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Thursday 21st March 2013


JAGUAR XF DIESEL S SPORTBRAKE: DRIVEN

PH doesn't make diesel estates. But if we did...


Yup, it’s a diesel estate. There, I’ve said it now. We’ve got that bit out of the way. Diesel estates are, of course, necessary evils; they’re the Wellington boot of the car world – capacious, practical, comfortable and waterproof. Well, maybe not that last thing, but still...

Trouble is, like a welly boot, most of them just aren’t all that exciting. Or weren’t.

XF an ideal companion for the trip to Reims
XF an ideal companion for the trip to Reims
Enter the Jaguar XF Sportbrake. Ostensibly a rival for the 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.

French fancy?
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.

Estate rear is near-perfectly judged
Estate rear is near-perfectly judged
This XF’s a Diesel S, which means it gets a 275hp version of the JLR 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 diesel. That gives it a 0-62mph time of 6.6 seconds, and a top speed electronically limited to 155mph, although it never feels as fast as it is. It’s not that the Diesel S is slow by any means; it’s just so refined. It simply goes about the business of gathering speed in such an unfussed manner that you don’t sense it overtly. There is, nevertheless, a satisfying glob of torque whenever you hoof the throttle. Don’t bother with the kickdown though – it simply spurs the eight-speed ZF box into too low a gear, the engine spinning uselessly up to the redline. Much more effective to use a touch less throttle, keep the gearbox unruffled and rely on the in-gear torque.

Smooth operator
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.

Interior still feels great, despite age
Interior still feels great, despite age
What it is designed to be is cosseting, isolating and endlessly refined. And in those respects, whether nosing through town or smearing along an autoroute, it excels. Cocooned within, few sounds from the outside world reach you; instead, the superb audio system bathes you in music of your choice, while the XF’s super-comfortable combination of suspension and seating swaddles. Only the occasional minor vibration upsets the S, most likely thanks to its standard combination of 20-inch wheels and low-profile tyres. Five’ll get you 10 the smaller wheels and chunkier tyres fitted to lesser models remove even that whisker-thin criticism. But even on the rutted roads of Belgium, progress is – most of the time – impressively serene.

Feel-good factor
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
Weight: 1,880kg
MPG: 46.3mpg (combined)
CO2: 163g/km
Price: £44,355 (base)



Author: Alex Robbins