Whoever said size doesn't matter hasn't been watching the luxury estate market lately. It's been absolutely ablaze with sharp, curvy, agile new models like the Volvo V90, Mercedes E-Class Estate and Porsche Panamera Sport Turismo. Jaguar makes things a little more difficult for premium wagon shoppers, returning to the segment with the new XF Sportbrake, an estate built to combine "grace, space and pace." Jaguar's latest wagon will even make it to the United States, which should prove excellent timing. All this wagon hotness must have even Americans panting.
Jaguar already has arguably the best-looking crossover in the world with the F-Pace; now it gives those looking for AWD footing and agility in a longer, lower package a little something to think about. The new XF Sportbrake is the second-generation model and the first destined for the US market.
The first-gen Sportbrake was a good-looking estate, and the new XF Sportbrake builds upon those handsome looks, offering a sleek but powerful demeanor. It has a stronger, more upright front-end, courtesy of the current XF sedan's facial DNA, and keeps that strength rolling right to the wraparound LED taillights with a well-defined belt line holding up the glasshouse.
The glasshouse is shaped by a sweeping roofline and thinned-out A-pillars designed to lend a more coupe-like appearance. The neatly-sculpted rear end and stretched cabin create the illusion of added length, but the Sportbrake actually stops the measuring tape at the same 195 in (4,953 mm) as the XF sedan, about 9 in (229 mm) longer than the aforementioned F-Pace crossover. The wheelbase measures 116.5-in (2,959-mm), and drag coefficient checks in at 0.29.
"As with the XF sedan, every line on the Sportbrake serves a clear purpose, creating a fast sweeping silhouette," describes Jaguar design chief Ian Callum. "This gives the car a sense of speed and a very dynamic appearance. As a result, I think it looks just as sporty as the sedan, if not more so."
Yes, Mr. Callum, you've done well.
The Sportbrake's look invokes a sense of speed and sharp handling, and the standard 380-hp 3.0-liter supercharged V6, refined, balanced construction and intelligent technologies help it make good. The engine cycles output through a ZF eight-speed automatic and a standard all-wheel drive system.
The AWD system delivers rear-biased torque under normal conditions, helping to create a sportier, sedan-like ride. Jaguar's intelligent driveline dynamics system, meanwhile, monitors vehicle and road conditions to predict wheel slip, redistributing torque as needed. During cornering, torque is shifted to the front axle, where grip is best, delivering smooth, slip-free performance through the twists. Systems like the dynamic stability control, adaptive surface response and torque vectoring by braking also come into play as needed.
Lightweight aluminum construction and balanced weight distribution also play a big role in keeping response and movement tight. For instance, Jaguar has structured the voluminous rear of the Sportbrake using specially developed aluminum alloys and magnesium, along with a single-piece polymer tailgate, to maintain a near-perfect 50:50 front-rear weight distribution, leading to a balanced ride and sharp handling characteristics.
Jaguar has tweaked the suspension and other systems to improve dynamics around the estate body style, too. Most notably, it's swapped the rear steel springs out for self-leveling air shocks that keep handling taut and dependable when the back of the tailgate is full of cargo. The light, stiff double wishbone set-up up front has been optimized for quick turn-in response and comes equipped with bypass valves. The 15:1 steering ratio has been calibrated for effortless response at the wheel of the fuller-bodied XF.
An adaptive dynamics system monitors wheel position 500 times a minute and body movement 100 times a minute to adjust between soft, comfy cruising and sharp, stiffened handling. Drivers that prefer to be more hands-on can turn to the configurable dynamics system, adding custom suspension settings and adjusting steering, throttle mapping and gearshift modes.
Jaguar says the XF Sportbrake is capable of firing through the 0-60 mph (96.5 km/h) stretch of the journey in as little as 5.3 seconds. Top speed is electronically limited to 121 mph (195 km/h).
With all that's going on with its driving dynamics, it's easy to forget that the XF Sportbrake is an estate, which means, first and foremost, space, utility and versatility. The interior delivers, its 31.7-cu ft (898 L) trunk quickly more than doubling to 69.7-cu ft (1,974 L) when the rear seats are dropped, offering a flat load floor for easy sliding of items up to 6.6 feet (2 m) long to the front seats. The 40:20:40 split rear seats let drivers find just the right balance between cargo and passenger space.
The trunk is accessed via a gesture-control tailgate, which uses sensors on either side of the lower bumper to detect movement and pop the tailgate open, so long as the key is detected within 3.3 feet (1 m). The owner can preselect height limits to prevent tailgate damage when using the feature in a parking garage or other enclosed space. The same gesture closes the tailgate. LED "puddle lamps" illuminate the area just beyond the bumper for better visibility in low light.
Gesture control is also featured inside, where the blind for the panoramic sunroof can be activated with an intuitive rearward/forward swipe of the hand, a feature that is exclusive to First Edition models.
The XF Sportbrake puts an 8-in InControl Touch infotainment system between driver and passenger, providing features like turn-by-turn navigation, 2 and 3D graphics and voice control. A 10-in InControl Touch Pro system, head-up display and premium 825 W, 17-speaker Meridian audio system are available optionally. In-vehicle Wi-Fi is also possible with a SIM card.
Sensor-powered automated systems help the driver stay safe and react to on-road situations. These include adaptive cruise control with traffic assist, lane keep assist, park assist, intelligent speed limiter with traffic sign recognition, and driver alertness monitoring.
Jaguar will build the Sportbrake at its Castle Bromwich Plant in the UK and launch it in the US this (northern) winter, starting at US$70,450 before $995 destination and handling charge. Recognizing that the car will likely find an audience in active, outdoorsy folks, Jaguar packages it with an available battery-less, wrist-worn "activity key" that lets you lock the main fob inside the car and work the locks via radio frequency detected at the rear "Jaguar" lettering. Available accessories like a roof box, gear racks and a dog guard should also appeal to this sportier breed of buyer.