Sleek Jaguar hunts new fans

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 December, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 December, 1998, 12:00am

THE long-awaited introduction of the new 1999 S-type Jaguar took place at Birmingham in Britain last month and was hailed as a great success.

Only the London Times apparently did not like the new car and slated it in its columns on the day of the launch.

All other observers, both motoring professionals and industry experts, thought the car was a major step forward for Jaguar, taking the company into new markets in direct competition with the BMW 5-series and Mercedes-Benz's E-class.

In fact, the new S-type is a little larger, both inside and out, than the 5-series and about the same size as the Mercedes.

The addition of the S-type to Jaguar's line-up is expected to more than double its annual output of about 40,000 cars.

On a fleeting visit to Hong Kong last month - deliveries will not start until next spring - most people lucky enough to get a glimpse of the S-type agreed it was one of the more beautiful cars to be introduced in recent years. At Birmingham it was voted Car of the Show.

The most surprising thing about the new Jaguar is that it feels like a Jaguar.

Although it is built on a Ford Lincoln chassis, it has been thoroughly re-engineered to represent the sporting traditions of Jaguar at its best.

Two engines are available for the S-type: a three-litre, American-built V6 with variable valve timing, variable length inlet tracts and a drive-by-wire electronic throttle; and Jaguar's familiar, four-litre V8, as used in XJ8 saloons and XK8 sports models.

The V8 is assembled on a dedicated Jaguar line at Ford's engine plant in south Wales.

The advanced V6 produces 240 bhp at 6,800 rpm and 300 Nm of torque at 4,500.

Up to 90 per cent of peak torque is available between 2,500 rpm and 6,000 rpm, thanks to the variable inlets and adjustable valve timing.

The V8, meanwhile, is slightly detuned from its XK form, and produces 280 bhp (compared with 290 bhp on the sports car), with 390 Nm maximum torque.

Top speeds are 225 km/h and 240 km/h respectively, while both cars will reach 100 km/h in lightning quick time - eight seconds for the smaller-engined model and less than seven seconds for the V8.

Both models use the proven, five-speed electronic automatic 'J-gate' transmission. Traction control is standard.

The interior of the S-type is pure Jaguar: you could be forgiven for thinking you were in the larger-bodied XJ8, surely one of the most luxurious machines around.

Dual wood/leather steering wheel, beautiful leather upholstery, deep pile carpeting and a unique voice-activated control of all primary audio, telephone and climate control functions make the S-type a special kind of driving experience. Even long distances will leave a driver feeling refreshed and longing for more.

The front seats are electrically operated, the driver's incorporating a memory which activates the exterior mirrors and the steering column.

For the first time in a Jaguar, the rear seat features a 60/40 fold-down facility for maximum versatility and there are a total of five headrests throughout the car.

The dual-zone automatic climate control system features a particle filtration function and there is a standard, electric glass sunroof.

The new car will be built at a specially commissioned production line in Birmingham, although it was developed in-house under a team led by styling boss Geoff Lawson.

When the S-type goes on sale in Hong Kong, it will be priced at a fraction under $600,000, which is outstanding value for money for a luxury, sporting, four-door saloon.

It may be a Ford, using Ford money and engineering facilities, but at its heart this is undoubtedly a Jaguar.