With its separate minor gauges, rev counter and impressive line-up of toggle switches, it assumes a level of enthusiasm for driving on behalf of its owner that the 4 litre R, with its slab of timber and two deeply recessed instruments, appears to go out of its way to discourage.
The throaty engine note and free-revving character of the XK straight-six underline how quiet the well-soundproofed Vanden Plas really is and, having manual gears and steering, the S-type cannot match the effortless ‘town carriage’ manners of the Princess.
But the Jaguar is a much less formal, more intimate car that combines limousine-like virtues of bump-absorption, road-noise isolation and drivetrain smoothness that eclipse the 4 litre R, with its leaf-sprung live rear axle.
A longer tail hides the S-type’s independent rear end
Even considering roll angles that would alarm modern-car drivers, the well-balanced, well-sprung and progressively understeering S-type invites you to throw it around, exploring the revs and the gears – including the handy optional overdrive on top – in a way that is completely alien to the charming, capable but fairly stodgy 4 litre R.
Yes, the Jaguar would be less fun as an automatic, but a fairer comparison. It would also, probably, be a nicer car with power steering.
In reality, the S-type’s unassisted steering is only a real chore when stationary: it lightens up pleasingly once you are rolling and castor-returns nicely.
The Jaguar’s rear seats are snug, but by no means cramped
Apologists for the 4 litre R may point out that it was never intended to be a ‘driver’s car’, but merely opulent, high-status transportation for a market with little knowledge of, or interest in, the finer points of driver appeal.
But it was born into a world that was changing quickly. Standards and expectations were on the rise, and Jaguar was leading the way in building luxury saloon cars that were fast and refined but also satisfying to drive, and that offered outstanding value for money.
Today it is the Vanden Plas 4 litre R that offers the best value, when you can own what must be one of the finest original examples in the world for just over £20k. Robert’s 3.4 S-type is just as nice, but commands a £10k premium.
‘The progressively understeering S-type invites you to throw it around, exploring the revs and the gears’