2018 Jaguar XF Sportbrake First Drive
SUVs and crossovers dominate today’s sales charts. The midsize SUV segment has overtaken sedans as the biggest chunk of the market, automakers like Ford are scaling back future plans for sedans, and even Ferrari and Rolls-Royce are scrambling to add tall vehicles to the lineup.
If it’s bad news for sedans, there’s a silver lining for wagons and the people who love them. The once-ubiquitous station wagon was relegated to a niche product since the minivan took its place as the default family hauler (which in turn was displaced by the crossover). History is due to repeat itself, and the wagon is now waiting in the wings as the stylish, sporty alternative to the ubiquitous SUV duffel bag.
Which brings us to the Jaguar XF Sportbrake. It’s beautiful, even in the silver hue of our test car that mutes the car’s muscular lines. Compare that to Jaguar’s own F-Pace, where the distinctive nose can’t hide the fact that SUVs are starting to look the same. Meanwhile, crash regulations, pedestrian impact standards, and the need to maximize aerodynamic efficiency have turned most sedans into ovoid, high-beltline blandmobiles. The wagon is a refuge of low and long proportions that get the heart racing.
The XF is particularly becoming in wagon form, but, for a moment, consider a few more rational arguments. First—380 horsepower. The XF Sportbrake only comes in “S” trim, with a supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 powering all four wheels. It drives a lot like the XF sedan, and a lot better than any SUV. The mostly straight, flat Florida roads on our test drive limited a deeper investigation of this Jaguar’s handling abilities, but our limited sample showed promise. The engine responds willingly, hampered more by a cautious stability control system than the workings of the eight-speed automatic. Select the Dynamic mode to loosens that leash, but don’t expect it to add anything to the disappointingly muted soundtrack.
Inside, the XF shares a common look with the rest of the Jaguar lineup. A digital instrument panel presents either a classic three-dial cluster (the leftmost dial programmable) or a large navigation map. The center infotainment screen is updated to Jaguar’s latest widescreen iteration. A round shifting dial rises from the center of the console, with various drive mode buttons behind it and a small storage space rear of that under the armrest.
Then there’s the storage area which, of course, is larger than the sedan at 22.2 cubic feet (up 3.1 cu ft). Yes, the F-Pace holds more behind its second row, owing to taller and slightly wider dimensions, but the XF Sportbrake will take cargo that’s 4.5 inches longer.
Comparing a wagon to its SUV equivalent ends in the same argument that gave rise to the SUV in the first place. More cargo, a commanding view of the road, and packaging efficiencies tilt the objective points to the SUV, despite a higher center of gravity and compromised fuel economy.
The XF Sportbrake will need a few converts to remain anything but an obscurity. Jaguar sold 4541 XF sedans last year, less than a quarter of F-Pace sales. This could lead to collectibility in the (far) future, but for the present that at least makes the XF Sportbrake something that stands out in the parking lot. And its cohesive, handsome looks are a welcome bonus to the generous practicality of a wagon.
Sales challenges aside, there is evidence we are entering a wagon moment in the U.S. market. Mercedes-Benz continues to offer a long-roof E-Class, while Audi still sends us the A4-based Allroad, and BMW soldiers on with its 3 Series wagon. Volvo has returned to its wagon heritage with the V90, V90 cross country, and upcoming V60. Even Buick has entered the fray with the Regal TourX, while Volkswagen offers the Golf Sportwagen. The mere existence of the XF Sportbrake is evidence that, even if it’s still something of a niche prospect, the beloved wagon is far from dead.