The XF is a much improved model in the Jaguar line up but while the market has responded to the improvements that have been made, there's not been a lot of variety in the choice of bodystyles on offer - until the XF Sportbrake arrived. This sporty estate model features a 550-litre boot and sleek styling.
Variety. It counts for a lot. Rather than trying to cover all bases with one version, as has been Jaguar's way in the past, these days the company is on an even enough financial footing to be able to offer its customers something a little bit more specialist. The Jaguar XF had long campaigned as solely a saloon model, but in a market sector that values a certain lifestyle statement, saloons were often seen as a little staid. A 2011 facelift of the car came and went, but it wasn't until late 2012 that buyers could get their hands on the XF Sportbrake, a car that significantly broadens the number and type of buyers Jaguar can target. It was first shown at the 2012 Geneva Motor Show and received a generally warm reaction from the motoring industry at large. Now it's a production reality and looking to put a number on the likes of BMW, Mercedes and Audi.
In the mainstream range, Sportbrake customers get to choose between two diesel engines - a 2.2-litre and a 3.0-litre - and both come in two differing states of tune. The 3.0-litre diesel is available in 240 and 275PS flavours and there's an economical four-cylinder 2.2-litre, good for either 163 or 200PS. Why such a focus on oil burners? Jaguar's figures show that the XF saloon sells overwhelmingly in diesel form and given that estate buyers tend to be even more practical, it really made sense to focus on offering economical, low emission engines. The entry level 163PS 2.2-litre diesel will be quick enough for most, stopping the watch as it passes through 60mph in 10 seconds. The 200PS version, which is actually just as clean and economical, manages it in a far more sprightly 8.2s, on the way to a 142mph maximum. With 450Nm of torque available from only 2,000rpm, there's no shortage of muscle with this engine, and the XF eight-speed auto transmission means you're always plugged into the meat of it. At the top of the range, there's a 5.0-litre supercharged V8 with 550PS. Across the XF line-up, advances have been made in refinement with active engine mounts on the diesels and sound deadening material featuring on the car, as well as redesigned wing mirrors to reduce wind noise.
Jaguar is off to a good start on the Sportbrake as the XF is widely acknowledged as one of the cleanest pieces of styling in its class. The rear glasshouse is artfully integrated into the car's existing chassis hard points, with a genuinely sleek roofline which arches over the rear quarter-lights. The window line tapers gracefully as the flanks meet the rear glass area with its continuous wrap-around curve. The one-piece tailgate incorporates a rear spoiler with integrated high-level stop light and a chrome blade finisher. The rear of the XF Sportbrake also sports full LED tail lights. The XF Sportbrake's styling can be accentuated on the Diesel S model. The front bumper design features black mesh inserts for the lower air intakes. Sculpted side sills and a distinctive rear spoiler also feature. At almost two metres in length and over a metre in width at its narrowest point, the XF Sportbrake's load space features 1,675 litres volume capacity when all the seats are folded down, which sounds impressive, and 550 litres with the rear seats in place - which isn't quite so brilliant but is nevertheless 50 litres up on the saloon. You also get under floor stowage, a 60:40 split rear seat and a remote release. Ease of use is a priority, so a power tailgate system is available. The XF Sportbrake can be specified with Integral Tie Downs which enable fitment of a range of accessories designed to increase versatility. There are also recesses in the side trim, hidden behind mesh fronts, that provide additional space and will enable even awkward loads to be stowed securely across the width of the boot.
Prices run from around £32,000 to just over £50,000 for mainstream diesel models, which is about par for the course in the full-sized BMW 5 Series Touring/Audi A6 Avant-dominated executive estate sector. Most customers will be attracted to the 2.2-litre diesel, which is offered in SE, SE Business and Luxury trim levels. Go for the more satisfying 200PS version of this engine and you'll find the car offered in Luxury, Sport, Premium Luxury and Portfolio trims. The mid-level Premium Luxury version is sure to be popular and is fitted as standard with soft grain leather seats, a 600w stereo, Bluetooth, cruise control with speed limiter, hard disk satellite navigation, a heated front window, heated, electrically adjustable front seats and 18-inch alloy wheels. Go for the entry-level SE version and you'll still find a 400W stereo, leather and suede cloth seats, keyless entry and the excellent ride comfort afforded by 17-inch wheels.
The 2.2-litre engine is going to mop up over 75 per cent of all XF Sportbrake sales, so it's this that we'll look at in closer detail. It's a modified Ford unit, mounted longitudinally and featuring a host of new parts, including a water-cooled turbocharger and low-friction pistons. Somewhat oddly, the163PS version is no cleaner or more frugal than the 200PS variant with 135g/km of CO2 on 17-inch wheels and 139g/km if you opt for the larger alloys. A combined consumption of 55.4mpg isn't quite up there with the best of the German opposition maybe, but it needs to be set against the 46mpg of the 3.0-litre diesel XF Sportbrake models. Residual figures look extremely promising, with industry experts predicting better retained values than the saloon. I
The Jaguar XF was always an easy car to recommend if you wanted a saloon. Unfortunately, not that many people actually do. They want the status of the aspirational badge, but also want an element of practicality, of being able to get the goods in at IKEA or get the rubbish out to the tip. Of course, the advertisers would have us believe that these cars are bought by thirtysomethings with snowboards, jetskis and dazzling smiles but the truth is a little more prosaic. The XF Sportbrake does the practical things very well. So far it's hard to pin a single black mark on TATA Motors' stewardship of Jaguar. Everything is bang on the button. The XF Sportbrake continues that winning run of form. It's good looking, well specified, offers that additional element of utility and trades on Jaguar's now excellent reliability and customer satisfaction record. In other words, it can't fail.