Live long enough and you’ll see almost anything that was once considered the epitome of uncool come roaring back into style. Witness the nascent wagon renaissance, which has seen these once-lamented family trucksters reborn almost exclusively as high-end luxury touring cars.
Don’t believe me? Take a look at the list of station wagons currently on offer in the United States, and you’ll be shocked at not just their price tags, but also what brands have elected to throw their might behind long-roofs in the age of the SUV. In fact, only BMW (3 Series), Buick (Regal TourX), Mercedes-Benz (E-Class), Volkswagen (Golf Sportwagen), and Volvo (V60 and V90) are still building true wagons, most of which including a serious dose of premium equipment and styling.
To this list we can now add Jaguar, which for 2018 will be importing the XF Sportbrake, which is Brit-speak for ‘estate,’ ‘country squire,’ or any number of other terms used to placate marketers looking to avoid the ‘s’ word. Sleek, sexy, and surprisingly practical, the newest Jaguar on the lot is proof positive that automakers are waking up to the potential for high-end haulers that don’t need to tower over traffic.
The 2018 Jaguar XF Sportbrake isn’t the first wagon to bear the brand’s leaping logo. In fact, it’s not even the first to be penned by current design chief Ian Callum’s team, as he was also at the helm for the compact X-Type wagon that disappeared with a whimper roughly a decade ago.
Whereas Europe previously enjoyed a Sportbrake version of the XF as early as 2012, this year marks the first time since the X-Type that North Americans have been granted the same privilege. To say that the latest cargo-carrying cat is light-years away from the unlamented X-Type is to dabble in the dark art of understatement.
My first impression of the XF Sportbrake after seeing it in the flesh under the warm Florida sunshine of Amelia Island was that it offered everything I find so appealing about the sedan – the smooth, muscular lines, the bold front end styling, the right-size form factor – stretched out across a canvas that is visually, if not empirically longer.
Featuring the same wheelbase as the sedan, and only a fraction of an inch of additional stretch to the body, Jaguar has nevertheless managed to cram a full 69.7 cubic feet of maximum cargo space inside the car’s plush confines. That number matches several leading premium SUVs in a package that absolutely obliterates them in every important dynamic category.
That’s important, because Jaguar also happens to be playing in the crossover space, too, with its excellent F-Pace. Kudos to the company’s product planners for not being afraid to build an in-house rival that’s not only more useful (the XF supplies an additional 6 cubes of luggage space compared to the F-Pace) but also considerably more fun to drive.
It’s this combination of beautiful bodywork and the joy of driving that can potentially tilt the playing field away from stodgy, amorphously-styled SUVs and towards sportswagons like the Jaguar XF Sportbrake. By stuffing the same mechanical and chassis elements that have made the XF sedan one of the most interesting models in its class into a new family-friendly package that weighs a mere 165 pounds more, the XF Sportbrake stands clearly apart from the crossover cohort once the roads begin to zig.
This is especially true in the US, where all versions of the XF Sportbrake will come in S trim, guaranteeing a 3.0-liter supercharged V6 engine good for 380 horsepower and 332 lb.-ft. of torque. All-wheel drive is standard with the wagon, alongside an 8-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters. With the pedal down, 60 mph arrives in just a tick or two past five seconds, which keeps the Sportbrake competitive with luxury sedans at or around its $70,450 price point.
On the coastal roads that link Jacksonville to St. Simon’s Island in Georgia, the Jaguar XF Sportbrake was in fine fettle. The car’s ubiquitous corporate V6 surged forward with no delay thanks to its well-tuned supercharger, which played nice with each of the ZF-sourced transmission’s eight forward gears.
Handling was predictable, thanks to a welcome 50:50 weight balance between the front and rear axles, and walked the line well between controlling body roll in corners and retaining the sense of calm touring required by its well-heeled buyers. Being able to move between multiple drive modes certainly helped sculpt the XF’s personality as required, and a number of small tweaks to the front suspension (along with a load-leveling air spring system out back) help the Sportbrake to carry its marginal extra weight with dignity and grace.
It’s clear that this Jaguar is the most engaging driver in its class, especially when compared to the stunning, but milder, Volvo V90. Stepping up to the Mercedes-AMG E63 S provides wagon lovers with the 603-horsepower nuclear option when it comes to outright performance, but requires you to fork over another $36,000 compared to the Jag.
Even when not being asked to devour asphalt like it’s hauling a double load of moonshine through the Georgia night, the Jaguar XF Sportbrake is a pleasure. The wagon features a stunning full-length glass roof panel that fills the cabin from bow to stern with as much sunshine as you can handle (attenuated, of course, by its UV-blocking tint). Seats up front are supportive and wrapped in soft leather, matching the dashboard, and the rear row offers more than enough room for adult riders.
Jaguar has outfitted the XF Sportbrake with its latest infotainment system, a unit that is a huge improvement over what was available from the automaker even a few short years ago. I used the navigation feature extensively as my co-pilot and I plotted a course from St. Simons to Jekyll Island to Fort Clinch as we turned back south towards the Florida heat. The system is relatively simple to use in some areas, a little harder to glean in others, and surprised us both by reading out full news stories from CNN in a British accent while we were driving.
Where the XF Sportbrake’s interior does come up short is in its switchgear. There are some buttons and dials on the dash and center console that simply don’t match the upscale feel of the rest of the passenger compartment, particularly in how they feel beneath your fingers. The Meridian sound system is also quite middle of the road, despite being positioned as an upgrade.
The most surprising thing about the 2018 Jaguar XF Sportbrake was the reception it received nearly everywhere it went.
On a weekend where Amelia Island hosts its annual Concours d’Elegance, with million dollar automobiles littering the roadsides, the XF caused a minor commotion whenever it got within 50 yards of anyone under the age of 40. In fact, on more than one occasion I found myself acknowledging the praise and compliments of carloads of 20-somethings eagerly leaning out the windows of their modified hatchbacks.
Contrasting this with the near-invisibility of the XF Sportbrake among those at a point in life where they might realistically be able to afford such a high-priced car was somewhat worrisome. While a few septuagenarians asked me for details about my ride, their enthusiasm was far more subdued.
It’s an interesting conundrum. The XF Sportbrake seems to have captured the attention of the young demographic already lusting after its drop-dead sexy F-Type coupe and roadster, a fantastic achievement for a vehicle in a segment long left for dead. Will that same passion convince the Wall Street set to drop their next bonus on a wagon instead of an F-Pace to park beside their weekend toy?
Drive them back-to-back, and the answer should be a resounding yes.
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