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Jaguar XF Sportbrake is a sporting estate under a different name, but is it any good?

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This Jaguar XF Sportbrake was a long time coming. The Jaguar XF was first introduced in 2008 – and fantastically good it was, and remains.

But since then the range has expanded with all the pace of a blimp filled with a foot pump.

The diesel line-up will appeal to fleet buyers, but we're disappointed that there's not going to be an R version

It took until the saloon's facelift in 2011 for Jaguar to introduce a small four-cylinder diesel engine of the type that is the staple of all of its rivals’ ranges. And it took until 2012, a full four and a half years since XF deliveries started, for the Sportbrake, to arrive.

Still, now it’s here. Essentially, it's the estate version of the saloon, albeit one which has prioritised sporty styling over outright luggage capacity, hence the Sportbrake moniker. As such, the range also mirrors that of the diesel line-up in the XF saloon.

You can have 161bhp or 197bhp variants of the 2.2-litre four-pot diesel, or the 3.0-litre V6 diesel in 237bhp or 271bhp form. All are mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission but, reflecting the fleet-oriented market for cars like these, there are no petrol Sportbrake variants around. Not even a Jaguar XFR.

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DESIGN & STYLING

Jaguar XF Sportbrake 20in alloys

Jaguar may not enjoy the long heritage of estate cars common to its premium rivals, but at least its chief designer, Ian Callum, can claim to have been there from the very beginning. The X-type Sportwagon – Jaguar’s original load lugger – was one of the first production Jags to benefit from Callum’s masterly pen strokes. The XF, with all its curvaceous muscularity, bears its elongated roof at least as well.

To support the larger ceiling, the Sportbrake is new from the B-pillars back. Nevertheless, a butch wrap-around shoulder and tapered roofline keep the XF’s tightly tailored body appropriately trim. The boundary of the saloon’s wheelbase is not spilled – the estate shares the same platform – but with the additional metal comes a pinch more presence.

Bonnet 'power bulge' features on even the entry level version

That, along with the obvious practical benefit, is in the plus column. In the minus is the unavoidable weight penalty. On our scales, the Sportbrake lurched over the two-tonne barricade, proving a hefty supplement to the saloon’s 1800kg. To counteract its own poundage – and the extra weight of buyers’ hauling expectations – Jaguar has opted to replace the saloon’s standard coil springs with self-levelling air suspension at the back. It claims that this enhancement, along with comparable torsional stiffness, has permitted it to match the conventional XF’s acclaimed spread of dynamism and rolling refinement.

Certainly, the power delivery will be familiar to the initiated. All of the four-cylinder and V6 diesel engines migrate from its sibling, mated to the same fluid eight-speed ZF automatic transmission. The smaller unit, in its 161bhp guise with 55.4mpg potential and lower (135g/km) CO2 emissions, is the most popular option with customers, although, as we'll see, all units have their merit.

There are six Jaguar XF Sportbrake trim levels: SE, SE Business, Luxury, Portfolio, Premium Luxury, Sport and S. However, not all are sold in conjunction with every drivetrain option, so buyers may not have the choice they expect. Entry-level kit includes stop-start, alloys, dual-zone climate control, electric seat adjustment, rain-sensing wipers, Bluetooth connectivity and a rear-parking aid. 

INTERIOR

Jaguar XF Sportbrake dashboard

Predictably enough, the Jaguar XF Sportbrake’s primary difference inside from the saloon is felt from the back seat rather than the front. The overhauled rear cabin’s most discernible enhancement is the 48mm of additional headroom afforded by the longer, less curvaceous roofline.

Where once an XF’s passengers were squeezed into a soft-touch porthole illuminated only by the saloon’s slender windows, the Sportbrake’s occupants have squared-off, light-capturing, Range Rover-like door frames, redesigned seats and a bowler hat’s worth of space up top to enjoy.

The glossy centre console attracts finger smudges and smears easily.

