BEVERLY HILLS, CA - In this neighborhood, even the "every-day" cars are sleek, pricey and extraordinary. People still do a double-take as the new Jaguar Cars S-Type rolls by.

Adequate proof, perhaps, that the styling guys in Coventry got that part right.

There's more to it, of course. This marks the second all-new model for Jag since it joined the Ford family in 1990. The fears then were that Jag would lose its distinctiveness, its essence - become just another model in the Ford stable.

The S-Type will help to allay those fears for now.

Jag has set out to stock this all-new platform (Ford's long-lauded DEW98) with top-of-the-line tech wrapped in distinguished, traditional armor. The S appears well-positioned to do battle with Toyota's Lexus GS and may make believers out of a few BMW 5-series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class fans.

Innovations onboard the S-Type include computer active technology suspension (CATS) and dynamic stability control (DSC), which deliver superb ride and handling. You get both a classically smooth ride at freeway speeds and precisely taut handling on sinewy mountain switchback that wind northward from LA to Santa Barbara.

The underpinnings of the high-tech stuff include an all-new short- and long-arm (SLA) front suspension and a double-wishbone rear. Variable-ratio rack-and-pinion steering, 16-in. wheels and traction control are standard on all models.

The upcale sport package includes the CATS with 17-in. alloy wheels. DSC incorporates a yaw rate sensor, lateral accelerometer, active brake booster and steering rate sensor in a package designed by Continental Teves AG.

Interior high-tech includes a dash-mounted GPS navigation system and a first-of-its-kind, voice-activation system for cell phone and climate and sound systems. Front and side air bags with belt pretensioners also are standard.

Add to that list a comfortably roomy interior, the trademark walnut-trimmed dash and the unmistakable Connolly leather seats. And, yes, the classic chrome leaping-jaguar ornament perches over the distinctive and elegant grille.

Under the hood sits a choice of two largely reconfigured powerplants. The Welsh-built 4L DOHC V-8 is the same as that launched in Jag's XK8 coupe/convertible, which debuted in 1997 and was the first all-new model under Ford ownership. Mated to an all-new 5-speed automatic (the first pass-car 5-speeder developed by Ford), it puts out 281 hp and 297 lb.-ft. (403 Nm) of torque. Jag claims a 0-to-60 mph (0-to-97 km/h) run of 6.6 seconds. This driveline is refreshingly smooth and refined, with the power one expects of a premium automobile.

The 3L DOHC V-6 powertrain - built in Cleveland and sharing a basic block design with the Taurus/Sable Duratec engine - offers adequate oomph on the highway, but a firm foot on the accelerator is a necessity as it strains through twisty mountain inclines. Power numbers here are 240 hp and 221 lb.-ft. (300 Nm) of torque. Zero-to-60 mph time is a yeoman-like eight seconds.

The two powerplants - with power ratings de-tuned according to one of the most cynical dictates of platform sharing - also will be offered in Ford's Lincoln LS models that hit U.S. Lincoln-Mercury showrooms this fall.

The S-Type hails from a brand new assembly plant at Castle Bromwich in Birmingham, England.

By most measures, the new Jag is priced competitively. The base 3L car stickers at $42,500. The base 4L will go for $48,000 - or for $60,000 and change when laden with all the possible goodies.

Jaguar marketeers say they spent a lot of time "talking to customers" to understand what the S-Type needed to be. The aim is to offer a "more affordable" Jaguar and knock the lower end of their buyer demographics down from 45 to 35 and halve the household income from $200,000 to the $100,000 range.

The plan is that this wider audience will earn Jaguar 56,000 sales worldwide, up from the 47,000 they notched in 1998. The S-Type is expected to attract about 20,000 of that total in its first year.

The anticipated added volume also has Jaguar looking to expand its dealer body. Plans call for 20 more retailers to be added in the U.S. in the next five years, bringing the total to 155.