The other practical Jaguar
With Jaguar now offering consumers two SUVs and an all-electric crossover arriving in the next few months, the idea of a Jaguar station wagon is not as shockingly iconoclastic as it was when the X-Type Sportwagon arrived in the North America back in 2005. Indeed, the 2018 Jaguar XF Sportbrake almost seems almost mundane. Mainstream, even. That’s selling it short.
The new XF Sportbrake is the first wagon Jaguar has offered in the U.S. since the X-Type Sportwagon was discontinued in 2009. It’s not the first XF wagon, however. A load-lugging variant of the previous-generation XF was launched in Europe in 2012, but as it was not available with all-wheel drive, Jaguar Land Rover North America declined to take it, for one simple reason: Many of America’s loyal cadre of premium wagon enthusiasts live in the weather-challenged northeast or northwest. For them, all-wheel drive is a must.
All of which explains the carefully nuanced specification of the 2018 XF Sportbrake.
Although other markets get a choice of engines and drivelines, America gets just one model, the Sportbrake S, with JLR’s familiar 3.0-liter supercharged V-6 under the hood and standard all-wheel drive. Equipment levels are high and include 20-inch alloy wheels, a gesture-controlled tailgate, full panoramic glass roof, and Jaguar’s Configurable Dynamics software. The price is high, too: $70,450 USD. By contrast, the F-Pace S—same 380-hp, 332-lb-ft engine under the hood and broadly similar levels of standard equipment—looks a steal at $59,775 USD.
So why would anyone buy the XF Sportbrake? Because it’s not an SUV, that’s why.
The Sportbrake rolls on the same 116.5-inch wheelbase as the XF sedan and is the same length overall. Compared with the previous XF Sportbrake, whose blacked-out rear pillar treatment echoed that of the XJ sedan, the new model is graphically more conventional—and more handsome. The greenhouse is beautifully executed, with an artfully tensioned rearwards flow, and the new surfaces at the rear of the car retain the crisp, taut surfacing of the sedan. As with the sedan, it’s all done in aluminum, apart from the tailgate, which is a single polymer piece.
Driveline is identical to that of the XF S AWD sedan, including the innovative AWD system that weighs just over 45 pounds (20 kg). Jaguar claims a 0-60-mph acceleration time of 5.3 seconds, three-tenths of a second slower than the sedan, and one-tenth of a second slower than the F-Pace S, which is 30 pounds (14 kg) lighter. But when it comes to comparisons with the F-Pace, the numbers don’t tell the full story: although still as sporty and agile in the twisty bits as you’d hope it to be—it’s sportier and more agile than either the Mercedes-Benz E400 4Matic wagon or the Volvo V90, particularly in terms of steering feel and front end grip—the Sportbrake also rides much more smoothly and comfortably than its SUV cousin.
The slightly longer wheelbase helps, as does the lower center of gravity. The Sportbrake flows nicely down a winding road and feels less agitated on choppy freeways. Although Jaguar claims the Sportbrake has 50:50 weight distribution, it does feel subtly different from the sedan because of the extra glass and metal behind the C-pillar. The front suspension is identical to the sedan’s, apart from bypass valve shocks that stiffen the damping rate during brisk driving. At the rear, however, the sedan’s coils have been replaced with computer-controlled air springs that keep the Sportbrake’s ride height constant regardless of the load it’s carrying.
And speaking of load, here the numbers that are meaningful. With a longer wheelbase, and longer overall length, the Sportbrake can carry more stuff than the F-Pace. Claimed load capacity is 37 cubic feet with the 40:20:40 split-fold rear seats upright and almost 70 cubic feet with them folded flat, compared with the F-Pace’s 34 cubic feet and 64 cubic feet. The Sportbrake also stacks up well against the Mercedes and Volvo wagons, besting both in terms of ultimate luggage capacity.
Low-slung and handsome, the Sportbrake combines the graceful driving dynamics of the XF sedan with the load carrying capacity and winter road capability of the F-Pace. It is, for most people, the rational alternative to an SUV. And that’s the problem: although automotive consumers always rationalize their purchases, their purchase decisions are rarely rational. Right now, SUVs are hot, and wagons are not. It’s as simple as that.
The trick to selling a wagon in America is to give customers in this small but profitable market niche what they want—a vehicle that artfully combines luxury and capability, performance and comfort, subtlety and style. And the 2018 Jaguar XF Sportbrake S does exactly that.