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Jaguar XF Sportbrake

Autocar logo Autocar 26/04/2019 Tom Morgan
a car parked on the side of a road: Jaguar XF Sportbrake © Autocar Jaguar XF Sportbrake

Intro

The past four years have been of the sort that age an Autocar mid-sized executive saloon class champion very quickly – and this week we’re checking up on a car that might have more relevance to that statement than most.

When the current X260 generation of the Jaguar XF emerged in 2015, it hit a competitive mark in the Autocar road test. It did so, however, against the last-generation version of each German opponent it now faces and before the arrival of the Volvo S90 and V90 and the European introduction of the Lexus ES.

To find out where Jaguar’s middle-sized executive option sits today, we turn to both a bodystyle and a powertrain that didn’t exist when the car was launched four years ago.

a car parked in a field: Jaguar XF Sportbrake © Autocar Jaguar XF Sportbrake Jaguar added the Sportbrake estate derivative to the current XF product line in 2017, reprising the Sportbrake model name used on the first-generation XF in 2012. Just like the original, this wagon was intended to add both to the XF saloon’s kerbside design appeal and its practicality while squeezing even greater cabin and boot space than its predecessor into an even smaller footprint.

Last year, the XF received the first new engine to hit the range since launch. The 296bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged Ingenium petrol now appears quite widely across Jaguar’s product portfolio, and came along just as the old range-topping supercharged V6 XF S was withdrawn from UK sale for emissions reasons.

This week’s test subject, then, has both the Sportbrake bodystyle and that 296bhp engine, and it represents the XF in just about the most sporting form in which it’s currently available in the UK.

Price £48,640 Power 296bhp Torque 295lb ft 0-60mph 6.6sec 30-70mph in fourth 7.1sec Fuel economy 24.1mpg CO2 emissions 175g/km 70-0mph 46.4m

The Jaguar XF range at a glance

The engine line-up consists primarily of 2.0-litre Ingenium petrol and diesel units, the latter of which represent the entry-level offerings.

The base 161bhp diesel is paired with a six-speed manual; everything else gets an eight-speed automatic as standard. Prestige is the entry-level trim, followed by Portfolio, R-Sport, Chequered Flag and S. 

Design

a close up of a car: Jaguar XF Sportbrake © Autocar Jaguar XF Sportbrake

The XF Sportbrake is just one millimetre longer than the second-gen XF saloon on which it’s based and has an overall height that would be almost identical to that of the saloon but for the fact that, here, you get roof bars as standard equipment.

It’s slightly shorter than the previous-generation Sportbrake but still offers improvements to both second-row passenger space relative to the old car (as a result of a longer wheelbase) and to boot space, the latter having grown to 565 litres under the load bay cover and 1700 litres up to the front seatbacks and roof. Even though the XF has been on the market longer than many of its rivals, those remain competitive outright carrying capacities for a large estate. You’ll have to choose an equivalent Mercedes-Benz E-Class or Skoda Superb to beat them by any decisive margin.

Like the XF saloon, the Sportbrake uses a predominantly aluminium construction, with suspension made up of double wishbones at the front axle and an ‘integral link’ multi-link set-up at the rear. Unlike the XF saloon, however, the wagon version gets double-valved dampers at the front axle and self-levelling air suspension at the rear, with spring, damper and anti-roll bar rates and suspension bushings all retuned for the specific grand touring brief for which the car is intended. Go for the XF in R-Sport trim, as was our test car, and you get lowered, stiffened, passively damped sports suspension as standard, or alternatively you can have that swapped out for adaptive damping at extra cost.

a close up of a bowl: Jaguar XF Sportbrake © Autocar Jaguar XF Sportbrake Jaguar’s engine line-up for the car opens with its 161bhp 2.0-litre Ingenium four-cylinder diesel and progresses upwards through another two versions of that engine offering more power and torque, with Jaguar’s 3.0-litre, twin-turbocharged 296bhp V6 diesel still available at the richer end of the derivative spectrum.

