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JAGUAR XF SPORTBRAKE

Sharing in all that is impressive about Jaguar’s award-winning XF series, the Sportbrake is a sophisticated, high-performance estate – a driving pleasure, writes Anthony ffrench-Constant

Car design has become such a specialised business these days that, whereas examples of architects dallying with industrial design and, oh Lordy, even penning the occasional car are commonplace, it’s rare to find a car designer branching out into other fields with any real degree of success. Indeed, about the only truly successful example I can conjure is a piece of luggage fashioned by Volkswagen’s Group Head of Design, Walter de Silva. A selfinflicted distraction from trying to make the Seat brand look sexy, it has proved entirely practical, very nearly bullet proof, most certainly waterproof, and I shall continue to lug it to car launches until the handles drop off. Which is imminent.

And now, Jaguar Director of Design Ian Callum has gone one better. He has dusted off his tricorn and created a boat. No, I’m not being derogatory about the lines of the new XF estate – he really has designed a boat. And it’s rather spiffing; a 20ft long sharpened suppository with teak decking, a curved rump reminiscent of Riva’s glorious Aquarama, fuel filler caps pilfered from an XJ6 and a D-Typeinspired carbon fibre fin. Powered by a marine version of the V6 diesel we’re sampling today, it would be good for 55 knots, which on water, with seagulls in your teeth, feels akin to a tad over 200mph. And, should it go into production, I do hope he calls it a ‘Shootingboat’.

I mention this because, on learning that Mercedes has dubbed its new, rival, CLS estate ‘Shooting Brake’, had his hairline not engaged reverse and stamped its foot to the Axminster some years ago, the eyebrows of the ever-affable Mr Callum would undoubtedly have careered into it at some speed.

Indeed, having only just delivered a short but succinct soliloquy on the inappropriateness of using the word ‘shooting’ in the context of today’s estate car market, it was all he could do to avoid inadvertently projecting a mouthful of rather good red into the launch proceedings of the new Jaguar XF, um, Sportbrake.

Odd, really. Given that a ‘brake’ was originally a carriage to which unruly horses were tethered in order to break them of their spirit – the name hijacked by the British blood sports brigade in the early 19th century and gummed to the back of ‘shooting’ to describe the vehicle which carried them to the grouse moors, I’d have assumed that Jaguar’s concern over the use of the term would have less to do with political correctness and rather more to do with a desire to leave any hint of anachronism as far behind as the more ancient elements of its customer base… All of which poses the question: to what extent is Jaguar design still shackled from true flights of fancy by a fear of sales to the somewhat walnut-faced coming over all Icarus?

Well, stand the XF Sportbrake alongside Mercedes’ outlandish CLS Shooting Brake and the in-your-face, visitor-from-outerspace looks of the latter certainly conspire to make the former seem somewhat demure by comparison. The Jaguar boasts exceptionally clean lines and very little frippery in the metal, giving it a Bramley apple plumpness which may not find universal appeal.

This is Jaguar’s first estate since they gave up welding an extra box onto the horrid little Mondeo platformed X Type in 2008. The XF was never conceived as an estate, so Mr. Callum has had to work within fairly tight constraints, nothing below the belt line changing from the saloon until you reach to the top of the rear wheel arch.

The Sportbrake benefits from the facial tweaks recently visited on the saloon which, this being the S version, include a deeper chin. In profile, the long sweep of the glasshouse is emphasised by blacked out B, C and D pillars, and, as is the fashion, the rear glazing is heavily tinted to mollify the owners of ugly children.

The whole is just 5mm longer than the saloon and weighs 70kg more. Chassis structure is claimed to be identical, despite the presence of a powered tailgate which gives access to a clever loadspace offering 550 litres with seats in place and 1,675 litres with them folded flat.

Whilst the benevolent might dub the XF Sportbrake’s couture – to paraphrase Sir Henry at Rawlinson End – timeless as canal water, English as tuppence, the Jaguar cockpit is not, I fear, ageing with such grace.

Considered spanking modern by company standards when the XF broke cover four years ago, and subject to a recent mild overhaul, the dashboard design is now looking a little dated. Finished here in crisp aluminium and piano black, the whole is undeniably clean and tidy, but the instrument binnacle dials are woeful small and unappealing, the multimedia touch screen remains inelegant and little joy to use, the steering wheel boss really shouldn’t any longer be modelled on Bruce Forsythe’s chin, and the phosphor blue backlighting has aged as well as the Motorola Razr phone that inspired it. On the positive side, both front and rear seats far more comfortable than before, the slightly high driving position gives no cause for complaint, and plenty of rear seat knee room is now abetted by a whisker under two inches more headroom, courtesy of estate packaging.

Though the car in 3.0 litre V6 Diesel S specification is available from £44,355, this range-topping Portfolio variant comes in at £51,505. Save your money. The least expensive version buys you everything that’s great about this estate…

Biffing out 271bhp and 442lb ft in S guise, and mated to a silken, 8-speed transmission with flappy paddle override, the 3.0 litre V6 is a marvellously eager powerplant, flinging to XF Sportbrake to 62mph in just 6.1 seconds, and on to a governed 155mph.

The Jaguar sticks with its saloon-variant, double wishbone suspension at the front, bolstering its multi-link rear system with the self-levelling abilities of air springing. This Portfolio specification model further benefits from an adaptive suspension system.

The upshot is undercarriage which performs that all-too-rare trick of combining a ride which remains little short of sublime at all speeds with the most entertaining handling of any estate car I’ve yet to drive. And that’s largely down to the work of renowned Jaguar Chief Engineer and chassis guru Mike Cross, whose magic revels itself with every twist in the road and twitch of the helm. The addition of a box astern doesn’t appear to have diminished the XF’s appetite for agility in the least. The accurate, beautifully weighted steering is nothing short of fabulous; hilarious levels on information tingle through the fingertips and the nose goes exactly where you point it with almost absurd alacrity and poise.

I do hope Mr Cross has an apprentice, and that he’s paying very close attention indeed. Because there simply isn’t an estate out there that can hold a candle to the Jaguar’s extraordinary meld of ride comfort, body control and agility; an endless delight…

With a high(er) performance, four-wheel drive XFR Sportback waiting in the wings, Jaguar’s estate makes an increasingly persuasive case for itself with every mile driven. Even if it does still have a little too much of the ‘shootingbrake’ about the styling.

JAGUAR XF SPORTBRAKE 3.0 V6 TECHNICAL SPECIFICATION

Price: £51,505
As tested: £55,818
Engine: 2993cc V6 turbodiesel,
271bhp @ 4000rpm,
442lb ft @ 2000rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic with
paddle shift override,
rear-wheel drive
Performance: 6.1 sec 0-62mph,
155mph, 46.3mpg, 163g/km
Suspension: Double wishbone front
with coil springs, multi-link
rear with air springs
Weight/Made from: 1880kg/Steel
Dimensions L/W/Hmm: 4966/1877/1468

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine

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