It’s an appreciably nicer experience behind the front seats and makes the new variant a worthy consideration for all Jaguar XF buyers – not just those interested in additional load space.

That’s there, too, but you need to go looking for it. Leave the rear seats up and, under the tonneau cover, the wagon gains no advantage over the XF saloon’s 550 litres. Load up above the window line and you’ll find plenty more room, though. In terms of overall cargo space, the Sportbrake is on a competitive footing with the BMW 5 Series Touring and Audi A6 Avant (the Mercedes E-Class estate is well ahead of the field). Its flush and quite long load compartment, floor rail fixing system and powered tailgate make it a flexible and accessible space, too.

But the 1675-litre party trick is saved for a tug on the remote-fold levers, positioned just inside the tailgate. Collapsing the 60/40 rear seats reveals 1970mm of neatly trimmed load floor length.

Return to the driver’s seat and the XF experience is as with the saloon: plush, pliant, but also just on the fringe of appearing dated. The 2008 model was so flamboyant in its stylistic choices that it was inevitable that elements of its hard-edged, neon-spliced modernism would age quickly. Fortunately, such criticism is rendered only after measured consideration, because to blithely sit in and drive, the Jaguar remains thoroughly agreeable.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Jaguar XF Sportbrake rear cornering

It seems churlish to complain about a two-tonne estate car that can crack 60mph in a shade over seven seconds. Still, anyone paying £50,000 for an express load lugger should expect it to be pacey – at least as fast as its maker says it is, and ideally as fast as anything else for the price.

According to our timing gear, the hottest 3.0 diesel XF Sportbrake is neither of those. It took a second longer than Jag’s 6.1sec claim to sprint to 60mph and 18.4sec to break 100mph, the latter being less than a second quicker than the 228bhp Mercedes-Benz E350 CDI estate we tested in 2010. Bet your bottom dollar that a BMW 535d Touring would do it in little more than 15 seconds.

Jaguar's 'parallel-sequential' twin-turbo arrangement on the 3.0 S uses a primary turbo with variable geometry and a smaller unit which kicks in after 2800rpm

The case for the higher powered 3.0-litre model gets worse when compared to the performance of the higher powered 2.2. The lowest 160bhp version may take an agonizing 10.9 seconds to reach 62mph, but the 197bhp model will cover the benchmark sprint in 8.2 seconds, just over a second off the 3.0-litre S. With the prospect of more than 55mpg from the higher-powered 2.2-litre unit, that sort of performance is more than acceptable, especially if you aren't looking for searing pace. The 237bhp 3.0 diesel records a claimed 0-60mph time of 6.8sec, which is more than respectable, but the mpg is actually worse than that of the higher powered unit.

That aside, there is little wrong with the responsive, soft-edged briskness that the higher powered 3.0-litre model XF can conjure up, although we’d prefer a slightly more linear power delivery. While the twin turbos don’t suffer much lag, they give up most of their response before you’ve finished with the middle third of the accelerator travel. A slick-shifting auto ’box and torque-swollen mid-range combine to make winding on 20mph or 30mph quite effortless, regardless of your prevailing speed. At about eight-and-a-half-tenths of the fastest socially acceptable A-road and B-road lick, the car is at its best. Be too aggressive with the throttle, though, and that eight-speed transmission can drop one too many cogs in its pursuit of optimum thrust, giving you the impression that the car is better suited to fast but relaxed progress than being hurried to extremes.

The higher-powered 2.2-litre unit delivers substantially less in terms of outright pace, but remains a strong performer. It doesn't feel exceptionally quick from a standing start, but its actual point-to-point pace is decent, and more than adequate for the majority of journeys. It also sits especially well with the eight-speed ZF gearbox, which ensures the engine is rarely stressed and, even at a motorway cruise, does nothing to damage refinement.

Indeed, whichever engine you choose, like all good tourers should, the XF rewards its occupants with the kind of mechanical refinement to soothe away hour after hour of long distance. The only bump in that journey is likely to be the fuel stops; the higher powered 3.0-litre unit in particular is unlikely to be able to cover 500 miles in real-world driving conditions before requiring a refill.

