Comfort, quiet ride, space, and control identify the new Jaguar XJ-S

It's a state-of-the-art Grand Touring car in the best of tradition that is Jaguar. Indeed, the Jaguar XJ-S has just about every element and amenity you can think of - supreme comfort, quiet ride, space, solid control, and identity. You'll never mistake a Jaguar on the highway for something else.

The front-engine, rear-drive XJ-S H.E. with a 5.3-liter V-12 engine under the hood is the most powerful production car in North America, according to Jaguar Cars Inc., the importer. Given the signal to go, it thrusts ahead with a burst of power that could take the uninitiated by surprise.

The V-12 engine, says a Jaguar spokesman, is the heart of Jaguar's new XJR-5 endurance racing car. In street form, the V-12 develops 262 horsepower at 5,000 rpm on regular unleaded fuel.

Yet despite its awesome power and weight, the nimble 2-door sports coupe is surprisingly easy to handle, will not run away from the driver, responds instantly to input, and gets far more distance on a gallon of fuel than one might expect.

The V-12 Jaguar XJ-S I've been driving has averaged 17.6 mpg (with about one-third of the mileage on urban streets and perhaps two-thirds on the interstate system).

If the XJ-S is driven hard and mostly in urban traffic, the figure might be 2 or 3 miles less. To lengthen the distance between fillups, the car has a 24 -gallon fuel tank. The transmission is a 3-speed automatic built by General Motors.

With a wheelbase of 102 inches and an overall length of 191.7 inches, the car weighs almost two tons, a long way from the bantamweights of 2,000 pounds or so.

In design, the gentle angles and sweep of the body are in sharp contrast to the boxy look of so many cars these days. (Ford Motor Company is also moving away from the box look with its aero shapes for the mid-1980s).

The XJ-S, with a height of 52.8 inches, is 6 inches lower than the XJ-6.

Luxury is the keynote inside the XJ-S. The seats, doors, armrests, steering wheel, and quarter panels are all covered with Connolly hide, while the highly polished elm-burl veneer panels cover the center portion of the dashboard and upper portion of the doors, adding a rich touch. Deep pile carpeting covers the floor.

Is there nothing wrong with the car? It's hard to find very much. A short-waisted driver may find the window wipers in the way. The wipers slice across the windshield, but to me they were no distraction. The trunk is spacious enough to meet the needs of most motorists.

Unlike the Jags of a few years ago, the pieces in this car all fit. There are no squeaks or rattles anywhere, and the suspension soaks up the road bumps with ease. The sleek design, the whisper-smooth engine, and the aura of luxury around you - all combine to make the Jaguar a very special car.

Some people over the years have complained of the ''touchy'' nature of Jaguar engines and, on occasion, replaced them with something more common.

Even so, a lot of sophisticated motorists today are buying the cars.

For the first time ever, in November 1982, Jaguar sold more than 1,000 cars in one month in the United States - a sharp contrast to the 469 of the previous November. The British luxury-car maker, a division of BL Ltd, projects the sale of 17,000 cars in 1984 up from 15,815 in '83.

Indeed, the Jaguar management these days is smiling all the way to the bank. The company is profiting from the growing trend of higher-salaried US motorists to ''buy foreign,'' especially the upscale makes from Europe. Younger buyers especially are snapping up the ''luxo-sedans'' and sports coupes as if the doors were soon to be locked and no more could be had.

Jaguar, all that's left of BL Ltd in the US, includes three cars, led by the 4-door XJ6 sedan, priced at $30,500. The gussied-up Vanden Plas 4-door with nifty special features is priced at $33,500, while the XJ-S sports coupe with V- 12 engine lists for $34,700. Remember, that's for a complete car, the only option being color.

The key to Jaguar's success is getting a handle on quality and getting the cars out to the dealers when they need them, says Graham W. Whitehead, director of North American operations for Jaguar Cars Ltd. For a long time, the cars were shoddily built, delivery was indeterminate because of labor problems at the factory, and the whole operation was headed for the scrap heap.

To keep up the momentum, Jaguar will soon launch two new XJ-S models in the US, a cabriolet and a coupe, both with a new 6-cylinder engine and 5-speed, German-built Getrag manual transmission, the same unit now used in the BMW.

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