Jaguar XF Sportbrake (2017 - ) review
The XF Sportbrake has a tough task taking on estates from Audi, BMW and Mercedes, not to mention Volvo, but its looks, efficient engines and sharp handling give it some real appeal.
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It’s notable Jaguar calls this a Sportbrake rather than an estate, and the looks certainly live up to the first half of that name. At the front, it’s pretty much identical to the saloon it’s based on, so the main differences are at the back end. That centres on the larger boot, but rather than just grafting on a big box, Jaguar’s designers have been able to craft a shape that retains the elegance of the saloon. In a nod to its more practical role, it shares the same rear lights as the F-Pace SUV.
Standard models are a little less striking than those in higher trim levels, but come with alloy wheels, xenon headlights and a gloss black finish for the gaping centre grille. R-Sport models get larger alloys and a sporty body kit; Portfolio models are distinguished by lashings of chrome on the side vents and grille; and the top-spec 'S' versions get a unique body kit, twin exhausts and red brakes.
The XF provides a really nice environment for the driver. The high window line and wraparound dashboard make the car feel quite sporty, giving you a sense of the cabin shrinking around you, but that does also make it feel a little bit more claustrophobic than rivals like the Audi A6 or BMW 5 Series. On the other hand, the comfortable and supportive seats have plenty of adjustment, and slide and tilt electrically as standard. A wide centre console divides the cabin, but the main controls are all either on the steering wheel or contained within the 8.0-inch colour touch-screen. The InControl infotainment system is definitely an improvement on previous Jaguar systems, but it's not as quick to respond, or as intuitive to use, as the best systems from Audi and BMW.
Similarly, the view out the rear isn’t brilliant, as it’s limited by the thick pillar either side of the rear screen. On the plus side, the optional glass sunroof running the full length of the cabin brightens up the interior a treat, and most of the materials feel classy and solid. It's only when you spend a bit more time investigating lower down that you start to find some switches and materials that let the side down.
Practicality is the main reason you’d buy a Sportbrake rather than a saloon, and the good news is the XF has a really roomy interior. Front and rear passengers have enough space to stretch out, with head-, knee-, and elbow-room all generous enough to accommodate six-foot adults. The only big issue is the middle rear seat is harder and narrower than those either side of it. Combined with the high transmission tunnel in the floor, it means this spot is best saved only for occasional use.
In pretty much every dimension, the boot matches what you’ll find in a BMW 5 Series or Audi A6 – it’s even better than a Volvo V90 – and the only rival that significantly beats it is the Mercedes E-Class. However, what little the XF loses in outright space, it makes up for with easy usability. The rear seat is split 40/20/40 as standard and drops down to leave a perfectly flat load floor. There are handles in the boot to release those seats, as well as bag hooks in the side, and a system of rails in the floor, on which you can mount all sorts of bits and pieces to help secure your luggage. The load lip is also low, which will make it much easier for your pet pooch to jump in at the end of their walk.
Ride and handling
The XF Sportbrake is a far more enjoyable thing to drive than you might expect. In particular, the steering is great, with quick responses and plenty of feel, and that helps the car to glide in and out of corners with real poise and fluidity. Overall, it feels like a much smaller, lighter car on very twisty or challenging roads. If you want the added security of four-wheel drive – and many owners will, we suspect – it can be specified as an option on most of the range. None of this agility comes at the expense of comfort, either. Yes, the ride on larger alloy wheels has a slightly firm edge in town, but it’s still comfortable, composed and quiet at all times, meaning it’ll entertain you whether you’re taking the kids to school, blasting along your favourite B-road or cruising along the motorway to your next business meeting.
The XF comes with a wide range of engines, but so far we’ve only had a chance to drive a handful of them. Diesel engines will be the most popular choices, and we’ve had a go in the most powerful of the 2.0-litre options with 240 horsepower, and the 3.0-litre V6 with 300 horsepower. The smaller one offers decent urge throughout the rev range, but because it has a heavy body to lug around, it doesn’t feel as sprightly as the power output would suggest. However, if you adopt a lazy driving style where the engine’s low-down pull and the eight-speed automatic gearbox does all the work, you’ll smoke around with a minimum of fuss. The V6 feels a lot brawnier than its smaller counterpart, with easier, brisker, more muscular acceleration. It’s also much smoother and quieter than the occasionally rowdy 2.0-litre, and this makes it a really appealing option if you can afford to pay the extra it costs to buy and run.
