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Jaguar XF Sportbrake review (2013 onwards)
What: Jaguar XF Sportbrake
Date: October 2012
Price: from £32,000 (tbc)
Available: November 2012
Key rivals:Audi A6 Avant, BMW 5 Series Touring, Mercedes E-Class estate, Mercedes CLS Shooting Brake, Volvo V70
The Jaguar XF Sportbrake is a premium lifestyle estate that partners strong design and increased practicality with performance that approaches the sublime.
We like: lovely to look at, lovely to drive, clever design and more practical than the saloon.
We don’t like: still not much rear legroom, outdated sat-nav really lets the premium ambience down.
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We had prepared an opening spiel about how much the new Jaguar XF Sportbrake is a design-led product – an estate car that above all else is intended to have visual presence.
Then Jaguar had us drive the 275hp V6 turbodiesel round a racing circuit. With a fridge in the back.
This didn’t so much chuck a spanner in the works as unload an entire toolkit, for while the Sportbrake is undoubtedly a great-looking machine, this clearly hasn’t come at the cost of useable practicality or performance.
The company’s first wagon since the demise of the X-Type in 2010, the Sportbrake doubles the XF’s market appeal in Europe, and comes on the back of hugely impressive customer satisfaction ratings from the independent JD Power survey both in the UK and America.
Forget the F-Type – could this be the car to define modern Jaguar?
It’s an all-diesel engine line-up at launch, with a choice of 163hp and 200hp 2.2-litre four-cylinder models and 240hp and 275hp 3.0-litre V6s. A little disappointing for diehard petrol lovers, perhaps – especially those dreaming of snarling Jaguar superchargers – but as a product centred firmly on Europe it makes sense.
There are no four-wheel-drive versions planned either (not that we’re getting the other 4x4 Jags here in the UK), so every engine choice drives the rear wheels only via an eight-speed automatic gearbox. This has standard and Sport settings, plus the usual slightly cheap feeling steering wheel-mounted paddleshifters.
...the suspension is beautifully balanced
We'll look at the 200hp four-pot first. With 332lb ft this makes short work of overtakes – and if the resulting roar is decidedly diesel it’s hardly unpleasant for that. So many cogs to choose from means the gearbox does tend to jump around a bit; this aside it comfortably seems like all the engine you’ll ever reasonably need.
But whoever wanted to be reasonable? No one who’s driven the 275hp V6, we’d wager. If the 2.2 is a smooth operator, the 3.0 is actual Sade. No wonder it gets an S badge and a standard aero kit: 0-62mph takes just 6.6 seconds, and boasting 443lb ft of torque it feels properly muscular, all of the time.
Ride and handling
That said, whichever engine you choose, the XF Sportbrake is an incredibly easy car to drive not just fast but fluently. It’s effortless and flattering, to the point of being inspired.
Sharp steering means you rarely have to take your hands off the wheel on country roads, while the suspension is beautifully balanced between the kind of control you need to support this level of agility and bump-absorbing compliance that comfortably copes with UK surfaces.
There are more incisive rivals, perhaps – but the XF is rarely ruffled, and is so measured in its responses that only those craving the final minutiae of feedback detail will be left wanting more in extremes. And even then you can’t help being impressed by what Jaguar has achieved here.
In insolation there really is little to separate this estate car from its saloon counterpart. Although the Sportbrake is 70kg heavier, this extra mass has been well spent matching the standard car’s torsional rigidity – the amount the structure twists under stress – and adding rear air suspension.
This automatically maintains the correct ride height, no matter what’s in the boot – not an unusual feature in a posh estate. However, combined with Jaguar’s continuously adaptive damping system (standard on the V6 S, optional on the rest), the result is a car that you can exploit regardless of whether you’ve got a domestic appliance on board. Seriously. We weren’t kidding about the fridge.
The non-adaptive dampers are also meticulously tuned, so don’t be dismayed if the system is out of your reach (just go a little easier on the white goods). Putting the circuit shenanigans to one side, Jaguar’s attention to detail under the skin together with the torsional strength delivers a superbly refined on-board experience.
Up front it’s pure XF – choice materials and a crafted ambience, plus the techno delight of the pulsing starter button, hide and seek air vents and pop-up rotary gear selector. Sadly this doesn’t quite make up for the outdated sat-nav system, awful for any car, let alone a premium one.
The canted angle of the large A-pillars means cornering visibility is compromised, too. That’s the price you pay for swooping style. In the back, adult passengers will still rue the limited legroom – never an XF strength – but rejoice in the extra 48mm of headroom.
Jaguar has very deliberately made the load area appear as a simple space
This comes despite the tapering roofline – though this isn’t as severe as it first appears, since there is a kind of optical illusion about the exterior design: the chrome window line dragging your eyes downwards, as the rising belt line brings them up, creating a sense of motion and speed.
The visual tricks don’t end there. Blacked-out rear pillars add delicacy and width to the Sportbrake’s backside, and once the tailgate is opened, Jaguar has very deliberately made the load area appear as a simple space.
All the extraneous nooks and crannies are hidden by removable covers, enhancing the sense of roominess. The floor is high as a result, but this makes for a flat surface right through from the bumper to the folded backs of the one-touch drop-down rear seats.
This space is 1,675 litres big, almost exactly in line with the A6 Avant and 5 Series Touring – if someway off the 1,950 litres available from the E-Class Estate. It’s also over a metre wide and nearly two metres long, large enough for virtually every lifestyle pursuit prospective owners might chuck at / in it.
Complementing this, there are storage rails inside and on the roof, and no less than 72 available accessories – including roof boxes, ski bags, bike racks and a tow hook that’s been specifically designed not to corrupt the Sportbrake’s style; the hardware can be unbolted and the aperture covered with a blanking plate.
Economy and safety
The XF’s engines have been upgraded for the 2013 model year, which means the 2.2 turbodiesel is about 10% more efficient than before. And since the Sportbrake matches the saloon’s efficiency performance, this means 135g/km CO2 with a claimed 55.4mpg, regardless of power output.
The V6 doesn’t do badly on paper either, with both versions returning 163g/km and 46.3mpg – standard fit stop-start and the eight-speed gearbox doing their bit for the planet in this regard.
Out in the real world, however, the trip computers suggested the four-cylinder and six-cylinder cars we drove were both returning around 35mpg… Not that we were being especially sympathetic. Good result for the 3.0; not so much the 2.2.
As for safety, there are no EuroNCAP crash tests for cars of this class, but the Sportbrake has the usual phalanx of airbags and gadgetry, plus a stability control system that proved more than a match for a squally Scotland in autumn. This also has a special towing function. Be reassured.
Great car, the Jaguar XF Sportbrake. It manages the holy trinity of performance, appearance and usable practicality with exceptional panache – and though there are more functional premium alternatives available, we’re guessing the buyers that choose this car simply won’t care.
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