In the last couple of weeks, there have been no fewer than six new crossovers launched to the world’s motoring media. The VW Scirocco was effectively culled to make room for one of them (the T-Roc), while over at Mitsubishi the new Eclipse is a crossover while the new Evolution concept is an electric SUV. And rumour has it Nissan is on the verge of replacing the 370Z with - you guessed it - a crossover. The one that irks me most? That’d be Alfa Romeo killing off all chance of a Giulia Sportwagon, because the role is already fulfilled with the Stelvio SUV. Boo and hiss.
I’m sick to the back teeth of hearing about SUVs, and with your average new car buyer still as obsessed as ever with the damn things, we’ll be seeing plenty more for a while yet. With all that in mind, a drive in the new Jaguar XF Sportbrake was a welcome distraction from the unrelenting tide of high-riding money spinners.
It’s commendable that Jaguar’s bothering to build it in the first place. As a much smaller concern than a company like Mercedes, Jaguar can’t build a million different models in a million different configurations, and indeed it won’t be making an XE Sportbrake. A wagon XF has no chance of selling in anything like the numbers of the F-Pace, and yet here we are with an Ikea-friendly version of Jag’s 5-series.
It’s a looker too, in an understated kind of way that makes the modern crop of cars from Audi look over-styled and fussy. All the stuff that works nicely on the XF saloon - the grille-stuffed front end, the simple, distinctive and sharp line carried across the car’s flank - is all here, enhanced by a swoopy roofline that Jaguar design boss Ian Callum describes aptly as looking like it’s “going to carry on forever.” It’s prettier than the saloon, we reckon.
It’s no worse to drive, though. The weight gain is imperceptible, the steering feels fast and nicely natural, and the damping is spot on. Few can nail the latter quite like Jaguar can; not once during extensive driving over two days in Portugal did it feel uncomfortable, while body control was always well within the realms of acceptability.
Stick the right engine in it, and it’s a damn good hoon too. The 247bhp ‘Ingenium’ inline-four is surprisingly sprightly and eager, and dispatches the benchmark 0-62mph sprint in 7.1 seconds. The 297bhp V6 diesel meanwhile manages the same in 6.1 seconds, with a thumping 516lb ft of torque at the ready, and it’ll happily spit you out the other side of every single hairpin you come across. All that twist - the same amount as found in the supercharged V8 of the XJR we drove on the same trip, as it happens - will happily make things a little loose at the rear end, but never in a snappy, underwear-soiling way.
The 237bhp, 368lb ft all-wheel drive diesel sounds great on paper, but we didn’t really get on with it: despite being quicker on paper it feels lethargic compared to the 2.0-litre petrol, and even the XF’s considerable sound proofing can’t protect you from the clatter we’ve come to know and loathe from JLR’s Ingenium diesels. If you’re wondering when we’re going to mention the 375bhp petrol V6, we have some bad news: it won’t be available in the UK, so we didn’t have one to drive. That said, when testing the V6 diesel back-to-back with its petrol counterpart, we (hate mail incoming) preferred the oil burner…
So predictably it’s a jolly nice steer, and once you’re done making your passengers feel sick, it scores well on the practical front too. There’s a flat floor in the boot to make it easier (with storage space underneath if you need it, and all told there’s 565 litres of space in there, expanding to 1700 litres if you drop the seats down. There’s some cargo netting to stop your XF becoming a 297bhp food processor on the way home from the weekly shop, and the rear seats fold individually. This means you can still have two passengers in the back while still being able to carry a set of skis - because lifestyle car.
Any foibles to report? Well, it’s the same old cabin complaints - I like the design of the XF’s interior with its ‘Riva Hoop’ that wraps around you and the sport-ified steering wheel first seen in the F-Type, but the quality still falls a fair way short of the likes of BMW and Audi. It doesn’t feel quite as solid, and the finish in places is a mild let-down. The infotainment system is finally spot on, though - if it still had the hopelessly clunky unit Jaguar was using a couple of years ago, I’d need several paragraphs to vent my anger. Is it better than I-Drive? Not by a long stretch, but it’s a step in the right direction.
None of these things are deal-breakers, though, and the the XF Sportbrake represents a welcome and much more interesting (not to mention prettier and classier) alternative to something like a BMW 5-series Touring or Mercedes E-Class estate. And for those being swayed away from an SUV purchase by this new Jag, I urge you to take the advice of Shia LaBeouf and “DO IT!”.