Take a look at any office or mall parking lot and you’ll witness a sea of CRVs, Q5s, and Traverses as far as the eye can see. SUVs and their smaller brethren the CUV are eating the world as they say. Just like Amazon is to every industry it enters, or just about.
It’s sad to say, but the lowly sedan and its ilk are nearly extinct. Before that happens, I’d like to recommend to potential SUV buyers something older — that’s new again.
The station wagon, or estate wagon as they call it in Europe, has lost favor in this country for some time now. But among car and performance enthusiasts the question is: Why? A station wagon, especially one with performance aspirations, can give you all the attributes of a high-performance car, with the utility of an SUV-like hatch in the back.
Enter Jaguar XF S Sportbrake. Straightaway I have to admit, I’m not sure how Jaguar (TTM) and head designer Ian Callum we’re able to make a station wagon look this damn good. I mean, it’s a station wagon. And it looks stunning.
Yes the XF Sedan provided the ‘base’ for the Sportbrake. But the beautiful lines, curves in the right spots, and extended length give the Sportbrake an elegant, almost regal, feel. Also helping the lines of this car (although you could argue it was pretty enough without it) is the S-trim body kit fitted to it. I was stopped a couple times by strangers who commented that the Sportbrake was just beautiful. When was the last time someone complimented your crossover?
Now for small bit of bad news. While entering the Sportbrake, I experienced something that has stereotypically plagued Jag’s of the past — some sort of electrical/electronic issue. Upon startup, the touchscreen display in the center stack didn’t turn on. So there was no way to connect a phone, operate the sound system, and adjust vehicle settings. No amount of toggling the audio power button and restarting the car would get the system to activate.
After consulting with Jaguar, they suggested ‘rebooting’ the car, which meant shutting off all the accessories, turning the car off, and locking the car for at least 5 minutes. This did the trick. Not exactly starting the test off on the right foot, but after performing the reboot, everything seemed to be working fine.
Electronic niggle aside, the Sportbrake performed admirably. And that starts with the engine in our Sportbrake S model, a 3.0L supercharged V6 pumping out 380 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque. The rear-biased all-wheel drive design coupled with the supercharged engine gave the Sportbrake lots of life off the line, and in city driving it was nimble and quick.
Inside the cabin, Jaguar gave the Sportbrake the same look and feel as the regular XF sedan. However in S Trim with a few options packages, we had lovely two-tone leather with ebony black wood inserts, as well as an Alcantara-like headliner giving the interior a very upscale look. The swaths of leather and upscale trim extended to the rear passenger and wagon areas. It’s got lots of storage in the back, but keep in mind that height is a premium given the Sportbrake is pretty low slung.
Under the dashboard hood was an all-digital display that gave the driver all the requisite info needed, and of course this was customizable too. The look of the speedometer and tachometer also change if you toggle through drive modes (e.g., normal, dynamic, etc.).
Once the center stack infotainment screen was working, we had full access to the Meridian audio system, navigation, as well as driving dynamics. The driver can customize some of the drive settings here to suit his or her needs. It’s altogether a usable system, one that you’ll recognize in other Jaguars and its Land Rover siblings. My only gripe here was the screen wasn’t the most high-res out there among Jaguar’s competitors.
Driving this car is really where the magic is at. When setting the shifter (a fun pop-up rotary knob) into the sport and setting driving characteristics to dynamic, this lengthy cruiser came to life. You almost forget there’s a wagon end popping out behind the rear wheels during spirited driving, and the 8-speed transmission holds gears until you flick the right paddle shifter to upshift. Shifts come quick, and the engine, like I said before, was lively.
Now all that beauty and performance comes at a price. The Sportbrake only comes in S-line trim, meaning it starts at $70,450. Our tester came in over a whopping $90K; I would just get the base version and add the the $3,495 Driver Assistance package, which adds adaptive cruise control, active parking assist, and a 360-degree camera. That’s still quite a bit of money, but not all that much more than a luxury midsize SUV with this level of performance (think BMW X5 or X6, Audi SQ5, or Mercedes GLC 63).
Did I forget to mention how pretty this car is? I really can’t get over it given its station wagon platform. It just looks so good. Now other European carmakers have station wagon options too – like the Audi A4 Allroad (a bit on the lower end), the new Volvo V90 (this looks very promising), and of course the Mercedes E-class wagon (and its bonkers sibling, the AMG E63 S). So there are a few wagon options out there, but none as downright gorgeous as the Sportbrake.
So back to the matter at hand. Why should anyone look at luxury mid-size SUVs, when you can get a sexy-looking, great performing sedan with a CUV-like hatch in the back? The only thing I can think of is the macho factor, for the older dads that roam suburbia who can’t fathom driving a wagon. My advice – if a stout look is so important, just get a Ram Limited or F-150 Platinum instead.