Overall rating: 4/5
Jaguar enters the estate marketplace with the lifestyle-orientated XF Sportbrake. With 50% of European sales in the XF's sector being wagons it can't come soon enough, but will the Irish market change its love affair with saloons?
In the Metal:
Director of Design at Jaguar, Ian Callum, says he didn't want a Jaguar estate to be just a 'pragmatic box'. He also admitted that wagons do create difficulty for designers thanks to the additional mass at the rear. Some clever design touches do lessen the bulk out back in the XF Sportbrake though, and the black pillar and chrome feature line help, while Jaguar's Sportbrake name suggests more than mere practicality.
If you're after something to haul a wardrobe then you'll want an E-Class Estate with its 1,950 litres of load space, but someone at Jaguar has been crunching the numbers, as the ultimate 1,675 litres that the Sportbrake offers is slap bang in between the 1,670 litres of the BMW 5 Series Touring and the 1,680 litres of Audi's A6 Avant. It's no pragmatic box then, but that doesn't mean it lacks practicality.
With torsional rigidity as high as its saloon relation, no difference in aerodynamic balance and only a marginal increase in weight, Jaguar claims the XF Sportbrake drives almost identically to the saloon. That's largely true, but the key addition of self-levelling air suspension at the rear does slightly alter the ride quality. There's a small increase in harshness at the back, the rear not feeling quite as supple as in the saloon. That's likely to improve with a load or passengers in the rear (who will enjoy an additional 48mm of headroom), but it's so subtle it's not really an issue. The biggest complaint we have with this Sportbrake is the 2.2-litre turbodiesel engine and standard eight-speed automatic transmission.
That gearbox is busy with so many ratios to choose from, the result an engine that's often revving higher than you'd expect with a percussive diesel sound in accompaniment. There's no point where it delivers the sort of swelling urge that characterises many of its rivals - the BMW 520d for example - the linear delivery of the Jaguar's power leaving it feel relatively slovenly and needing working hard. That's odd given the sizeable 450Nm of torque delivered from just 2,000rpm. The numbers back this up; the 8.8 seconds this 2.2-litre 200hp Jaguar takes to reach 100km/h falls short of the 8.3 seconds BMW's 520d automatic Touring manages with a 16hp deficit in horses. The 3.0-litre V6 diesel Jaguar redresses this with more punch, but then it also pitches it against higher output, greater cylinder rivals from the Germans.
The Jaguar feels pleasingly different inside to its European rivals though, the simplicity of the styling and neatness of the layout appealing, even if the touch screen's graphics are more Amstrad than Apple in their look and operation. The steering is decently weighted if rather devoid of actual feel, and the Sportbrake lacks the outright precision of its key BMW 5 Series rival, but counters with greater comfort.
What you get for your Money:
With this range-topping Portfolio model you get pretty much everything - though it'll be expensive. The Sportbrake will make far greater sense in Sport or Luxury specification. If you want to spend even less the 2.2 diesel can be had in 163hp guise, starting at €47,500, though you'll not benefit from greater economy or lower emissions, as the lesser output car returns the same economy and 135g/km of CO2 as the 200hp one.
Given some 50% of segment sales in Europe are estates and 90% of those are diesels the diesel-only (for now at least) Sportbrake isn't just a desirable addition to the XF range, but a necessary one. It's good looking and more practical than its lines would suggest.