2018 Jaguar XF Sportbrake review: Leap away from the pack

What is it: Take a Jaguar XF sedan, give it a flowing wagon roofline and you end up with this, the XF Sportbrake S. Consider it either a sop to wagon-crazy auto writers or Jaguar’s earnest attempt to keep the longroof alive for the dedicated keepers of the wagon flame.

Highlights: The XF Sportbrake gets the same bones and guts as the sedan upon which it is based — good news from a handling and performance perspective. Even better, the new bodystyle doesn’t upset the sedan’s balance, and the weight penalty is negligible. Take careful note of the “sport” and the “S” in the model name, though: This performance-oriented configuration is the only one offered by Jaguar in the United States.

Our Opinion: First things first: This is a striking car. Even in the somewhat anonymous silver paint our tester wore, the XF Sportbrake S is an undeniably pleasing design. And it’s different. Like everyone else, Jaguar is leaping into the crossover game with both feet (four paws?) with its F-Pace and E-Pace. Let all the other schmoes give in to the allure of the high H-point, I say. Choose the wagon– er, Sportbrake. You’ll stand out for sure.

Second, it rips. The supercharged 3.0-liter V6 doesn’t pack as much attitude in this application as it does in the F-Type with the same engine, by which I mean it isn’t nearly as loud or crackley. But it packs a punch: Toggle into sport mode, floor it and let the magic of forced induction catapult you down the runway. This isn’t the smoothest-feeling motor in the world, but power delivery is suitably direct. A little abrupt, even, in sport mode. And it just doesn’t run out of steam as you wind it up.

Yes, the Sportbrake is definitely an interesting car. But it isn’t perfect. I liked it, but I didn’t completely love it.

Most of the things that rubbed me the wrong way are true for the rest of the Jaguar lineup. Despite improvements, the infotainment interface remains a bit clunky and the automatic climate control system has a tendency to constantly cycle on and off, puffing away noticeably (at least when it’s at my preferred 67-degree setting). Other luxury makes have the “silent background operation thing” more or less figured out. There was a weird intermittent creak from somewhere in the rear of the cabin, which harkened back to out long-term F-Type R — maybe it’s some essential part of the Jaguar brand DNA?

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Finally, the clean interior with its carbon fiber veneer left me cold. Can I help that I want buttery leather and a little bit of wood trim inside my Jag-u-ar?

None of these things — let’s call them “quirks” — ever approach fatal flaw territory. They’re the sort of things you wouldn’t even notice if you were enchanted with the rest of the vehicle. And in the case of the veneer, that’s easily remedied by selecting say, the gloss figured ebony option when you go to order yours.

A bigger point of concern, at least for me, is the ride. It’s not one you’d call “supple.” In fact, and in contrast to J.P. Vettraino’s impression on the first drive, I found the car to be on the the “too rigid” side of “stiffly sprung” as often as not. I can’t blame that solely on the car, though: Southeast Michigan’s roads, which haven’t been all that great since probably before the days Jaguar was a part of British Leyland, are in particularly post-apocalyptic form this year. Pothole-dodging is a great way to test a car’s slaloming skills — and here the XF is more than up to the task, with its neutrally weighted and responstive steering — but when you do hit a nasty road imperfection, you really feel it. And hear it. There’s a sometimes-harsh edge here I don’t remember encountering in our long-term F-Type.

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Maybe that’s a matter of expectations. The F-Type was a loud, rowdy sports car. Any untoward clunks and thunks were probably drowned out by the glorious roar of its 5.0-liter V8. Despite its sporting character, I perceive this is a stately wagon first and foremost. In this sort of vehicle I want a slightly more relaxed, easygoing ride. That’s not on the table for the time being; the Sportbrake is, for now at least, only offered in S trim.

The objective side of me finds many boxes to check in favor of the XF Sportbrake S. The car is attractive, powerful, poised (at least on a relatively smooth road) and it’s something different. Yet it doesn’t connect with me, for reasons I can’t fully pin down, at the same emotional level that the F-Type did. Perhaps I’d be happier in a non-S version, or conversely, an even hotter SVR take — I enjoy both the Mercedes-Benz E400 and the E63 AMG wagons, for example.

In any case, before you take the path of least resistance and climb into a new F-Pace, or any of the other more or less adequate luxury blobmobiles on the market, I urge you to take a look at this as a very worthy alternative. If it strikes a chord with you, you will find a lot to love — all the more so if your commute doesn’t march you through a minefield of potholes on a daily basis.

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