RIDE & HANDLING

Jaguar XF Sportbrake cornering

Only by the meticulous, class-leading dynamic standards that Jaguar sets itself could the Sportbrake be considered anything other than a total success. An E-Class wagon may have a smoother low-speed ride and a 5 Series Touring a smidge more grip and body control, but the XF strikes a very agreeable balance between the two and goes about its business as only a Jaguar can – with remarkable suppleness and bump absorption when the surface asks for it, but also composure, delicacy and plenty of driver engagement.

If you’re trading out of an XF saloon, you’ll notice the slightly softer motive character that Jaguar’s dynamicists have opted for here. This suspension tune makes the Sportbrake a marginally more comfortable car than the four-door and sacrifices very little in handling.

Weighing in at over two tonnes, the XF's platform feels close to its limits.

Hit a really choppy road at speed and this XF seems to pick itself up an inch or so on its springs and hover, allowing each wheel to rise and fall with the bumps and troughs in the road without disturbing the equilibrium of the body. And yet, all the while, the steering retains a consistent weight, and you still feel quite intimately and securely connected with the road surface. This is definitely a car configured for a fast A-road, not a fast autobahn. British drivers will welcome it and Jaguar should be applauded for it.

The only slight bugbear is that, at times, you’re aware that the Sportbrake isn’t as agile as the XF saloon. It has every bit as much steering feedback, but not quite as much front-end bite. Hustle the car around a fast bend and, rather than poised neutrality, you’ll eventually uncover gentle but unmistakable understeer. That softer air-sprung rear suspension is probably to blame.

For a grand tourer, trading a little directional agility for added ride comfort seems entirely reasonable. But it does take the edge off what you might have expected to be one of the XF wagon’s glittering USPs.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Jaguar XF Sportbrake

This is one area where Jaguars have changed almost beyond recognition since the days of the S-type and X-type. The top-spec XF estate demands a hefty entry ticket, but our residual value experts reckon that, should you make the move, you’ll get more back over four years than with an equivalent BMW, Audi or Mercedes.

The XF is predicted to retain more than 40 percent of its value over that time, compared with mid-30s for its rivals.

The XF Sportbrake should be worth ten per cent more than an equivalent Audi A6 over three years.

The XF is also proving relatively painless to own, according to customer satisfaction surveys, and there’s no particular reason why the Sportbrake shouldn’t continue the fine form of the saloon, which has finished as high as second overall in JD Power surveys.

Day to day running costs may prove less impressive, as the XF Sportbrake fell well short of its claimed fuel economy figures during our exhaustive road test. We averaged just 31.6mpg in the six-cylinder diesel S model. The lower powered 3.0 is unlikely to provide much respite, either, as its claimed economy figures are lower than that of the higher-powered version.

Plumping for the smaller four-pot will save you money, however, with both the 160bhp and 197bhp variants managing 55.4mpg and emitting 135g/km of CO2.

VERDICT

4 star Jaguar XF Sportbrake

The Jaguar XF saloon remains best in class in many important ways. No other mid-size exec blends simple involvement with ample performance, excellent refinement, fluid handling and such a skilfully judged ride. None quite equals it as a driver’s car.

As a result, the saloon scores a 4.5-star rating. However, we’re docking half a star this time around. As an even smoother-riding XF, the Sportbrake is entirely fit for purpose, but its slight shortage of ultimate handling balance is regrettable.

The Sportbrake's lack of ultimate balance denies it a higher star rating.

A cabin that feels slightly tight – even a little antiquated here and there – now does much less to recommend the XF than it once did, and the fuel economy of the models we've tested hasn't been outstanding.

But it’s a very comfortable, practical and well mannered family car, with strong ownership prospects in most other respects and enough sporting pace and verve to merit a decent if not class-leading billing.

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Jaguar XF Sportbrake 2012-2015 First drives