Jaguar S-Type: Luxurious, Agile and - at Last - Reliable

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Jaguar S-Type: Luxurious, Agile and - at Last - Reliable

For the longest while, it seemed that whenever I saw a Jaguar it was pulled over on the side of the road with the hood open, the victim of a mechanical meltdown waiting for a tow truck. Jaguars and their trouble-prone Lucas electrical systems were the butt of endless jokes among car enthusiasts.

That was decades ago, long before Ford took over the British carmaker and cleaned house. Today, Jaguar is no longer dogged by reliability issues and it has certainly shed its image as a stodgy car for old men. Ford has been working hard to reposition Jaguar and give it more youth appeal. To this end, film director Spike Lee and Sting are among the contemporary talents enlisted by Ford to sing the praises of Jaguar.

What's interesting about the S-Type is that it's a mechanical twin of the Lincoln LS sedan reviewed earlier in this column. Both cars have a common platform and the same parts but there's no confusion about which is which. The Lincoln LS defines contemporary American luxury: elegant but with a hint of sportiness while the S-Type is true to its feline roots: a sexy, seductive European.

Where the Lincoln LS's ride is a compromise between an American luxury sedan and a foreign sports coupe, the S-Type reveals a distinctive European bias: It's sporty and taut in the corners.

To Ford's credit, the S-Type is not a liposuctioned small-scale version of a larger Jaguar and bears no resemblance to any other Jaguar in the lineup. Its circular headlights and retro-styled elliptical grille, which dominate the front view, are a flashback to the classic Jaguars of the '50s. Styling-wise, it scores high marks with most people but leaves me absolutely cold. For me, Jaguar styling peaked with the XKE, a '60s vintage drop-dead gorgeous sports car that would certainly be on any list of the best styled cars of the century, and the XJ220, which held the world speed record for the fastest production car in the '90s. Anything else is downhill.

But the S-Type looks far better inside. It's roomy and comfortable and the seats are finished in cream-colored Connolly hides. The dash is trimmed with bird's-eye maple, creating a light, airy atmosphere. One dislike: The gauges have plain black faces and could be more imaginative. Also, many of the controls and switchgear are straight out of Ford's North American parts bin. You expect a more distinctive touch on a Jaguar.

In terms of acceleration, the S-Type's 3-liter V-6 does a good job of keeping up with the competition: the Lexus GS line, closely followed by the BMW 5-Series and Mercedes E-Class. Producing 236 hp at 6800 rpm, it's sufficient to propel it from zero to 100 km/h in 8.5 seconds, a respectable but far from blistering figure. Power-hungry Korean customers aren't offered the option of the 280 hp 4.0-liter V-8 which has been borrowed from the S-Type's costlier sibling, the XJ8.

Handling-wise, there is a preciseness and neutrality when charging into a curve and an agility reminiscent of Audi or Lexus. A computerized suspension system adjusts to road and ride.

The S-Type is everything you expect a Jaguar to be - luxurious and agile - but burnished by new levels of mechanical reliability, durability, handling, performance and technology thanks to Ford.

The S-Type comes in a high level of trim and includes side airbags, a traction-management system that taps and releases brakes and throttle should road conditions or vehicle dynamics get loose, dual-zone automatic climate controls, leather seats, five-speed automatic transmission with normal/sport modes and semi-manual operation, bird's-eye maple trim, anti-lock brakes, power seats and windows, cruise control, rain-sensing wipers, six-disc CD player and anti-theft system.

The S-Type is Jaguar's entry-level model. XJ8 and Daimler are at the top of the Korean model range but the sporty XK coupe is not offered locally. Demand for luxury coupes is almost nonexistent as Korean customers have a strong preference for cars with five seats and four doors.

Price as tested: 77.4 million won ($64,500).

by Oles Gadacz

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