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Jaguar S-Type

A Jaguar is elegance personified, but the all-new S-Type is elegance with an up-to-date twist. It is an evocative stew of heritage styling, state-of-the-art chassis and two thoroughly modern powerplants. Toss in a huge helping of high-tech gadgetry, add a few bits of leather upholstery and stained maple veneer and the result is an automobile that is quick and agile, yet tasteful and sublime.

The name pays homage to the 1960s 3.8 S-type, as does the retro styling. Although Jaguar is owned by Ford Motor Co., the S-Type was designed, styled and developed at Jaguar's Whitley Engineering Center in Coventry, England. Manufacturing is done at Castle Bromwich, near Birmingham, England. The S-Type comes in two models, a 4.0-liter V8 and a 3.0-liter V6. The V6 starts at $43,095 and the V8 begins at $48,595. The basic platform, rear-wheel-drive chassis and a good many mechanical bits are shared with the Lincoln LS. While some kinship is obvious, the cars have distinct personalities. Our test car was a light, celery-green metallic V8. The aluminum V8, with four valves per cylinder, variable intake valve timing and 281 horsepower, is similar to the one in the XJ8. It is so quiet and smooth that the power comes out in oozes, rather than surges, and that makes it deceptively quick.

The 3.0-liter V6 puts out 240 horsepower. Although I did not sample the V6 Jag, I have driven a V6 Lincoln LS, whose engine is similar except it has 30 less horsepower, and its performance was more than adequate. Jaguar quotes zero-to-60-mph times at 8 seconds for the V6 and 6.6 seconds for the V8. Both engines are coupled to a new, electronically controlled five-speed automatic transmission. Except for a bit of whine when pulling away from a stop, this unit was nearly transparent. A console switch lets the driver select Sport or Normal shift modes.

The J-shaped shift gate is a recent Jaguar tradition, but its shape is confusing to us Yanks because shifting into a lower gear means shoving the lever forward, not back. The test car's shift linkage was a bit sticky when moving into Reverse. While the exterior styling pays homage to Jags of the 1960s, the interior is considerably more modern. Bird's-eye maple is used on the instrument panel, shift knob, console, door panels and steering wheel. Nearly everything you touch has that feeling of slick, polished luxury. The lower center section of the dash contains the stereo, dual-zone climate control and navigation system. These units are similar to ones found in some Fords, and their tiny, green digital readouts are hard to see in the daylight, especially if the dash is backlit. Readability at night, or in shadow, is fine. The test car was equipped with the Deluxe Communication Package ($4,300) that included the navigation system as well as voice activation for the cell phone.

Front seats have good lateral and lumbar support, but the bottom cushions would provide better under-thigh support if they were a shade longer or had a slightly different contour. The back seat has adequate legroom for adults, but getting in and out can be tricky because of the sloping roof and tightly curved door. The space between the seat and door post is also small and requires turning one's leg sharply to get out. The trunk has plenty of room.

Jaguar describes the S-Type as having ''spirited elegance,'' and to that end it uses a double-wishbone suspension with aluminum control arms and speed-sensitive, variable-ratio rack and pinion steering. The optional Sport package has 17-inch wheels and a computer-controlled suspension that chooses "soft" or "firm" settings depending on driving conditions. Our test car was so equipped, and not only did the 17-inch wheels look great, the computer-controlled suspension gave a ride that was plush enough to dispatch bumps with a silky hand yet taut enough for flat cornering. Anti-lock brakes and traction control are standard, but for more control a stability control program that helps counteract skidding is a part of the optional Weather Package.

With the S-Type, Jaguar has struck an appealing balance between yesterday and today: The styling recaptures so much of what made Jags special in the 1960s, yet performance and handling is on par with contemporary European sedans.

Vehicle Type:

front-engine, rear-drive, luxury sedan

Base Price:

$48,595

Engine Type:

4.0-liter V8

Power (SAE net):

281-hp

Transmission:

five-speed automatic

Wheelbase:

114.5 inches

Length:

191.3 inches

Curb Weight:

3770 pounds

EPA fuel economy, city driving:

20 city/29 hwy

 

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