The other engine we’ve tried is the 250 horsepower 2.0-litre petrol, and while it’s thirstier than the diesels, it’s quite a nice companion. It feels perky, keen to rev, and it’s smooth and quiet, even when you work it hard.
All the engines we’ve tried come fitted with an eight-speed automatic gearbox as standard (only the entry-level diesel is offered with a manual), and it moves through the gears reasonably smoothly, but it can feel a little slow to react in its standard setting. It gets better when you shift the selector around to S mode, or take control of the shifts yourself using the steering-mounted paddles, but the changes might still be a little slower than you’d like.
Whether it's your monthly finance payments or the lowest possible CO2 emissions, running costs are crucial when it comes to executive cars. Rivals from Audi and BMW have more impressive official figures, but the Jag’s aren’t that far behind. The cleanest XF emits 118g/km of CO2, and its official combined fuel economy is over 60mpg – low enough to make the XF a very affordable choice as a company car. Overall, the XF is priced on a par with its closest competitors, but low insurance groups, keenly priced servicing packs and strong resale values make the XF a really affordable premium estate. Its high values as a used car will make it very tempting for private buyers, too.
The latest XF is too new to have featured in any customer reliability surveys, but a good indication of its durability comes from our experience with the previous generation. That car has performed pretty well in the Warranty Direct Reliability Index, with one notable exception: a large proportion of owners experienced problems with electrical components. However, the new XF shares very little with the old car, with all-new electronics, engines and gearboxes. Jaguar as a company also does better in the study than most other premium brands, outranking Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz, although the gap between all four is fairly narrow. As standard, the XF comes with a three-year unlimited-mileage warranty, which owners have the option of extending for another 12 months for a small fee. A five-year servicing pack is also really affordable, which takes the financial sting out of routine car maintenance.
When it was examined by the experts at Euro NCAP, the XF saloon (on which the Sportbrake is based) passed its crash tests with flying colours, earning the maximum five-star rating. It comes with a wide range of optional and standard systems to keep you safe, too. All-Surface Progress Control can take over the acceleration and braking on slippery surfaces, carefully metering out the power to avoid a low-speed slide.
Autonomous emergency braking helps prevent minor shunts, automatically applying the brakes if the driver fails to react to an impending collision. And, the lane departure warning does exactly what it says. Six airbags round off the standard-issue safety equipment, but options include a head-up display and traffic sign recognition to remind you of the current speed limit. A lane keep assistant that will steer for you if it thinks you're wandering out of line, and an alert that'll warn you about passing traffic when reversing, are also available as optional extras.
Buyers in this price bracket expect to be well catered for, and every version of the XF is packed with standard equipment. That long list includes DAB radio, sat-nav, dual-zone climate control, leather upholstery, heated front seats, cruise control and a set of reversing sensors. Portfolio trim extends this with a parking camera, keyless entry and start, a heated windscreen and a high-end stereo.
You won't want for much, but there’s a lengthy list of options on offer in case you want to tailor your car to your exact taste. One upgrade you might be tempted by is the InControl Touch Pro infotainment system, which brings with it a faster processor, larger 10.2-inch touch-screen and an uprated stereo. However, we experienced no real benefit to the pricier system in testing, so we'd suggest you save your money. The only executive saloon to offer the same amount of equipment as standard is the Mercedes E-Class.
If you want an executive estate that's as good to drive as it is to look at – but with no major compromises in terms of space and practicality – few cars will get the pulse racing as fast as the Jaguar XF. Luckily, all that appeal is backed up by highly competitive running costs, all the latest safety measures and generous luxury equipment. It could even tempt buyers who want the space and practicality of an SUV, but are after a more exciting drive, and don't need or want the higher driving position.