The petrol choice is more limited: the 2.0-litre Ingenium turbo petrol comes in 247bhp and 296bhp forms, with no word yet on when JLR’s 3.0-litre straight-six mild-hybrid engine might be available. Overall, however, it makes for plenty of choice. Four-wheel drive is in effect optional with Jaguar’s 178bhp 2.0-litre diesel engine but is standard with the 237bhp diesel and 296bhp petrol.

Otherwise rear-wheel drive is what you’ll get, as well as an eight-speed automatic gearbox as standard (except if you’re ordering an entry-level 161bhp diesel, which is the only Sportbrake in the range on which a manual gearbox is offered).

a car parked on the side of a road: Jaguar XF Sportbrake © Autocar Jaguar XF Sportbrake

Interior

The two-tone Ebony and Oyster leather in our test car grants the XF Sportbrake a light, airy and pleasant interior, but the Jaguar otherwise shows its age from behind the wheel.

While undoubtedly cleanly drawn and methodical in its design and execution, the car’s cabin fails to offer the sense of occasion that you find in an equivalent Audi or Mercedes.

JLR’s older 10in InControl Touch Pro infotainment system comes as standard on all XFs, as opposed to the new dual-screen set-up found in the I-Pace and newer Land Rovers.

a stove top oven sitting inside of a car: Jaguar XF Sportbrake © Autocar Jaguar XF Sportbrake While it is easy enough to learn how to use and integrated cleanly into the XF’s dash fascia, the software and graphics are now starting to show their age – particularly against the increasingly advanced systems now offered by all three of Jaguar’s German rivals.

That said, most of the features you’d expect to find at this price point are present. Satellite navigation, DAB radio and Bluetooth connectivity are all standard, although Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are conspicuous by their absence. JLR’s InControl software provides an alternative in this regard and enables apps such as Spotify to be used on the go.

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The dual-view display (an £890 option), meanwhile, allows the front passenger to view a different screen to the driver, but the digital displays seem antiquated compared with those in a current A6.

Likewise, its driving position isn’t as enveloping or driver-focused as that of a BMW 5 Series and the car doesn’t conjure the ambient richness of a Mercedes E-Class. And there, in a nutshell, is the clearest evidence of the XF’s age relative to its key rivals.

Our test car’s satin grey ebony veneer and piano black panelling around the centre console did inject a touch of class, but with the game having moved on since 2015, the XF inevitably seems a little yesterday in this mid-sized range.

a close up of a car window: Jaguar XF Sportbrake © Autocar Jaguar XF Sportbrake The XF Sportbrake remains impressively competitive, if not class-leading, in terms of outright space. A typical rear leg room figure of 770mm is 30mm less than in the BMW 520d saloon, although it trumps the Lexus ES 300h’s 760mm. Regardless, taller adults won’t want for leg or head room, and smaller children should sit comfortably three abreast.

The Jaguar’s boot provides generous storage capacity, although not quite as much (at least in terms of claimed seats-up literage) as the biggest estates of its size. Still, a usefully square aperture with no real load lip makes loading and unloading the boot a simple undertaking, while the 40:20:40 split rear bench can be folded entirely flat, which helps with the loading of longer items. A powered, gesture-controllable tailgate completes a strong showing on practicality and convenience.

Performance

Jaguar XF Sportbrake © Autocar Jaguar XF Sportbrake

Any four-cylinder engine in the nose of a line-leading mid-size premium saloon (or its estate derivative) has questions to answer not only regarding performance but also personality. Effortless pace with enviable mechanical refinement is the order of the day, and in this class of car manufacturers have traditionally deployed half a dozen cylinders or more to achieve it.

Straight away there are concerns. In terms of outright thrust, the most powerful Ingenium engine acquits itself well enough, helping the car to 60mph from rest in 6.6sec. Even with no dedicated launch control program, the four-wheel drive system channels torque cleanly, and the resulting sprint is only a second or so behind today’s similarly powerful front-drive hot hatches –and that’s no shame when you consider the Jaguar’s greater mass and practicality.

