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First drive review: Jaguar XF Sportbrake (2012)

Charging round a test track with a Smeg in the boot

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The term we will do our level best to avoid using is “estate car”. It’s not an estate car. It’s a Jaguar XF Sportbrake. It may look a bit like an estate. It may exhibit certain characteristics that people have historically associated with estates, not least an extension of glass and metal at the rear end that is suitable for the convenient carriage of dogs, things from garden centres or — and here I can speak from personal experience with the car at hand — a fridge. But that doesn’t make it an estate. Not at all. It’s a Jaguar XF Sportbrake.

Clearly the word “estate” is felt these days to cast an intolerable pall of drabness over a car. Alfa Romeo has its Sportwagons, BMW its Tourings and Audi its Avants. Mercedes has delved right back into horse-drawn times and called its rebooted CLS estate a Shooting Brake.

Jaguar obviously likes the connotations of the Brake, but not of the Shooting, so goes with Sport instead, on the assumption that the new, fresh-cheeked, highly active customers the company longs for will be wholesomely filling it with surfboards and mountain bikes rather than hanging pheasants in it.

And maybe they will. The Sportbrake is a lovingly extruded version of the celebrated XF saloon from 2008 that was a game-changer for Jaguar. The brand had seemed locked in some eternal snug bar of the soul, in a blazer and a cravat, with a gin and tonic in its hand and an increasingly bewildered expression on its face, destined to complain for ever to an increasingly uninterested audience about the difficulty of programming a video recorder.


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Then along came the XF, a smart, modern and plausible piece of competition for Audi and BMW. And now here’s the Sportbrake, in which Jaguar’s enviably deep stock of core values, its sporting heritage and its tradition of refined craftsmanship are turned to the service of going to Currys for a fridge.

A Smeg FAB28QUJ1 larder fridge, to be precise, although I didn’t go to Currys for it. In order that the world’s press might experience the Sportbrake laden and unladen, Jaguar had provided cars — both fridged and un-fridged — on a small racetrack in eastern Scotland. The idea was to burn around the circuit for a few laps and see what became of you, the fridge and, most importantly, the car. (You may detect a hint of absurdity here, but almost certainly there will be somewhere in northern Europe that people regularly pay to watch this kind of action on Sunday afternoons.)

So round the track I went with a 3-litre V6 diesel engine under my bonnet (a more frugal 2.2-litre diesel is also available) and a big lump of posh fridge filling my rear-view mirror. And round the track I went again with the 3-litre V6 diesel engine and without the fridge. There was, to the best of my understanding, no tangible difference between these experiences. Even with the Sportbrake fully fridged, and taken through a chicane, its rear air suspension and its adaptive dynamics system continued to make adjustments at the furiously rapid rate of 500 a second, with the result that the car remained beautifully even-tempered and heart-warmingly disinclined to barrel roll. And so, for the record, did the fridge.

At the same time, and without wishing to seem pedantic, one could quibble with the use of the fridge as the standard unit of weight  — even a larder-style model from one of the better makes, with a glass-shelved salad-crisping compartment. Sure, you wouldn’t want to carry one home on your shoulder. But in fairness it’s probably not much different weight-wise from having another person in your car.


 

The real test, perhaps, would have been a ton of bricks, several bags of cement attached to the optional bike carrier and a 40ft-long concrete sewage pipe strapped to the roof. Then we could have genuinely seen how much breath that adaptive suspension had in a tight hairpin. But I guess it would have been hard to organise.

If anything, though, one is left wondering whether this car is too good for fridges  — and possibly even for other people. There’s a definite practical emphasis: you can flatten the back seats with one mild tug on a flap just inside the boot, and Jaguar has dreamt up more than 70 detachable accessories for the Sportbrake, pretty much ensuring you will find your transport and storage needs met even if you are a snowboarding triathlete paraglider who gardens in his spare time.

Yet it’s possible to feel that the car’s stylishness — its flowing lines, the tinted glower of its wraparound rear window, the soft click of its closing tailgate — and its overt luxury might urge you not to risk the collateral damage. In order to convey undiminishing opulence, for example, the carpet in the boot is the same thickness as the one under the driver’s feet. Would you let your dog slobber on that pile and then wipe its nose on the inside of the tinted windows, as dogs in the boots of cars tend to do? Not in the first week of ownership, perhaps.

Anyway, these minor uptight considerations aside, right now, even factoring in the merits of the BMW 5-series Touring and the Audi A6 Avant, I can’t think of an estate in which I would more happily carry a fridge. Except, obviously, it’s not an estate. It’s a Sportbrake. 

Verdict ★★★★☆

Jaguar does Homebase — but in a posh way

Factfile: Jaguar XF Sportbrake 3.0 V6D S Luxury

Release date:
On sale now
Price:
£44,355
Engine:
2993cc, V6
Power:
271bhp @ 4000rpm
Torque:
442 lb ft @ 2000rpm
Transmission:
8-speed automatic
Acceleration:
0-62mph in 6.6sec
Top speed:
155mph (electronically limited)
Fuel
46.3mpg (combined)
CO2:
163g/km
Road tax band:
G (£170 per annum)
Dimensions:
L 4966mm W 2077mm H 1468mm
 

The Rivals

  • BMW 525d SE Touring £37,665
    For Outstanding engine and driving experience; practical boot shape Against Common sight on the road (check used BMW 5 series prices on driving.co.uk)
  • Mercedes CLS 250 CDI Shooting Brake £49,360
    For Striking styling; luxurious interior Against Expensive; almost too smart for the kids and the labrador (check used Mercedes Benz CLS prices on driving.co.uk)