or indeed the W202 C-Class Mercedes. Mounted high upon the tail, they helped lessen the pronounced sagging effect from which the earlier car suffered, a matter exacerbated by the falling swage line which ran the length of the flanks.
Curiously, Jaguar’s Sir William Lyons had experimented with a similar falling swage on styling prototypes for the original XJ saloon, wisely abandoning it for the more lineal version which was finally adopted – probably for similar reasons. Because despite efforts to fool the eye, the manner in which the S-Type’s swage line droops had the effect of pulling one’s vision downwards.
Flanking the taillamps was a piece of Callum-era frippery which never quite worked. A metallic lightbar, which had been mounted below the taillamps on the R-Coupe concept, here was placed in a curiously ill-defined position between the lamp units. But rather than lending the tail an element of distinction, it simply appeared as an afterthought. Less would certainly have been more. Inside meanwhile, a newly designed cabin gave the interior a considerable lift and a far more upmarket feeling.
The 2004 revisions failed to turn X200 into a swan, but after all, nothing could achieve that. They did however tidy it up to an extent that it was broadly acceptable. Unfortunately, by mid-decade the S-Type’s fortunes had pretty much expired in the marketplace and with far more appealing rivals available, new customers proved difficult to find.
Yet as facelifts go, it was a highly creditable one – perhaps the most visually successful, arguably the most ingenious, and certainly the most comprehensive reimagining’s of the Lawson era cars. But despite the facelifted car being a considerably improved product, no amount of cosmetic surgery could alter the fact that it was, beneath the gauze and stitches still an S-Type.