While companies such as Mercedes-Benz and Audi are happy to be in the business of producing executive cars built for effortless high speed cruising, others like BMW and Jaguar cling to the romantic idea that they build sports saloons: involving, dynamic, luxury expresses for the discerning driver.
Much as I despise the use of the word 'sport' in relation to the cars you and I drive every day – we all know that cars involved in motor sport are very distantly related to them – there may be grounds for flexibility in my stance.
A supercharged 4.2-litre V8 developing 400bhp and driving the rear wheels might just be enough to persuade me that the term 'sports saloon' is justified. Step forward the Jaguar S-type R, introduced following revisions across the S-type range.
Before, the fastest, most powerful S-type used a 4.0-litre V8 with no forced induction, although superchargers helped boost maximum power for XJR, XKR and Daimler Super V8 models. Last year though, the 4.0-litre was replaced by a 4.2-litre and a supercharged R joined the range.
The S-type's retro-styling has always split opinion. Some feel Jaguar should have moved on and offered something truly modern, but the Americans love it – and those US sales count for a lot to the firm.
But the R has a more menacing gait than the standard car. There is no sign of any exterior chrome, the headlamp bulbs are set in black rather than the usual silver reflective coating and the car sits lower on its enormous wheels.
Our test car had a touch-screen DVD navigation/TV system (a £2,500 option) which doubled as secondary controls for telephone, audio and climate, though £425 buys a voice activation system.
It seems strange to sit so low in the S-type when modern cars seem to gain height with each new generation.
Boot space is also at a premium – although there is decent length going back to the rear seats, it is quite shallow. Turning the S-type into the R means the rear seats are fixed in place for extra rigidity, which also compromises practicality.
What sets this car apart from the other S-types is its performance. At low speeds, there is little to distinguish it from the standard 4.2-litre V8 and the six-speed automatic transmission lazily stays put most of the time, allowing the car to ride the wave of torque.
On the open road, a jab on the gas pedal kicks down through the gears, the S-type pitches slightly as weight changes ends and the V8 howl is joined by the wail of the supercharger.
The communicative steering comes into its own on more challenging roads, with huge grip from the tyres and virtually no body roll. With 400bhp on tap, it isn't difficult to provoke the rear into breaking traction, but with the electronics governing things, the R behaves benignly and the tail comes back into line without fuss.
Despite the official combined fuel consumption figure of 22.5mpg, the S-type R's lazy gearing allows more respectable averages – a long motorway run returned more than 30mpg. This makes sense when you see the rev counter hovering at 1,800rpm at a steady 70mph. So the S-type R combines huge fun with a hint of traditional Jaguar about the styling and interior. However, our test car had a couple of hiccups during our two weeks with it, both to do with engine malfunction warnings.
A one-off, maybe, but for a £50,000 car it took the shine off.
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £47,220
CO2 emissions (g/km): 314
BIK % of P11D in 2003: 35%
Graduated VED rate: £155
Insurance group: 19
Combined mpg: 22.5
CAP Monitor residual value: £13,575/29%
Depreciation (54.51 pence per mile x 60,000): £32,706
Maintenance (4.12 pence per mile x 60,000): £2,472
Fuel (16.97 pence per mile x 60,000): £10,182
Wholelife cost (75.60 pence per mile x 60,000): £45,360
Typical contract hire rate: £960.62 per month
Two rivals to consider
THE Jaguar and Audi are pretty evenly matched in this respect. The S-type offers more power for the money, but with the S6 you get the reassurance of permanent four-wheel drive, improving traction when conditions get difficult. The BMW looks expensive when compared to the other two, but the M5 has earned its status of an icon among sports saloons over the last 15 years – a game that's still new to the S-type. The M5 will have the chance to claw back its disadvantage when it comes to residual values.
ANOTHER generally high-scoring round, but it's the BMW that seems expensive. Although 4.12 pence per mile might normally bring fleet executives out in cold sweats, in this company the Jaguar seems a bargain. Jaguar, like BMW, has recently adopted an unlimited mileage warranty which could have an impact should anything major go wrong during the first three years, while the Audi retains the industry norm warranty of three-years/60,000-miles.
YOU could run some cars over three-years/60,000-miles for the price of fuelling these monsters over the same period. The BMW is the only car here to use a manual transmission (the Audi has a five-speed automatic and the Jaguar has a six-speed auto unit), but that does not stop the S-type from offering the best official fuel consumption. The S-type is the heaviest car, too, so it must just be down to the gearing and its lazy supercharged engine, resulting in lower revs at higher speeds.
READ them and weep. These cars depreciate with the same savagery as run-of-the-mill upper-medium saloons. Not only do they retain a similar fraction of their original value, fleets could find that a three-year-old S, M or R is worth the same as a new Mondeo or Vectra. However, the Audi S6 appears to be the best of a bad bunch, while the Jaguar and BMW come within fractions of a penny of each other – thanks to the BMW's better percentage RV forecast. How company directors can justify costing their firms this much money is another matter.
CONSIDERING the size of the numbers we're dealing with, the S-type wins by the narrowest of margins, costing more than £45,000 over three years/60,000 miles. However, win it does by virtue of its better fuel consumption and lower SMR costs. Although the Audi is close, the S6 has lost some car-park cred with the launch of the RS6 last year and its residual value percentage is the same as the Jaguar. The Audi looks much better value than the M5, however, even though it loses the horsepower battle.
Emissions and BIK tax rates
CHOOSE any one of these as your company car and, assuming you are a higher-rate taxpayer, you will be parting with an awful lot of money each year for the privilege. If you can afford to spend six or seven thousand pounds a year in benefit-in-kind tax, then you probably won't bat an eyelid. The only comfort these cars can offer is that they are so far above the maximum BIK threshold that the bills will not get any higher for the foreseeable future.
THE S-type R wins the running costs argument and provides a desirable badge with phenomenal performance. It is perhaps more of an emotional choice than one of its German rivals and all the more satisfying for that. The Audi S6 seems too clinical by comparison and the M5 too brash. The overall package - the grunt, the grip, the classy interior - would lead us to pardon it the minor electrical fault under our stewardship, but others might not be so forgiving.
At a glance