Judged against a claimed 0-60mph time of 5.7sec and recorded on a dry day, however, our test car’s efforts nonetheless warrant a raised eyebrow of circumspection: a flagship estate car from a performance-orientated brand could, and should, be quicker.

The XF Sportbrake’s in-gear acceleration is also less impressive when compared with the six-cylinder alternatives – particularly those powered by diesel. As an example, the BMW 630d GT we tested in 2017 dispatched the 30-70mph dash in fourth gear almost a second quicker than our XF Sportbrake, and out on the road, away from the stopwatch, the Jaguar’s relative lack of torque does tell. Despite peaking early, with 295lb ft delivered from only 1500rpm, truly effortless progress still depends on the gearbox operating either in Sport or manual modes, and on keeping engine speed close to 3000rpm. Thankfully this is no chore for ZF’s eight-speed automatic, which operates smoothly and predictably, even if the same hardware seems to shift with greater dexterity in BMW’s 5 Series Touring.

But even if it doesn’t fire itself down the road as enthusiastically as it might, the XF Sportbrake certainly sheds speed with confidence. Neither too generously servoed nor too keen to bite at the top of the pedal travel, the car’s brakes feel reassuringly natural, and a 46.4-metre emergency stop from 70mph very nearly matches that of the lighter, lower 2.0-litre F-Type with which the XF Sportbrake shares its engine.

Ultimately, resorting to power from four highly tuned cylinders does little to diminish the flagship XF Sportbrake’s usability, but it does nothing to enhance its subjective appeal. There are, however, benefits to downsizing, as we’ll come on to.

Jaguar XF Sportbrake © Autocar Jaguar XF Sportbrake

Ride and handling

With air suspension at the rear axle and a slightly greater concentration of mass above it, the Sportbrake was unlikely to equal the handling flair of the XF saloon, but it remains a dynamic benchmark among its estate-bodied peers.

There’s a surprising and wonderful fluidity to the manner in which it sets itself through corners, and conspicuously good handling balance combines with high grip levels and almost unbreakable four-wheel-drive traction to deliver cross-country pace that belies the car’s dimensions. There’s another element at play in defining the car’s distinguishing handling appeal, though: confidence.

The XF’s steering set-up is surely the best in this class for feel, natural weight and well-judged gearing. At 2.6 turns lock-to-lock it is quick but also precise, and with the weight of two cylinders taken out of the engine bay, the Sportbrake scythes into corners with a genuinely satisfying shortfall of inertia. We concede this is not the most effortless of steering systems to use, and corrugations and depressions in the surfaces of minor British roads can on occasion deflect the front axle. For many, though, that will be a reasonable price to pay for a set-up that leaves an E-Class Estate or A6 Avant feeling wholly inert.

a black truck sitting on top of a car: Jaguar XF Sportbrake © Autocar Jaguar XF Sportbrake The XF’s lowered sports suspension is an equally impressive feat of tuning. It deftly resists crashing into its bump-stops even when the Sportbrake is driven in a manner unbecoming of a family car. Certainly there is an edge to the ride, although for a passive set-up it strikes an excellent balance between body control and impact absorption, while handling is engaging at all times. So engaging, in fact, that with the assurance from the steering and brakes, you might be lured into teasing the Sportbrake into a little positive attitude through slower corners.

That such temptation exists speaks volumes of the dynamic flair of the XF; that this Jaguar will indulge you, even in four-wheel drive form and midway through its life, cements its place as the class’s handling benchmark.

The snaking Tarmac of Millbrook’s Hill Route served to shine a light on just how good a job Jaguar’s dynamics engineers have done of making the XF Sportbrake handle like a proper sports estate should.

Despite its reasonably large footprint, the XF still felt impressively lithe and athletic. Directional changes were delivered in a much more expressive and enthusiastic fashion than is the norm for the class – a trait no doubt aided by linear steering response and a helm that doesn’t dial in an artificial amount of weight when Sport mode is selected.

Traction is strong but not entirely unbreakable. Applying too much throttle through sharper bends will see its nose push into understeer; backing into a corner on the brakes encourages the back end to subtly rotate in a controlled, progressive manner. Its most notable shortcoming in this environment were seats short on lateral support.

