Trouble is, like a welly boot, most of them just aren’t all that exciting. Or weren’t.
BMW 5 Series Touring, Audi A6 Avant and Mercedes E-Class... um... estate, it has one toe in the slightly desolate territory also populated by the Mercedes CLS Shooting Brake. It’s also available only as a diesel – for now, anyway.
A schlep across Europe is perfect for letting the Jag stretch its legs, first into Belgium and then across northern France. And first impressions don’t disappoint. It’s a rakishly handsome car – the front end square-jawed and scowling, with an elegant, tapering rear that belies its size. Inside surprise-and-delight touches like the knurled gear selector still … surprise and delight despite the novelty being a few years old now and there’s that same feeling of contemporary luxury that you might expect from a swanky London hotel. The touchscreen controlling the majority of the car’s functions hasn’t had universal praise but, for these digits, seemed instinctive and logical enough.
A quick punt on a Champagne country road reveals the Sportbrake to be a useful thing, if lacking in ultimate sharpness. There’s a touch more roll than the saloon, too, most likely as a result of the estate’s air suspension at the rear, but otherwise the XF’s well-controlled. Turn the traction control off and it can let its hair down with bouts of languid oversteer too. It’s no Elise, of course – but it isn’t designed to be, and the levels of involvement and satisfaction it does offer are plenty enough.
While it might lack the precision of a 5 Series or the ultimate solidity of either of its rival Mercs, the XF Sportbrake is probably 95 per cent as good in any of those respects. But it does have its own trump card, something it does better than any car in its class. It makes you feel special. From the moment you move off to the moment you come to a halt again, the XF provides you with an overwhelming sense of wellbeing. It looks superb, inside and out; it’s remarkably well thought through; it drives effortlessly. Yes, it’s still a welly boot at heart, but it’s one that’s made of calf leather with a sheepskin lining, and at the moment, there’s none that’s quite as satisfying to wear.
JAGUAR XF SPORTBRAKE DIESEL S LUXURY
Engine: 2,993cc V6, twin-turbo diesl
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Power (hp): 275@4,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 442@2,000rpm
0-62mph: 6.6 sec
Top speed: 155mph
MPG: 46.3mpg (combined)
Price: £44,355 (base)