There are three things you can't get away from in life — death, taxes and SUVs. SUVs are everywhere, so when a manufacturer drops a stunning wagon on us, it's hard to look the other way. Paul Maric went to Portugal to check out the all-new Jaguar XF Sportbrake.
It's a car the Brits have been hiding from us for some time – the Jaguar XF Sportbrake delivers SUV practicality, but holds back on the domineering stance an SUV commands on the road.
Instead, the Jaguar XF Sportbrake offers a stunning physique that can't be mistaken for anything other than a Jaguar. Just look at it.
From both the front and the rear, the XF Sportbrake strikes an elegant pose that stands out in traffic. In fact, Jaguar design director, Ian Callum, told CarAdvice the XF Sportbrake wasn't a car designed as a sedan first with the wagon an afterthought. The sedan design was always made to complement the Sportbrake version.
In Australia the previous generation XF was never offered in Sportbrake form, which is why we're so excited to finally have a crack at it.
The range kicks off from $90,400 (plus on-road costs) for the entry-level diesel 20d R-Sport, moving on to the petrol 25t R-Sport at $91,400 (plus on-road costs) and finishing up with the meaty diesel 30d S model at $123,450.
Our drive through the epic roads of Portugal had us sample the entry-level petrol 25t R-Sport model, along with the torque-laden twin-turbocharged V6 diesel 30d S model across a mix of sweeping highway roads and tight country roads.
Once you're done ogling the striking exterior, stepping inside the cabin reveals a premium interior befitting of a Jaguar. Everything from the sweeping dashboard through to the hugging seats instils a feeling of comfort and luxury.
If you are a fan of technology, you'll love the InControl Touch Pro infotainment system. Measuring in at 10.2 inches, the screen manages everything from climate through to navigation and audio. There's meat behind the graphics too, with menu changes and navigation zoom functions operating in lightning fashion.
Often with these systems they can become slower when screen size increases or when manufacturers load them with technology. While you can download InControl Apps, the system curiously omits features like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
That's not a bad thing, though. We've found with some modern vehicles with decent infotainment systems, the inclusion of features like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is redundant.
There's also a 12.3-inch driver instrument cluster that offers a range of configuration options, including an Audi-esque full-screen map view that relies on the head-up display and a small graphic to display speed.
Audio fans are going to love the cracking sound system. The Meridian unit comes standard across the range and includes a 380W output. Buyers can pump that up to an 825W unit that offers 18 speakers and a giant subwoofer.
The steering wheel sits nicely in hand and the cold-to-the-touch steering wheel mounted paddle shifters offer an added layer to the experience. While there's plenty of indoor storage and a decent-sized glovebox, the centre console is tiny. We understand the limited size of the centre console is due to the four-zone climate control included in our test vehicles, which robs the console of space.
Rear seat leg- and toe-room is good, but it can be a little cramped when the front seats are pushed back. Headroom is great, even with the giant panoramic glass roof.
Folding in a 40/20/40 configuration, the second row includes an armrest, plus the ability to fold flat. Cargo capacity comes in at 565 litres, but expands to a mammoth 1700 litres when the second row is folded.
The boot includes adjustable cargo rails, along with a small amount of storage beneath the boot floor.
Our first stint on Portuguese roads was in the 25t R-Sport model. Despite riding on big 19-inch alloy wheels, the ride was damn impressive. That's thanks to coil springs at the front and air suspension at the rear, which includes a function to raise and lower the rear to help load and unload.
An Adaptive Dynamics option can be ticked, which further customises the settings available to the drive in terms of suspension firmness and adds things like a stopwatch, lap timer and g-meter.
The engine is incredibly quiet and smooth. Beneath the bonnet lies a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine that produces 184kW of power and 365Nm of torque. Fuel consumption comes in at an impressive 6.8L/100km, with a 0-100km/h dash completed in 7.1 seconds. All XF Sportbrake models are mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission and are rear-wheel drive.
Peak torque comes in from 1200rpm and holds through to 4500rpm, making this quite a versatile engine in terms of its torque delivery band.
Unlike a dual-clutch gearbox, which has a tendency to be fiddly and unpredictable at low speeds, this ZF Sachs eight-speed automatic works in harmony with this great engine to deliver smiles.
It's no land speed record holder, but it can be relied on for overtaking and getting away from the line in a hurry. One of its downsides is that it barely makes a sound.
When you see the XF Sportbrake, you assume it's going to bark at you as it flies by, but it's fairly quiet at idle and when you're on the throttle.
Steering feel from the electrically-assisted steering rack is great and offers plenty of feedback when hurling through corners. It's a tiny bit heavier than we thought it would be, but it's nothing to be concerned over at low speeds given its variable ratio configuration.
As the speed increases and you find some more corners, it becomes self evident that the XF Sportbrake doesn't feel all that different to an XF sedan – which is a great thing.
It's plenty dynamic and the twitchy feel you get from the rear when you pound the throttle out of corners is rewarding given the place this vehicle will reserve in the market.
Things are taken to another level altogether when you swap seats into the 30d S mode.
Under its bonnet is a cracking 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged V6 diesel engine that produces 221kW of power and 700Nm of torque. Despite the generous lump of torque on offer, it uses just 5.9L/100km on the combined cycle and will move from 0-100km/h in just 6.6 seconds.
It's certainly a noisier engine than the petrol in the sense it has a bit of diesel clatter, even inside the cabin, but that's in reference to both a very quiet four-cylinder petrol engine and a whisper quiet cabin.
Drop the hammer in the 30d S and that 700Nm of fury hits from 2000rpm. It really throws you back into your seat. And again, despite the 19-inch alloy wheels fitted as standard, the ride is really good.
It glides over road joins and deals well with rutted portions of road. Keep in mind the roads in Portugal (especially the toll roads) are excellent, so the real test will be when the car finally lands in Australia and we have the chance to drive it locally.
Like the smaller capacity four-cylinder petrol, the 30d S is a heap of fun to drive when you find a set of corners. The S model gets larger 350mm front rotors that help pull the XF Sportbrake more confidently after spirited drives.
Drivers buying the XF Sportbrake to go on road trips with the family are going to love features like the huge panoramic glass roof (which can be operated using a hand gesture control, which is cool) and Activity Key (a wireless rubber band you wear on your wrist that allows the main key to be locked in the car while you're swimming). But one of its big draw cards will be the 2000kg braked towing capacity, which makes it as useful as some SUVs.
And despite appearances, the XF Sportbrake won't take up much more room on the road. It's just 1mm longer than the XF sedan (coming in at 4955mm), the same width and wheelbase, but slightly higher (due to roof racks, coming in at 1496mm).
I'm not really an SUV guy. Even if I had kids growing out of my ears, I'd still opt for a station wagon. And, with the XF Sportbrake, it's an option that's impossible to look past.
It's visually stunning and there are a range of petrol and diesel engine options to keep potential buyers happy – plus it undercuts a number of its rivals.
Here's hoping the next news we hear about the XF Sportbrake is that the engineers have decided to drop a supercharged V8 under the bonnet. Then I'll really be clutching for my wallet!