When you buck the automotive tide, like the classy 2018 Jaguar XF Sportbrake does, you’re either in the vanguard of a fruitful pursuit or on your way to a flop.
That’s because the Sportbrake is a station wagon — also called a hatchback by some — a body style that was long ago rejected by American buyers after the introduction of the minivan in the mid-1980s and, later, the advent of the sport utility vehicle and its car-based variant, the crossover.
SUVs and crossovers threaten to take over the market across the board, from economy to luxury. Ford announced recently that it was dropping conventional sedans to concentrate on those two configurations and its hot-selling pickup trucks.
Even ultra-luxury manufacturers are getting into the game. Bentley markets its Bentayga and Lamborghini has its Urus, both crossover SUVs with price tags starting around $200,000. And even Rolls-Royce reportedly will introduce a crossover starting at around $700,000.
Jaguar sells its compact two-row F-Pace crossover at a price just shy of $50,000, with options. But the Jaguar/Land Rover company has expertise in SUVs, large and small, so a bigger Jaguar crossover or SUV is likely.
A note about nomenclature: Generally, an SUV is a tall body-on-frame vehicle with rear- or four-wheel drive. Crossovers are built like cars, with unit bodies and front- or all-wheel drive. Most manufacturers (and the buying public) like to lump them together as SUVs.
The new Jaguar Sportbrake wagon — the S trim with all-wheel drive — is an outlier along with a few other marketplace entries: the new Buick Regal TourX, the Audi A4 Allroad, the BMW 3 Series Sports Wagon, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class wagon and a few others.
In Europe, station wagons are often regarded as a step up from a standard four-door sedan. Enthusiasts like them, especially the sport-oriented models like the new Jaguar Sportbrake, because they look great, are practical and, best of all, handle like sports sedans. Most crossovers and SUVs, though they deliver satisfactory handling in daily driving, have higher centers of gravity that can make them feel tippy when pushed hard.
The Jaguar Sportbrake name is derived from what the British, back in the mid-20thcentury, called a Shooting Brake — usually a small two-door hatchback like a Volvo P-1800 or an MG-B GT.
With a stylish and streamlined profile, the tested Sportbrake S with all-wheel drive is impressive at first sight. It is 16 feet 3 inches long with ample interior room: 107 cubic feet of space for passengers with a cargo area of 22 cubic feet that expands to 67 cubic feet with rear seatbacks folded.
Comfort is first-class for the driver and three passengers, with good seatback bolsters in front to hold the torso in spirited driving. However, with a large center hump and a hard cushion, a fifth passenger in back gets disrespected. Outward vision to the rear is restricted by big back headrests and fat rear pillars, so outside mirror adjustment is critical even with the blind-spot warning.
The tested Sportbrake S with all-wheel drive gets its power from a 380-hp supercharged V6 engine that delivers 332 lb-ft of torque. The muscle gets to all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission that can be manually shifted with paddles on the steering wheel. EPA city/highway/combined fuel economy is rated at 18/25/21 mpg.
Acceleration to 60 mph arrives in a claimed 5.3 seconds, with a top speed of 121 mph. There’s some minor hesitation off the line unless you keep the revs up before releasing the brake.
But the beauty of the Sportbrake lies in the precision steering and handling. Despite its stretched length, it responds quickly to driver inputs and changes direction like a smaller sports sedan.
Contributing to the handling is a rear air-suspension system and automated torque vectoring, which judiciously applies the inside brakes to move the Sportbrake more smoothly around corners and curves.
With a starting price of $71,445, this Jaguar is up in nosebleed price territory. But it includes full safety equipment, leather seating and such equipment as a panoramic glass sunroof, though the sunroof shade is one of those trendy, cheesecloth-like perforated fabrics that admit too much sunlight. Sun shades should be opaque.
Options included adaptive cruise control, Wi-Fi hotspot, surround-sound audio system, four-zone climate control and other luxury touches that brought the price up to $84,245.
- Model: 2018 Jaguar XF Sportbrake S AWD four-door station wagon.
- Engine: 2.0-liter V6, supercharged, 380 hp, 332 lb-ft torque.
- Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
- Overall length: 16 feet 3 inches.
- EPA passenger/cargo volume: 107/22 cubic feet.
- Weight: 4,045 pounds.
- EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 18/25/21 mpg.
- Base price, including destination charge: $71,445.
- Price as tested: $84,245.
Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.
Photos (c) Jaguar Land Rover.