Jaguar has finally launched the long-awaited estate version of its XF saloon. It's called the Sportbrake, and AOL Cars have been to Portugal for a first drive of the new load-lugger.
What is it?
The XF is Jaguar's mid-sized executive car, going toe-to-toe with the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes E-Class. The XF Sportbrake, then, is a straight rival for the 5 Series Touring and the E-Class Estate – it's a capacious and practical load-lugger with a hefty dose of premium appeal, aimed at the shrinking number of people who don't want an SUV.
That gives it plenty of rivals, from the aforementioned premium German competition to popular models like the Volkswagen Passat and Skoda Superb, top-end versions of which compete with entry-level XF Sportbrakes.
Of course, the Sportbrake has rivals from the popular SUV sector too. The Mercedes GLC, Audi Q5 and even Jaguar's own F-Pace all muscle in on the estate car's territory.
The biggest difference is the extra bodywork above the rear axle which turns the XF saloon into this XF Sportbrake. The estate is only 1mm longer than the saloon, but the higher roofline gives it both more boot space and extra headroom for rear passengers.
What's under the bonnet?
The range is available with a choice of four diesel engines and a single petrol. The range kicks off with a 2.0-litre diesel, available in 161bhp, 178bhp and 236bhp states of tune – Jaguar expects the second to be the most popular, and it's probably the pick of the range for its fine balance of power and economy.
There's also a 3.0-litre V6 diesel, which is definitely worth going for if you can afford it. It's much smoother than the four-cylinder models, especially at high revs – but it's got so much low-end torque you'll rarely need to take it up there. It's also just as economical as the smaller units.
If you want petrol power, you're limited to a single 2.0-litre four-cylinder. It has 246bhp, so is reasonably quick, but load the car up heavily and you'll have to work it very hard. The 41.5mpg economy figure is also likely to be a pipe dream.
All engines bar the entry-level diesel are mated to a smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic gearbox.
What's it like to drive?
The XF Sportbrake is no lightweight at almost two tonnes, but Jaguar's used all its handling expertise to make it an absolute joy to drive. It comes very close to the perfect blend of ride and handling – remaining comfortable when cruising, but head onto a twisting B-road and it feels like a much smaller vehicle. It's a hoot.
Regardless of which engine is fitted, the steering is sharp and direct, allowing you to easily place the car wherever you want on the road. It's confidence-inspiring and yet not too heavy when parking.
Step from a Volvo V90 or a Mercedes E-Class Estate and the XF Sportbrake will feel like a hot hatchback in comparison.
How does it look?
The XF Sportbrake is a very handsome car. As estates go, it's definitely the supermodel in the sector, with near-perfect proportions and a shapely rear end.
Jaguar's chief designer had an estate version of this car planned right from the beginning, and the cohesive exterior design shows this – with lines that "look like they want to go on forever".
The front end is identical to the saloon's, which is no bad thing – a bold, upright grille flanked by slim headlights with a distinctive daytime running light pattern.
What's it like inside?
The interior is where Jaguar has traditionally lost out to its main competition, and the same is true of the XF Sportbrake. It can't match up to the quality of the BMW 5 Series or the Mercedes E-Class.
We like the sweeping line of the cabin, which starts on the doors and carries on over the top of the dashboard. The centre console is all sensibly laid out, and some may prefer the Jag's straight-laced design to the Mercedes E-Class or Volvo V90's high-tech and button-light approach. However, short of the rising rotary gear selector and swivelling air vents, the interior lacks any real theatre – it's just a bit dull.
While Jaguar's latest InControl Pro infotainment is a massive improvement on the old system, it's already feeling dated. It misses out on the essential Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, and the interface isn't the most intuitive. The screen itself is clear and responsive though, as are the LCD dials.
It's in the back where the Sportbrake has the biggest improvement over the saloon. Even with a panoramic glass roof fitted, headroom is vastly improved, and four six-footers could sit in comfort.
The boot's 565-litre capacity with the seats up (1,700 litres with them folded) is about average for the class, but the load area is usefully square and totally flat.
What's the spec like?
There are four separate trim levels to choose from – Prestige, Portfolio, R-Sport and S. All cars come with sat-nav, leather upholstery and rear parking sensors. Prestige cars come on fairly small 17-inch alloy wheels.
You can step up in two directions. Luxurious Portfolio adds wood trim to the interior, an upgraded sound system, a rear camera and heated windscreen, while dynamic R-Sport adds stiffer suspension, body-hugging sports seats and a mean-looking R-Sport bodykit.
S trim upgrades R-Sport with 19-inch wheels, as well as some other goodies. It's definitely the way to go if you like toys in your car.
We'd recommend ticking the box for the active safety pack, which gives adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist and blind sport monitors.
The XF Sportbrake's £34,910 starting point puts cars equipped with the 161bhp engine within reach of high-spec models from the class below, like the Volkswagen Passat. Our preferred 3.0-litre V6 diesel model does weigh in at £49,600, but that's competitive with the class. The popular choice will likely be the 178bhp 2.0-litre diesel – that starts from £37,160.
The XF Sportbrake has replaced the BMW 5 Series as the choice for keen drivers in the executive estate sector. It's brilliant on motorways, great fun on back roads and is usefully spacious.
It's also good-looking and carries that all-important Jaguar badge on the front.
Though nothing's perfect, the aging infotainment is a blow – and the lack of a competitive petrol model could become more problematic in the future. But for now, the Jaguar XF Sportbrake is a brilliant option, and one well worth considering even over an SUV.
Model: Jaguar XF Sportbrake
Base price: £34,910
Model (as tested): XF Sportbrake S
Price (as tested): £52,400
Engine: 3.0-litre V6 twin-turbo diesel
Max speed: 155mph
0-60mph: 6.1 seconds