Back in 2002, we pitched the flagship of Jaguar’s S-type range – the new supercharged R version – against the E39 generation of BMW M5. After all, they had a lot in common. Both were rear-wheel-drive, V8-engined saloons that focused on mixing luxury with outright performance.
Predictably, the M5 fought off Jaguar’s upstart and we eventually proclaimed the BMW the “paragon of four-door performance motoring”. It was a close-run thing, though, with the Jaguar proving surprisingly capable. It offered more communicative steering than the M5 and was more refined, but the BMW had the edge on quality, interior space and outright talent.
These days, a decent E39 M5 will set you back £6000, and the potential for quite costly repairs or maintenance is quite high. A clean S-type R, meanwhile, will be only £4000.
“You’re basically getting a supercar for no money, really,” says Gary Robinson, owner of independent specialist Swallows Jaguar (swallowsjaguar.com, 01934 750319). “They’ve got fabulous power, lots of grip — everything, really.”
New, the Jaguar’s supercharged 4.2-litre V8 would have produced 395bhp and 399lb ft, allowing the 1800kg saloon to sprint to 60mph in 5.5sec. The top speed was limited to 155mph and, on average, the S-type R would burn a gallon of fuel every 20 miles.
“Mechanically, the engines and gearboxes are strong and the drivetrain’s very tough,” says Robinson. “One common flaw, though, is a water pipe underneath the supercharger failing.”
The pipe itself costs only £20, but it’s a lot of labour — the supercharger needs to be lifted — and costs can spiral because other minor parts might need to be replaced. “It’s about a day’s job, plus,” says Robinson, “so look carefully for any anti-freeze stains.”
The exhaust gas recirculation valves, which are difficult to get at, can also fail. Symptoms include ‘check engine’ lights, odd smells and exhaust leaks.
The sting in the Jaguar’s otherwise robust tail is corrosion. “The sills rust,” says Robinson. “They have a panel that covers the sill itself. It traps water and rusts the sill away. We once found a car that had nothing under the cover.”
This fault primarily affects the early cars but, in any instance, have a good look and probe around underneath, specifically around the seams and joins, for any sign of damage or loose sill covers.
Inside, the S-type R is relatively free from problems. The valves that control the heating and air-con system can play up, though, as can the electric window regulators. The interiors resist wear well, so any car that has suffered inside could have been clocked or neglected.
When buying an S-type R, the key thing is finding one that has been well maintained. “You need to see good history,” says Robinson. “They need regular oil changes, plugs every 30,000 miles and strong anti-freeze.”
A general service will cost only about £250 with genuine parts and is a good idea if there’s no evidence of one being done recently.
“The rear suspension arm bushes can wear, too,” says Robinson, “but you can buy the bushes on their own now, instead of having to replace the entire arm. They seem to be good for miles, though. We’ve got one with 137,000 on the clock and it’s as tight as you like.”