Dear America, are we past the point of giving station wagons a hard time?
Surely the ubiquity of SUVs (oh look, even Lamborghini and Rolls-Royce now have one) means the élan and exclusivity of wagons can re-emerge and these sedans with backpacks can be looked upon as objects of desire, not derision. SUVs have become the standard bearer for carpoolin’ soccer moms and dads, right?
If not, what a shame, because the Jaguar XF Sportbrake is certainly no Clark Griswold Family Truckster.
First there is the name; the Sportbrake S AWD adroitly sidesteps the “but shooting brakes only have two doors” argument by swapping in every carmaker’s favorite aspirational adjective and letters. Is it actually sporty? We’ll get to that in a second. What does the S stand for? In the current Jaguar brand language, it means the Sportbrake comes with the 380-horsepower 3.0-liter supercharged V-6 engine that you can also find in the S-badged XF sedan, F-Pace, and F-Type coupe and roadster. And of course you know what AWD means; Jaguar can market the Sportbrake not just in sunny, dry southern and coastal areas but also in places that get all four seasons.
My daily driver is currently Motor Trend’s long-term F-Pace SUV, so I’m well familiar with the design language Jaguar has deployed across the brand, along with the shared eight-speed transmissions, AWD systems, and driving modes. Both the F-Pace and Sportbrake are lovely to look at, but the latter has all the esses—it’s sleeker, smoother, and squatter. The Sportbrake is considerably longer than the F-Pace (8.8 inches overall, 3.4 inches of that between the wheels), with a roof height 6.1 inches lower.
Long and low is the feeling on the inside, as well; the touchpoints and visual reference points, from the A-pillars to the driving controls, look and feel familiar, but because the roof is lower and the windshield is more raked, the view out seems wider and more horizontally opposed. Think 16:9 versus the F-Pace’s 4:3.
Does this hunkered-down look and feel translate to the driving experience? Our test team says yes but thinks at-the-limit handling is compromised by the Sportbrake S’ all-season Pirelli Cinturato P7 tires.
“This wagon would benefit greatly from a better set of tires,” road test editor Chris Walton says. “It feels athletic on entry with a penchant for oversteer, but it soon runs into a wall of understeer and tortures the front tires.
“After the terminal understeer, it would hint at wide-open throttle oversteer on the exit but never quite did it,” he continues. “The brakes felt strong, but again, they were let down by the tires, and I overshot the skidpad once or twice as a result. The steering feels responsive and precise but not what I’d call talkative.”
Curiously, despite the low-slung look and feel and the advantages of 80 fewer pounds and 40 more horsepower, the Sportbrake’s figure-eight time of 26.4 seconds with a 0.69 g average is only 0.4 second quicker and 0.01 g stickier than the F-Pace. Our figure-eight test is like a racetrack in a bottle in that it succinctly simulates the kinds of limit-handling conditions you don’t often find in real life. Around town, the two vehicles handle very differently; the Sportbrake’s cornering feel is much flatter and faster. The oversteer sensation—that delicious feeling of the rear end tracking and propelling the vehicle through the turn—is often on full display, less so the understeer, or feeling of the front wheels plowing or pushing. The tires were never front of mind while I was driving, but associate road test editor Erick Ayapana noted their behavior during our 60–0 braking test, in which the Sportbrake recorded a best effort of 122 feet.
“These tires were easily overwhelmed,” Ayapana says. “They never seemed to bite.” Perhaps the Pirellis do contribute to the problem, as our long-term F-Pace recorded a 116-foot stopping distance from the same speed, and it is shod with Goodyear F-1 all-season tires.
During acceleration runs at the track, the Sportbrake logged a 5.0-second 0–60-mph time and 13.6-second quarter mile at 101.9 mph. That’s 0.2 second better than our F-Pace, but getting there took some experimentation by Ayapana.
“I did most of my runs in Dynamic sport mode with the transmission also set in sport mode,” he says. “In automatic, the gearbox seemed to shift a tad early, and upshifts were kind of slow. Manual mode was more aggressive and allowed me to hold gears up to redline, resulting in quicker times. I got my quickest time with a brake-torque launch, releasing the brake as the tachometer swept past 1,800 rpm. … Anything higher, and the engine would overwhelm the brakes.”
Other things we noticed during our weeks of testing:
- The Sportbrake achieved the rare trifecta on our Real MPG fuel economy test cycle by beating all three of its EPA ratings—and by a significant margin to boot (see chart). Could the tires have provided an advantage here? Perhaps.
- Jaguar has updated its rear camera and/or display system; when you shift in reverse or activate the camera manually, the image on the center console display is notably crisper, with better resolution and color rendition (day and night) than the one in our long-term F-Pace.
- Our forward collision monitoring system was quite sensitive; it flashed its red hazard triangle and sounded the audible alarm when no obvious dangers were present.
- Rear-seat passengers were amazed by the optional all-glass roof, which seemed to cover the entire length and width of the roof. They were not as amused by the rear-seat legroom, particularly the middle-seat passenger, who had to straddle the considerable hump that accommodates the driveshaft.
- On two occasions, the infotainment system experienced what appeared to be volume-related glitches. In one instance, the volume of the audio system would not go above level 7 (very low, just audible with the engine on). A day later, no volume could be heard at all, with the infotainment system clearly on. Both issues could not be remedied by accessing system menus or futzing with steering wheel or audio controls, but they cleared after restarting the car.
If you like how the Jaguar XF Sportbrake S AWD performed on our first test, that’s great; aside from a First Edition variant that starts about $2,000 more and offers goodies including onboard Wi-Fi, a 825-watt sound system, and a hand gesture–controlled sunshade, this is the only XF wagon variant currently available in the U.S. The Sportbrake S AWD starts at $71,455, but our heavily optioned tester hit $84,815. That is in the neighborhood of comparably equipped Mercedes-Benz E400 4Matic wagon but considerably more than the latest Volvo V90 T6 Inscription wagon we tested. To be fair, the Sportbrake accelerates quicker than both, but it posts poorer braking and handling numbers. Compare the specs yourself, or let us know on Twitter if you’d like to see a luxury wagon comparison test.
|2018 Jaguar XF S AWD (Sportbrake)|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$84,815|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door wagon|
|ENGINE||3.0L/380-hp/332-lb-ft supercharged DOHC 24-valve V-6|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||4,336 lb (50/50%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||195.1 x 74.0 x 58.9 in|
|0-60 MPH||5.0 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||13.6 sec @ 101.9 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||122 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.85 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||26.4 sec @ 0.69 g (avg)|
|REAL MPG, CITY/HWY/COMB||19.8/27.7/22.7 mpg|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||18/25/21 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||187/135 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.94 lb/mile|