So here we have Jaguar chief designer Ian Callum's reworked model, and while the styling changes may be subtle, the more important changes are under the skin. While the current engine line-up is carried over unchanged, Jaguar has also slotted in an all-new twin-turbo V6 diesel unit that produces a peak of 204bhp and makes 320lb ft of torque from just 1900rpm.
While it may be late to the party, Jaguar has made up for lost time by producing one of the most hi-tech diesels available. And, to be honest, it needs this engine. BMW, Mercedes and Audi have been offering diesel versions of their executive cars for years and have benefited from the unstoppable rise of diesel sales in this sector. From a 12 per cent share of the market in '99, diesel executive saloons are predicted to make up 75 per cent of sales by 2006.
Finally, Jaguar has a car to compete with the German class leaders. And what a car it is too. The quad-cam, 24-valve V6 is laden with technology designed to not only make the S-Type great to drive, but also refined.
While power and torque are up there with the class leaders, it's the attention Jaguar has paid to reducing noise levels and enhancing refinement that is most impressive. There's variable vane technology in the turbos so they can spin faster at lower engine speeds, and fuel injectors that operate under very high pressure to give much smoother combustion, giving less engine noise as a result. The engineers also have 23 sensors and 20 actuators to play with on this engine, so there are endless variables (well, 6988 to be accurate) to achieve the best power and lowest NVH levels possible.
I tried out the manual version first and, after all this talk of hi-tech, it came as a bit of a disappointment on the road. The engine's powerband seems extremely narrow, with nothing much happening below 2000rpm and everything over by 4000rpm. It meant I was constantly swapping cogs, and as the change isn't particularly pleasant, with a notchy feel and imprecise gate, it didn't deliver the on-paper promise.
The auto version is a revelation though. Both engine and gearbox are superbly matched, completely disguising the peaky delivery and delivering smooth, seamless performance. There are no manual override buttons on the steering wheel though, so you have to resort to the traditional J-gate as a way of changing gear manually, but after a while it hardly seems worth the effort as the gearbox makes few mistakes, holding onto a lower gear if, for example, it senses you braking for a corner.
The S-Type's chassis has been further honed with the addition of new low-friction ball joints, retuned dampers and revised spring rates. The net effect is superb control, especially with the optional sport suspension set-up, which has near-perfect damping and provides a wonderful combination of tautness and excellent bump absorption. Forget air springs; the S-Type's conventional steel- spring set-up is as good as it gets.
So the drive has certainly been improved, and so has the retro styling. The first thing Callum wanted to do was change the stance of the S-Type from its tail-heavy look to a more aggressive, athletic, forward stance. To achieve this he has raised the rear bootline, redesigned the rear lights, boot and rear scuttle, and redefined the droopy side crease so it tapers to a finish higher up on the rear wings.
At the front the distinctive, oval grille has been squared-off for a more modern look, while the new aluminum bonnet has more pronounced shoulders to give a more powerful profile than the original, bulbous design.
But does it work? Well yes, but only up to a point. From the rear it certainly looks fresher, but the strange, rounded roof profile still doesn't do the car any favours and I'd be surprised if anyone could spot the subtle changes made to the front. It's the revised stance that makes the biggest difference though, as the S-Type now somehow appears much more of a driver's car than before.
At the end of the day it's the whole feeling of well-being that the S-Type imparts that impresses the most. This car is the most refined diesel I've ever driven - it beats the benchmark BMW 530d for refinement, steering, poise and ride, and only loses out in terms of straight-line performance. Like it or not, the diesel boom is now a fact of life,