Jaguar XF Sportbrake review
by David Finlay (2 November 2012)
The first major change to the Jaguar XF line-up in nearly five years is the introduction of the Sportbrake, an estate version which should double the appeal of the range in in western Europe as a whole and increase it, if not quite to the same extent, in the UK.
From the front bumper to the B pillars, it's exactly the same as the saloon, with an almost one-to-one correspondence of individual models. No supercharged petrol engines, or indeed petrol engines of any sort, are being supplied with the Sportbrake, at least for the moment, but as with the saloon there's a choice of a 2.2-litre four-cylinder diesel engine (sourced through Jaguar's previous owner, Ford, but largely the work of PSA Peugeot Citroen, though with Jaguar's own modifications) and a three-litre six-cylinder. Both have two power outputs, and both drive the rear wheels through an eight-speed automatic gearbox.
More about all the engines in a moment. Naturally enough, the Sportbrake diverges considerably from the saloon in its rear half, the creation of which was emphatically not, to quote a Jaguar spokesman, a case of "building a box on the back" of the existing car. Elegant styling was considered a top priority.
Visibility has suffered terribly as a result (you really wouldn't want the reversing camera to stop working) but I've never seen any evidence to suggest that anyone in Jaguar's design department gives a stuff about this.
Practicality? Different story. With the rear seats in place the Sportbrake offers an extra ten litres over the saloon - bringing the total to 550 litres - of luggage space up to the tonneau cover, and thanks partly to a roofline nearly two inches higher at the back, even if the shape of the rear windows might lead you to believe otherwise, the volume expands to 1675 litres with the rear seats folded down.
Some context for you here: the Audi A6 Avant and BMW 5-Series Touring offer fractionally more space despite being a little shorter, but there's not much in it. The maximum figure of the even more compact Mercedes-Benz E-Class Estate is greater by almost the entire capacity of a Ford Fiesta, so if you want real versatility from your premium load-lugger, that's the one to go for (the E-Class, not the Fiesta).
Still, there's a lot to be said for the Sportbrake's ability here. Folding down each section of the Sportbrake's rear seats is a one-press-of-a-button affair. The floor is the same distance from the ground as the rear bumper, so you don't have to lift anything higher than necessary. And it's completely flat, which in association with the slab sides means that the loadspace is very sensibly shaped. These are all nice touches, showing that Jaguar has taken the not entirely familiar subject of estate creation quite seriously.
Every Sportbrake is fitted with air suspension at the rear, rather than the saloon's conventional metal coil springs. This is to help the car cope with a wide variety of possible load weights, and Jaguar neatly demonstrated its effectiveness at the media launch by sending us out on a race circuit twice - first without a Smeg fridge on board (which in my experience is the normal configuration for track testing) and second (ah, you're ahead of me), with a Smeg fridge on board.
The fridge, I'm assured, weighed 50kg, and you could certainly feel its effect, but you could also feel how well the car was dealing with it. On a damp surface, at cornering speeds which were relatively tame in the circumstances but would have been beyond reckless on a public road, the Sportbrake behaved well enough to suggest that heavy loads should never cause it a problem in normal motoring.
That test was undertaken in a 3.0 V6 with what is, at 271bhp, the highest output in the range. You can also have it in 237bhp form, while the 2.2 is available with either 197bhp (the greatest figure yet conjured from that engine for a production car, and now also applicable to the saloon) or 161bhp.
2.2s are cheaper and more economical than 3.0s, but they offer nothing like the same apparent quality. Despite strenuous soundproofing efforts they always sound clattery, at least in the context of a luxury car. The 3.0 is so quiet that you could travel immense distances without being reminded that it's a diesel at all, and it feels more refined and Jaguary as a result.
In the official EU test, though probably not in real life, each engine has its own fuel economy and CO2 figures regardless of how much power it can be persuaded to produce at full chat. For the 3.0, these are 46.3mpg and 163g/km, for the 2.2 54.3mpg and 139g/km unless the car is fitted with 17" wheels, in which case the stats improve to 55.4mpg and 135g/km.
Depending on trim level, or how much you're willing to pay for optional extras, the Sportbrake is also available with 18", 19" and 20" wheels. I've been very critical in the past of how awful Jaguars, including XF saloons, can be when they sit on overly large wheels, but the Sportbrake copes with them rather well. On 19s the ride is really pretty good, and although it's noticeably fussier on 20s the situation isn't nearly as bad as ones I've experienced before.
Sportbrakes cost somewhere in the £2000-£2500 range more than equivalent saloons (the exact figure depends on which model you're talking about). Pricing starts at £31,940 for the 161bhp 2.2 SE and tops out at £51,505 for the 271bhp 3.0 Portfolio. The former is cheaper, and the latter more expensive, than anything in the equivalent Audi, BMW or Mercedes ranges, but of them all Jaguar is the only one which does not, as yet, offer a version producing more than 300bhp.