12 Dec 2012

Driven - Jaguar XF Sportbrake

Matt Hubbard reviews the Jaguar XF Sportbrake Portfolio, and finds it rather lovely but wishes there was a petrol version.

The standard XF saloon, as previously tested, is a seriously capable car.  As well as the insane XFR I've driven the 3 litre, supercharged, V6 which was more of a match for the abilities of the chassis than the looney XFR's 5 litre supercharged monster.

The XF Sportbrake I drove came in the Portfolio trim and was powered by a 3 litre V6 turbo-diesel with 271bhp.  Before I drove the car I was slightly disappointed -  I've a deep rooted dislike of diesel engines.  I'd have preferred a petrol 3 litre V6.

But then I remembered, you can't buy a Sportbrake with a petrol engine.  Only diesel.  OK, most people who buy them will be economy conscious families.  But if you can afford a £51,000 car then will you really be bothered about the 17mpg difference between the 29mpg, 3 litre, V6 petrol and 46mpg, 3 litre, V6 diesel.  I wouldn't - but you may.

The choice of fuel may disappoint but the car doesn't.  Once again, Ian Callum has produced a great looking car.  The lines of the XF saloon - handsome in an innocuous way - are enhanced with the addition of the extra section required of an estate, sorry, Sportbrake.

The waistline and roof gently taper towards the rear where they meld together in a point - with the internal line formed by the window matching the external line of the roof and rear hatch.  Others, notably Mercedes-Benz' CLS Shooting Brake, form a different internal and external line which jars somewhat.

Other details work well.  The roof spoiler is subtle but adds poise to the rear end and the grilles behind the front wheels look good.

Rear passengers get an extra 48mm worth of headroom in the Sportbrake over the saloon.  Indeed the back seat feels pretty spacious.  There's room for three and the seats aren't so sculpted that the middle passenger is elevated and supported only by the thighs of those either side.

Boot space is relatively huge.  550 litres when the seats are up but flick a switch and the seats instantly fold down (no clambering around pulling this and that) and you get 1675 litres of flat-floored space.

The front of the cabin is the same as for the saloon.  Commodious yet luxurious.  Leather and aluminium are the order of the day.  Any plastics are of good quality.  The controls all feel good to touch and are laid out sensibly.  Special mention should go to the automatic gear mode knob - a knurled aluminium affair that rises up when the Start button is pushed.

As with the saloon the turning air vents are a joy to watch every time the engine is switched on.  Simple, daft, great.  The touch screen is large enough and works well with climate control, audio and satnav being the main feature -  although the satnav is hard to follow.  TomTom make much better satnavs than any of the luxury manufacturers have ever managed, for a fraction of the price.

The centre console is a lovely place.  Flat, piano-black lids covering cubby holes and cup holders.  The only let down is the electric parking brake.  A stupid idea that hopefully will be replaced with a manual version in a few years.  You never trust that it's really on.

To start the engine use the ubiquitous Start/Stop button and leave the key in your pocket.  The engine might be a V6 but it's still a diesel, and makes a diesel noise, despite the sound deadening and muffling that goes on.  It's no louder than in, say, a Range Rover SDV6 but it's there.

The driver can make him or herself as comfortable as they like.  The electric seats go up, down, backwards, forwards to accommodate the tallest and shortest drivers.  Lumbar support is good and your kidneys can be squeezed by pressing a button.  With all these adjustments it's good to know the seats have 2 memory settings - although don't do what I did.  I pressed a button whilst on the move (to see what it did) and the seat immediately whirred upwards and towards the steering wheel.  My legs were bent double and my elbows out at right angles.  The previous occupant must have been substantially shorter than I and had set the memory for his settings.

Driving any modern, luxury car is easy and the XF Sportbrake is no exception.  The steering is light, the controls straightforward and the visibility pretty good.  When I've moaned about the huge wing mirrors on some cars (Evoque in particular) I've been told it's down to 'regulations'.  The XFs wing mirrors are normal sized.  Large wing mirrors are large because their designer thinks they look good, not because of regulations.  They also cause a huge blindspot - which is not very clever.

The engine was a surprise, although with 271bhp it shouldn't have been.  Ignore the tractor noise and enjoy the power.  Like the 3 litre, V6 petrol the power and torque output is a perfect match for the car's chassis and capabilities.  The 8 speed gearbox is dreamy to use.  Just keep it in automatic mode and cruise along, admiring the view.  0-60mph takes 6.1 seconds - and it feels it.  The engine is torquey and the drive brisk, with the auto box keeping the engine in the sweet spot for when you need a bit of oomph.

To drive the XF Sportbrake is almost the same as in the saloon.  The extra weight (300kg) is carried well by the air suspension at the rear.  In a blind test, with no looking over your shoulder to check whether it's a saloon or estate, most drivers wouldn't be able to tell the difference.  The ride is exemplary and steering feedback adequate for the XF's size.

It is possible to get the chassis in a tangle when driving briskly on twisty roads but the ESC brings everything back into line quickly.  Basically the driving experience in a Jaguar XF is smoothly does it with the ability to have some fun if required.  Although the smooth does takes precedence over the fun.  The XF will eat motorway miles for breakfast and let you have some lunchtime fun if you want.

Most people who buy estate cars do so because they have dogs and/or children.  Owning an estate isn't a lifestyle choice, its a product of necessity.  If you really have to buy an estate then the Jaguar XF Sportbrake should be at the top of your list.  It doesn't have the out and out madness of an Audi RS4, it doesn't have the off road ability of a Subaru Legacy but it does have more space than a BMW 3 series and it is more fun to drive than a 5 series estate.

It's only real match in terms of ability to deliver everything required of an estate comes from Mercedes and it's E class.  But Mercedes also produce the CLS Shooting Brake.  That car has been driven by a different reviewer for Speedmonkey and the review will be published alongside this (although the CLS is an AMG version with 549bhp).  Read both and make your own mind up.

There isn't a great deal between the Mercedes or the Jaguar.  It all comes down to your preference.  Are you a Merc or a Jag person?


Engine - 3 litre turbocharged diesel
Gearbox - 8 speed automatic
Power - 271bhp
Torque - 442lb/ft
Top speed - 155mph
0-60mph - 6.2 seconds
Combined mpg - 46.3
Price (as tested) - £51,505 (although the Sportbrake range starts at £31,940)