The Best of Both Worlds

Jaguar XF S Sportbrake Review: This Sexy, Supercharged Wagon Makes Practicality Fun


June 13, 2018 Cars By Photo by Andrew Connor
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Every year, without fail, some foreign auto marque will debut a svelte, swoopy wagon, usually replete with a fast engine. It will then proceed to dash our dreams and crush our spirits with the caveat that it will be sold everywhere but the US. “It’s all our fault,” we tell ourselves. “We buy too many crossovers and SUVs.” Simply put, a fast wagon wouldn’t sell well enough here to justify the costs to sell it in the first place.

But Jaguar — sweet, debonair Jaguar — has taken pity on us. Last year it decided to take a chance and bring its gorgeous, XF S Sportbrake stateside. The Jag Wagon sits on the same modular platform as the XF Sedan and F-Pace but offers more utility than the former and a more car-like experience than the latter. It comes with a 380-horsepower supercharged V6 and only a 380-horsepower supercharged-V6. It’ll do a 0-60 mph sprint in 5.3 seconds.

According to Autoblog, Jaguar brought the car to the US because 1) they like it so much and 2) because the cost to homologate was small enough to make the gambit worthwhile. Let’s hope America proves them right because the Sportbrake is worth keeping here.

The Good: The XF S Sportbrake feels like the embodiment for that old Jaguar slogan “Grace… Space… Pace.” The wagon has a cavernous cargo area, rides comfortably when you want it to and drives exceptionally fast on command; handling is exceptional. There’s also the sleek, sublime profile that handily shakes the fuddy-duddy dad image station wagons have had for years. It’s a well-rounded car in that it does most things incredibly well. Want to fill it up with a massive IKEA haul? It’ll do that. Want to take the kids to school in style? It’ll do that. Want to have some backroad fun? It’ll do that too.

Who It’s For: While expensive, the Sportbrake feels like the ultimate compromise for somebody who needs to reconcile between having a practical, utilitarian car and something that’s fun and beautiful. It’s also worth considering if you’re thinking about buying a crossover with the need for cargo space as a justification. For example, the Sportbrake’s cargo capacity is very close to the comparable F-Pace (31.7 cubic feet with the rear seats up in the former, 33.5 cubic feet in the latter) the negligible loss in capacity might be worth it to have more car-like driving dynamics and a sleeker, low-down look.

Watch Out For: Some reviewers have bemoaned that the interior is a bit ho-hum, but my take is that the inside of the Jag is handsome and minimalist and fits the equally handsome and minimalist exterior styling. More of an issue is the interior space itself, though specifically the rear seats which feel a tad cramped given how big the Sportbrake actually is on the outside (though that cargo space does feel very generous). Meanwhile, the steeply-raked rear windscreen gives the Jag a handsome silhouette, but it does impede on cargo room and hinders rear visibility. Finally, the infotainment system itself is well-designed and intuitively laid out, but the lack of CarPlay is progressively beginning to feel more and more unacceptable. As such, connecting via Bluetooth has its pains, most notably a tendency, at least in my case, to randomly sever the connection. It should be said that these are small nitpicks worth putting up with.

Alternatives: I will not stoop to suggesting a crossover as an alternative. You came here for wagons. If you love design (and are a little weird), the Volvo V90 T6 R-Design is available with an $1,800 “optimization package,” essentially a dealer-installed ECU flash that bumps power from 316 horsepower to 330 horsepower and torque 295 lb-ft to 325 lb-ft. It’s not quite in the Jag’s wheelhouse, but the V90 T6 R-Design starts at a significantly cheaper $55,950. I’d also be remiss if I did not mention the Mercedes-Benz E400 Wagon. Though it’s down on power by some margin (51 horsepower to be exact), Mercedes claims the same 5.3-second 0-60 time. But the E400 has a $63,050 starting price. So again, ever-so-slightly more accessible, though the Jaguar (and the Volvo for that matter) arguably has a better design.

Review: When I initially requested the Jaguar XF S Sportbrake over two months ago for a review, I did not do so with a plan to fill it to the brim with IKEA furniture. But when the car finally was delivered to me at the end of May, I happened to be at the beginning stages of a move between apartments in Chicago, a city — like many big, northern American municipalities — with garbage-status, pothole-ridden streets. My daily driver, a 2004 V70R, is also a quick, European sport wagon but it, being of an older era, is smaller and its shocks tend to transmit every possible road imperfection through my spine. A trunkload of flat-pack furniture does not help.