Comfort and Isolation

Jaguar has wisely elected not to reprise the throaty exhaust tuning this engine received in the F-Type coupé. In its more aggressive driving modes the XF will burble cheekily on the overrun, and at no point when under load is it likely to be mistaken for anything other than a highly tuned four-pot, but the timbre is never unpleasant and it becomes demure enough for touring duties.

At a cruise, the R-Sport suspension continues to support the bodywork above it with the reassuringly firm pliancy we’ve come to expect of large Jaguars. There’s also the same remarkable ability to absorb poor road surfaces without surrendering to fidgeting excitability or body float elsewhere, which surely stems from Jaguar’s opportunity to develop its hardware on the rutted, cambered roads on its Midlands doorstep.

a motorcycle parked on the side of a car: Jaguar XF Sportbrake © Autocar Jaguar XF Sportbrake But while comfortable and cosseting, a long-range family car like this should do even more to isolate its occupants from the outside world. The main target of criticism here is tyre roar, which was undeniably exacerbated by our test car’s optional 20in alloys. In fact our microphones registered noise at 71dB at a 70mph cruise – a poor showing compared to the 65dB achieved by the four-cylinder diesel Audi A6 Avant 40 TDI tested last year, which, incidentally, also wore 20in wheels.

In the end the XF Sportbrake should be considered among the most comfortable cars in this class but, conversely, far from the most relaxing. Its German rivals have moved class standards on by a distance in terms of chassis isolation, and Jaguar’s reply to the challenge is notable here by its absence.

MPG and running costs

a close up of a car: Jaguar XF Sportbrake © Autocar Jaguar XF Sportbrake

Priced from £48,640, Jaguar’s 296bhp XF Sportbrake R-Sport sits towards the expensive end of the executive estate car spectrum. That said, there are few four-cylinder rivals that offer comparable levels of performance for the money.

The £48,315 BMW 530i M Sport Touring undercuts the Jaguar on price by a few hundred pounds, but develops 47bhp less and is exclusively rear-driven. Audi’s 242bhp A6 Avant 45 TFSI Quattro S Line, meanwhile, comes in at £47,355.

The Jaguar’s roster of standard equipment is lengthy. A 10in touchscreen infotainment system, powered tailgate, sports suspension, 18in alloys, R-Sport body kit and leather upholstery are all included; and yet, even at this level, it’s unlikely that XF customers will escape the showroom without splashing another 10% of the sticker price on options. With extras such as 20in alloys (£2095), a fixed panoramic roof (£1125), a head-up display (£1270) and more besides, the total cost of our test vehicle came in at a breath-checking £62,020.

a black computer mouse: Jaguar XF Sportbrake © Autocar Jaguar XF Sportbrake Less impressive was the XF’s economy: we saw a 24.1mpg average, while a sustained 70mph cruise returned 36.8mpg. These figures aren’t too far off what you might have expected from the old XF V6 S, despite being two cylinders down.

Verdict

a close up of a car: Jaguar XF Sportbrake © Autocar Jaguar XF Sportbrake

As a case study of what Jaguar does well and what it needs to do better, the XF Sportbrake speaks volumes. Among its peers this remains perhaps the stand-out chassis, capable of engaging its driver when the moment arises but also calmly lapping up miles on all manner of roads as required. And the launch of all-new rivals has hardly diminished the appeal of this car’s striking good looks.

However, on the evidence of this test, Jaguar’s mid-size saloon and estate now fall markedly short in terms of cabin isolation, materials quality and the digital onboard experience, which together are crucial in attracting a modern audience. Cabin noise is a particular concern, and we’d contend that a flagship model warrants no fewer than six cylinders in its nose, not only in the interests of performance but also character; in diesel form, of course, the XF still gets them – and, we dare say, an Ingenium straight-six powered petrol will be along to redress the balance soon enough.

The XF is a likeable, at times delightful, all-weather steer, but without a major mid-life facelift, it’s at risk of acquiring anachronism status next to high-tech rivals.

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