To non-automotive types, the Jaguar marque is, more often than not, associated with a soft, upper crust lifestyle. But should that casual car chap care to dig a little deeper, they would find that beneath that genteel veneer is a hard core performance foundation born on the race track. And for 2003, a new addition to Jaguar’s popular S-Type line is primed to expose those racy roots even more.

That new addition would be the 2003 Jaguar S-Type R. And the R designation not only separates this car from its softer S-Type stablemates, but from the rest of the Jaguar line as well. As the S-Type R is now the most powerful production car in the Jaguar line. Visual cues that set apart this feline powerhouse from its siblings include a distinctive red “R” logo first seen on the R Coupe Concept that debuted at the 2001 Frankfurt Motorshow, and also graces the front of Jag’s R3 Formula One race car.

Like the XJR and XKR, this S-Type’s catcher’s mitt-style grille adds a chain-link mesh texture with a color keyed surround that’s flanked by xenon headlights. Large open 18X8 inch “Zeus” alloy wheels up front, 18X9.5 in the rear, pull down the lower half of the R package, while a subtle rear spoiler tops off the trunk lid for a touch of high speed stability. But while the S-Type R was the focus of our attention at the press launch in Barcelona, Spain, the entire S-Type roster has received a vast number of noteworthy improvements.

For instance, a 300 horsepower naturally aspirated 4.2 liter AJ-V8 replaces the original 4.0 liter. Even the yeoman 3.0 liter AJ-V6, which retains its class leading 240 horsepower, has been finely tweaked. What gives the R its red letter distinction is a mechanically driven Eaton supercharger with twin intercoolers bolted to the 4.2 V8. The addition of the supercharger ratchets the 4.2’s output up to 400 horsepower and 408 pound-feet of torque. That’s 32 percent more torque than the normally aspirated 4.2.

To fully exploit this heady mixture of horsepower and torque, the 4.2 V8 is mated to a new ZF six-speed automatic transmission. This combo rockets the R to 60 in a scant 5.3 seconds. But that’s a blink or two slower than the comparable BMW M5. The S-Type retains Jag’s long standing J gate shifter, although it has been modified somewhat to accommodate the 6-speed auto. In manual mode the transmission uses the new shift-by-wire connection to lock out 6th gear to keep the engine higher in the rev band. There’s also normal and sport shift modes.

Under the front of the S-Type you’ll find an all new double wishbone suspension with unequal length wishbones and forged aluminum control arms for precise handling. The rear suspension has also been revised with retuned springs, dampers, bushings, and anti-roll bar. The R’s suspension set up has been tuned even further and includes the latest version of Jaguar’s Computer Active Technology Suspension system also found on the XKR. CATS is a two-stage ride control system that uses adaptive damping to switch between soft and firm settings according to road and vehicle dynamic conditions. It all works automatically with no driver input required.

Complementing CATS is a Dynamic Stability Control program, now standard on all S- Types. For stopping power, the R relies on a 4-wheel disc ABS system with whopping 14.3 inch vented discs up front, 12.9 inch solids at the rear. Four-piston aluminum calipers from Brembo apply the pressure, with Panic Brake Assist added to keep the pressure on during panic stops.

But when revamping the new S-Type, Jaguar wasn’t about to sacrifice luxury for the sake of performance. Not even in the racy S-Type R. Which comes with heated 16-way power adjustable leather sports seats, and a leather trimmed steering wheel and gearshift. All S-Types get new racing green gauges and a new IP with full-width bird’s eye maple veneer. Available in the redesigned center stack is a seven inch LCD touchscreen display that controls climate, audio, and navigation system functions.

Despite the infusion of all these new goodies, the 2003 Jaguar S-Type R remains competitively priced. 3.0 liter models with the manual trans start at $42,295. 4.2 liter V8s start at $49,975, while the supercharged S-Type R leaps to $62,400. While pricey, it’s still over eight grand less than BMW’s M5.

With its eye-catching styling, sporting ride and performance, and posh appointments, the S-Type has been a MotorWeek favorite since we tested the first model in 1999. The addition of the R model cements that relationship.

Jaguar says the red R badge will be incorporated into “R” performance cars and options in the future. And having made its production debut on a car like the 2003 S-Type R, it’s a fine beginning indeed. Now we can’t wait to see where the scarlet letter shows up next!


  • Engine: 4.2 Liter Aj-v8
  • Horsepower: 400
  • Torque: 408 Lb Feet
  • 0-60 MPH: 5.3 Seconds