Jaguar convertible. The words are magic. All you have to do is say them and suddenly you wield incredible influence. For example: Casual acquaintances and so-called friends drop by unexpectedly feigning a sort of nonchalant interest in your well-being. Co-workers drop what they are doing in a moment's notice to assist you. Family members invite you for dinner. You can get a date. OK, so I am exaggerating just a little. But you do get noticed in a Jaguar convertible. The fluid, graceful physique of the XJS makes other luxury convertibles seem irrelevant. And the car's seductive shape is enough to make you forgive it for having both an automatic transmission and an air conditioning compressor of late 1960s vintage. Regardless of the antiquity of some of its mechanical parts, Jaguar's XJS convertible is a mobile masterpiece. PERFORMANCE The XJS convertible is powered by a 5.3-liter aluminum V-12 engine that develops a silky-smooth 263 horsepower. There is only one gearbox available, a General Motors Turbo 400 three-speed automatic. This drivetrain delivers what seems like sedate performance, but 0-to-60 mph comes up in a shade under 10 seconds. It also delivers reasonable fuel economy, about 15 miles per gallon in the city and 19 mpg on the highway. I found the XJS to be at its best at higher speeds. It feels downright muscular accelerating from 50 mph to 65 mph. Because it settles into a cruising mode so quietly, you have to strain to hear the engine. The V-12 - the only one available in a convertible - develops most of its power after 4,000 rpm. It can be safely revved to 6,700 rpm. But the American version of the XJS does not take kindly to aggressive driving because it is a grand touring machine, not a sports car. In Great Britain, the XJS is an entirely different cat. It is, in fact, something of a hot rod. Over there, the hardtop model can be outfitted with a 223-horsepower 4.0-liter 24-valve six cylinder and five-speed manual transmission. That car also features a stiffer, more agile suspension. It's a shame the British version isn't offered here. HANDLING The four-wheel independent suspension under the XJS has a formidable task managing the road manners of a car that weighs better than 2 tons - 4,194 pounds, to be exact. The ride is very soft, almost bouncy through dips and over large bumps. Yet, over speed bumps and other minor nuisances, the suspension system absorbs the trauma without telegraphing the ruckus to the driver. Thanks in part to the car's fat tires and wide stance, you can blast quickly through curves in the XJS, but it takes a little extra work to keep things under control. The extra-sturdy body makes the XJS very stiff. There is no cowl shake, a flexing near the base of the windshield when driven on bumpy roads. Cowl shake is common in many convertibles. The ride is very quiet. With th e top up and radio off, I took the XJS over a rough stretch of asphalt on Lee Road in Winter Park. Of all the cars I have taken there this year, none has done a better job filtering out road noise. Standard equipment includes anti-lock power-assisted four-wheel disc brakes and power-assisted rack and pinion steering. Both systems seem well-matched to the XJS's grand touring intentions. FIT AND FINISH Almost everyone who persuaded me to give them a ride in the XJS commented on the wonderfully aromatic smell of the leather interior. Indeed, the pungent smell of the English Connolly leather seats was nearly intoxicating. This year Jaguar redesigned the XJS. Most of the exterior body panels are new, but chances are you might not notice because the car looks pretty much the same as it always has. The difference is this: Jaguar has reduced the number of parts by making more one-piece body panels. The rear fenders, for example, are now each made of a si gle pressing, rather than the five used in previous models. The result is a stiffer, quieter, better-built car. With the sumptuous cloth top raised and windows closed, the XJS is as quiet as a tomb. The power top, by the way, can be lowered in a matter of seconds without the driver ever having to leave his or her seat. The analog gauges are similar to the classic Smiths instruments used for years in older Jaguars. They look like something made by a Swiss watchmaker. The power seats are firm and comfortable on long trips, and they have a computerized memory that automatically sets the seats for two drivers. Pleasing, relaxed, quiet and comfortable are just a few of the words you can attach to the latest version of the XJS.
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