But moving with the Sportbrake showed me how remarkable its domestic chops are. When in its normal driving mode it soaks up the pits in Chicago’s horrid roads with ease and slides in and out of traffic with smooth, unadulterated grace. Its supple, ventilated seats made muggy end-of-May weather easier to bear, while its brilliant Meridian sound system was truly a joy to listen to. Best of all, its cargo bay, especially with the rear seats down, swallowed up a surprising amount of my things. Here’s a list of crap that went in it in one trip — a reference, if you’re familiar with the brand, of how much I hauled.

• A queen-sized IKEA NESTTUNN bed frame.
• A BESTÅ TV unit.
• Two SELJE nightstands.
• A MOLGER bench.
• A TARVA 6-drawer dresser.
• A 7-foot by 10-foot rug.
• Four, full Redi-Boxes.
• Other small, assorted moving shit.

Of course, this is all just one side of the Jaguar. If you leave the car in Eco or Normal mode, it kind of feels sluggish, like it had a big lunch or something. But Sport mode: that’s the key to unlocking the Jaguar’s athletic side. The car sharpens up its throttle response, and if you lay into the throttle, snap between the gear you’ll manage a 0-60 time of just over five seconds that’s… eerily civilized. There’s a sensation of speed, no doubt, but the delivery feels somewhat insulated. You don’t even get the same kind of silly, snap-crackle-pop exhaust note as you do in the V6 Jaguar F-Type (which has the same engine), though a faint supercharger whine is a reminder of the V6’s inner madness.

Able to break free from Chicago’s terrible streets with an unladen wagon, I found twisty backroads in Wisconsin’s Kettle Morain area, which the Sportbrake handled with aplomb. Cornering is sharp, and the car’s AWD system provides lots of grip. The engine’s supercharger supplies a steady stream of power which makes for power-on-demand when accelerating out of corners. If there’s a qualm its that the steering feels slightly numb to what’s going on with the wheels, but overall the driving experience doesn’t disappoint.

The counterargument to the performance wagon is a similarly-powered crossover. I only have one good reference point for this — a Mercedes-Benz GLE43 AMG. When I drove that car on similar roads years ago, I did not have the same sense of composure. It felt top-heavy, burdened by body roll, and generally wayward. Admittedly this is one sample from a rapidly growing segment, but it highlights the insurmountable issue with crossovers: they cannot defeat physics. In the end, to have a car-like driving experience, there’s no replacement for an actual car.

Which brings me back to the Sportbrake’s practical side. Conversely, a car, specifically a sedan or a coupe, cannot offer the same kind of utility as an SUV or a crossover. But a wagon can. In the past, it’s proven to be a fruitless argument that wagons offer similar cargo room and space as their lifted brethren with fewer compromises in the driving department. But the field of wagons in America appears to be growing. The XF S Sportbrake is just one of the newest, quickest and pretties ones. And thank god for that.

Verdict: While it is pricey, the Sportbrake is one of the most well-rounded vehicles for the enthusiasts with a need for practicality. It should suit every possible daily driving need you have and still has the driving chops for a fun day spent driving twisty roads. And I feel like a broken record here, but it bears repeating: the Sportbrake is one of the prettiest daily drivers I’ve ever laid eyes on.

What Others Are Saying:

• “This Jaguar, then, pulls off the wagon hat trick by combining a practical interior package with sports-sedan dynamics and drop-dead-gorgeous looks. In our book, it’s far preferable to nearly any luxury SUV because of its undeniable elegance and exclusivity. Although the XF S Sportbrake isn’t quite as refined or luxurious as its closest rivals from Mercedes-Benz and Volvo, we still celebrate its existence because it offers a sporty and satisfying alternative in this tiny slice of the new-car market.” — Joseph Capparella, Car & Driver

• “No one but you would know that there’s a mad supercharged engine beneath the hood, howling for blood. You could come off the highway and stop serenely, wait for a crowd of school children to cross the street, and not one of them would know that you’d just spent the last 20 minutes blowing past lesser cars like they weren’t even moving. There’s a kind of self-indulgent thrill to harboring a secret like that.” — Kristen Lee, Jalopnik

• “Before you take the path of least resistance and climb into a new F-Pace, or any of the other more or less adequate luxury blobmobiles on the market, I urge you to take a look at this as a very worthy alternative. If it strikes a chord with you, you will find a lot to love — all the more so if your commute doesn’t march you through a minefield of potholes on a daily basis.” — Graham Kozak, Autoweek

Key Specs

Engine: 3.0-liter supercharged V6
Transmission: eight-speed automatic; all-wheel drive
Horsepower: 380 horsepower @ 6,500 RPM
Torque: 332 lb-ft @4,5000 RPM
Drive: AWD
Price: $70,450

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