When an established marque decides to make a new kind of car – something truly novel - it’s always intriguing to see how the brand’s design philosophy is applied.
The most famous, or infamous, modern-day example of this was when Porsche – one of the old guard and a bastion of driver-oriented values – chose to build the Cayenne, effectively tracing the 911’s iconic design onto an enlarged chassis and adding four-wheel drive. It was an eyesore, putting it kindly, but the Cayenne has since reversed Porsche’s fortunes, although it’s taken Porsche three bites of the cherry to evolve the design into something that is both well resolved and possesses its own personality.
The XF Sportbrake is a similar venture into a new form for Jaguar, dictated chiefly by the need to broaden the brand’s appeal, and even if they’ve been down the estate road before with X-Type, the XF’s elongated predecessor was a car that captured nothing of what Jaguar design means. Pragmatic, yes, but exciting? Not all at. So what makes the Sportbrake different?
Perhaps most important is that the donor car – the XF saloon – works beautifully as a canvas. One of the original design criterion was that the front and rear windscreens should achieve the same rake angle as the dashing XK, and while we lose half of this in the XF’s transformation, what remains sets the tone for everything else. Gloss-black D-pillars that integrate with the rear windows (blending perfectly on this privacy glass-specced model) embellish the car’s slippery profile and more than compensate for the loss of the sloping rear windscreen.
Surface ‘entertainment’, as it’s sometimes called, is mercifully reserved, and the Sportbrake needs just a handful of details to bring the taut panels to life.
One is the crease running arrow-straight out of the vent behind the front wheel. It’s not so noticeable on darker models but on this Crystal Blue example it looks fantastically sharp. Another is the car’s decadent shoulder line, which on one hand forms a rising belt line that helps the Sportbrake retain the saloon’s sporting stance, and on the other forms part of a line that runs, uninterrupted, from the foot of the front bumper, up over the fenders and all the way to the rear. Throw in steely LED headlight, a wraparound-effect DLO and Jaguar’s imperious new grille and it’s easy to see why Ian Callum sees the Sportbrake as a job well done.
Step inside and the Sportbrake has a charm but you can’t help but laugh at – for both good and not so good reasons – and the immediate impression is of the past wrestling with the future, at least in our car. Carbon-fibre is in abundance, and the dashboard wears a wide band of milled aluminium into which revolving air-vents (that sit uncomfortably close to a gimmick) are mounted. Both are modern, lightweight materials and undoubtedly lift the XF’s interior, but at the same time the chrome buttons that open the centre-console compartments are what you might expect to find on an old lacquer bureau and they open with a heavy thud.
Again, everything else, including the entire dashboard top, is lined with high-grade leather, but the IP surround is made of plastic that rivals a Corvette’s backside for fragility. Contradictions aside, it’s a wonderful place to sit for hours upon end and a great tonic to more austere rivals. Even if it isn’t quite as sturdy.
As estate cars go, then, the XF is about as lust-worthy as it gets. Studio Director Wayne Burgess’ desire to capture Jaguar’s hallmark elegance in the estate form couldn’t have been executed much better. Along with Mercedes’ indulgent CLS Shooting Brake we seem to be in a golden age for these kinds of cars that blend style with practicality (Ferrari’s FF wearing the crown); now all that’s needed is for Audi to come good on their tentative shooting brake concepts.
Where the Jag can’t compete is in terms of emissions. Jaguar Land Rover aim to cut average fleet carbon dioxide emissions to less than 175g/km by 2015, which will be a huge improvement on the 223g/km average in 2010 and a commendable achievement for a company where off-road cars make up half of the portfolio, but emissions of 139g/km for this, the cleanest Sportbrake, fall someway behind the competition. That we can even say that, however, gives an indication of how much carbon dioxide emissions have improved over the last decade or so.
Stop/Start comes as standard and contributes to a combined average fuel economy of 54.3mpg (we managed around 40mpg). Whilst these figures can’t exactly be described as unflattering, they do reflect the fact that this remapped four-cylinder diesel is a bit long in the tooth next to its more powerful and efficient German contemporaries.
And to drive? Having not yet driven the standard XF but almost all of its German rivals it was pretty clear to see why the Jag might tempt people. The steering is less assisted, well weighted and more honest than the clinical racks from Stuttgart, Munich and Ingolstadt. The diesel, archaic as it is on paper, is smooth and sonorous, and though it perhaps wants for two more cylinders, downsizing is undoubtedly the way forward and the engine’s character is well adapted to the rest of this well-heeled car. Crucially, the ride is firm and alert but also supple, deservedly putting the ‘sport’ in ‘sportbrake’.
Frankly, it’s proven difficult to come to a rock-solid conclusion on the Sportbrake 2.2d. It’s understated yet has such presence, and offers sweet relief from the utilitarian nature of the estate market. The relatively inefficient powerplant undermines the whole package, though, because although it performs well and emissions are adequate, fuel economy is too poor in comparison to rivals.
If, however, the beautiful XF Sportbrake is what ‘diversification’ means for Jaguar, then long may it continue. Just no 4x4s.
Jaguar XF Sportbrake 2.2d
Engine: 2,179 4-cyl turbodiesel Power: 163PS Top Speed: 124mph 0-60mph: 10.0s Economy: 54.3mpg combined Emissions: 139g/km CO2 Price: £31,940
You may also like...