First Drive: 2018 Jaguar XF S Sportbrake
The driver’s wagon
PORTO, Portugal—Male driver grips hands at 9 and 3, switches car to dynamic mode, and proceeds to slice and dice the twistiest of mountain passes with gusto. The scene smacks of Sports Sedan Cliché 101, but in this case the vehicle in question—a 2018 Jaguar XF S Sportbrake—is capable of righteously hauling ass over zigzaggy roads while hauling a sofa in its cavernous 69.7-cubic-foot cargo hold.
Is this the future of mature enthusiast motoring?
Jaguar is taking a small chance on the fledgling genre by finally bringing a wagon version of the XF to the States, and if you ask the lunatic fringe of enthusiasts, the move didn't come a moment too soon. (Spoiler alert: our key takeaway after tearing up Portugal backroads is that if you didn't glance back at the cargo area while ripping up the road, you might not know you're driving a wagon.) Weighing 165 more pounds than the equivalently equipped XF S sedan and packing the same 3.0-liter supercharged V6, the XF S Sportbrake copes with curves surprisingly well for its 4,045-pound curb weight, turning in crisply, accurately maintaining its line, and delivering intuitive control through the steering wheel.
This isn't the first time the XF has been converted into wagon form—the Sportbrake variant of the first-gen XF was offered in Europe—but with high-end competitors dotting showrooms, now is prime time to bring the XF wagon to the U.S.
"We offer a manual transmission F-TYPE," says product rep Maria Rodriguez, "but before that some might have said we were playing in a safe space. Now, more than ever we want to be known as the driver's brand and it's vehicles like this that will get us there."
The second-generation XF arrived in 2016 with a more aluminum-intensive construction and updated features, making it as ready for primetime as the aging XF platform can be. Not only did the wagon transformation involve a minimal investment for the U.S. market, it enabled the $70,450 XF Sportbrake to join buzzworthy premium offerings like the Volvo V90 and Mercedes-Benz E400 wagon.
One of the only overt visual links to taller F-Pace are XF Sportbrake's curved taillamps, and the tenuous connection is not a bad thing. Though storage capacity isn't far from its crossover stablemate's, the XF's center of gravity lends it greater agility as well as a cooler visual presence. Jaguar designer Wayne Burgess, a part-time rock musician who would probably use the storage capacity for sound equipment, suggests that the Sportbrake's silhouette resembles a drawn bowstring. The analogy is entirely credible, and more than a whiff of that feeling comes alive in the driver's seat.
The 380-hp powerplant's 332 lb-ft of torque feels palpable at low rpms and pulls strongly throughout the rev range. 0 to 60 mph requires a claimed 5.3 seconds. The engine sound isn't particularly loud—those big, round exhaust pipes apparently prefer to be seen, not heard—but the ability to deliver healthy, stealthy acceleration is entirely in keeping with the Sporbrake's off-the-radar persona. Portugal's glassy smooth roads provided little challenge to the suspension, though a standard self-leveling system at rear promises to keep the tail from sagging when loaded up.
While the $72,100 First Edition model includes a 10-inch multimedia touchscreen, an 825-watt Meridian surround sound system, and a new gesture control function to open and close the roof blind, the XF Sportbrake is less of a technical tour de force than it is an exploration of packaging capability. The two tons of mass are aided through the corners by torque vectoring, which was evidenced during our 200-mile drive by the palpable odor of brake pads in the hard corners.
Apart from the smell, the efforts of the brakes are effective; the Sportbrake dances with sharpness and fluidity. Dial the drive mode to the sport setting and throttle gets a bit over the top with responsiveness, making it a challenge to accelerate smoothly out of corners. But the chassis underpinnings are there and so are a few pleasant Jaguar-specific interior touches like the rim of wood around the dashboard.
One thing that doesn't work so well: Jaguar's notorious cylindrical shifter knob, which rises out of the center console. The feature remains a stubborn effort at different-ness, one which yielded more than a few moments of frustration when making quick u-turns in tight quarters.
Our lunatic fringe of enthusiasts may be well acquainted with the dynamic advantages of a low-slung wagon, which happens to be enjoying a quiet resurgence in the premium market. While the vast majority of American car buyers have yet to understand the allure, Jaguar is right to bring the XF S Sportbrake into the fray, as it offers yet another incremental vote for a genre Europeans have long recognized as a way to have your driver-focused cake and eat it, too. It may be a niche within a niche with limited sales potential, but the Jaguar XF S Sportbrake is all but guaranteed to bring a knowing grin to the minority of drivers willing to embrace the wagon.
2018 Jaguar XF Sportbrake Specifications
|ON SALE||November 2017|
|PRICE||$70,450 (S), $72,100 (First Edition)|
|ENGINE||3.0L supercharged DOHC 24-valve V-6/380 hp @ 6,500 rpm,
332 lb-ft @ 4,500 rpm
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD wagon|
|L x W x H||195.0 x 82.3 x 57.8 in|
|0-60 MPH||5.3 sec|
|TOP SPEED||121 mph|