Latest excursion into estates gives Jag the design edge
FIRST DRIVE:Jaguar, it may surprise you to learn, is no stranger to the big-booted format. It has dabbled in estates before.
There was the late, unlamented X-Type estate, which was the designer Ian Callum’s first work for Jaguar. Since then Callum’s Jag portfolio has expanded prodigiously, taking Jaguar out of its 1960s-style design straitjacket and into the realm of the modern, clean cut and ruthlessly contemporary.
It was the 2008 XF that broke the Jag mould and its updated 2011 version that returned Jaguar to the design winners’ circle. So grafting an estate body on to the XF had to be done with the utmost care, preserving the beauty of line while still creating a practical, usable loadspace beneath.
Job done. The XF Sportbrake is possibly even better looking than the standard four-door, and it is certainly less boxy-looking than the rival BMW 5 Series Touring or Audi A6 Avant. In fact the Jag’s only real rival in the handsome- estate department is the new Mercedes-Benz CLS Shooting Brake, a car that will cost the better part of €30,000 more.
Underneath the swoopy rear tailgate (which raises and lowers electrically on all but the base model) is a square-sided, flat-floored 550-litre boot that matches its German rivals (except for the gargantuan Mercedes E-Class estate’s) for space and is trimmed with sumptuous carpet and shiny aluminium load rails. The entire structure aft of the front doors is all new, with more headroom for rear-seat passengers (alas, not with a commensurate increase in legroom) and darkened privacy glass if you fancy it.
Up front little appears to have changed, but Jaguar has been carefully tweaking the XF’s cabin to keep it ahead of the game. Revised dials, comfier seats and some switchgear updates keep the XF’s cabin feeling fresh. Plump for swanky Portfolio trim and the suede headlining feels so good it’s almost naughty.
So far the Sportbrake is available in Europe only with diesel engines; the updated 2.2-litre four-cylinder engine is the key one for the Irish market. Crucially, its emissions have dropped from 149g/km to 135g/km, so the XF now drops a tax band, to band B (at least until next month’s budget).
We tested the 197bhp version (a 162bhp version, with the same emissions figure, is also available), and, although it occasionally struggles with the XF’s weight, it is mostly well suited to the car, revving smoothly and quietly. It’s not as economical as Jaguar claims, though, with low-40s mpg being more realistic than the claimed 55mpg. It could also do with sharper brakes; the bite point is just slightly too far down the pedal for comfort. Thankfully, that wasn’t an issue on the 3-litre V6 diesel S that we also sampled.
Comfort, in another sense, is very much a priority. The 2008 XF was often criticised for its too-firm ride. Jaguar has since honed it, and the Sportbrake’s standard-fit self-levelling rear air suspension makes it a paragon of bump-absorbing refinement.
The BMW, Mercedes and Audi rivals all beat the Jaguar for cabin space, but the Sportbrake is such a delight to drive, and so handsome with it, that we cannot see it as anything short of the best in the class.
Engine: 2,179cc four-cylinder diesel 197bhp at 3,500rpm and 400Nm at 2,000rpm; 8-speed automatic transmission.
Performance: 0-100km/h 10.9 sec, max speed 200km/h.
Economy: combined 5.1l/100km (55.4mpg).
Emissions: 135g/km (motor tax €225).
Rivals: BMW 520d SE Touring €46,970 (motor tax €225); Mitsubishi ASX Intense 1.8 Diesel 150hp €51,470 (tax €225); Audi A6 Avant 2.0 TDI SE €46,350 (tax €225).
Price: about €47,000.