SINCE the demise of Jaguar’s first foray into the mainstream; the popular X Type, an estate-version of the firm’s biggest selling car has been missing from the range.
And as the X Type began to die a natural death its more modern sister model, the XF, begun to pick up the gauntlet and became every bit as popular.
Launched in 2007, the XF was an instant hit but we’ve had to wait until recently to see an estate version make it to the market. Althought this time it’s not an estate, it’s a shooting brake. Apparently.
Jaguar has chosen not to badge its newcomer as an ‘estate’ - a term known well by its buyers - and has joined in a brief fad of reigniting the historic ‘shooting brake’ term. Except they’ve played about with the term a bit and called their new estate a ‘Sportbrake’.
I’m not entirely sure why. The modern interpretation of a shooting brake, not to get too bogged down in the history of it all, seems to be basically a sporting estate car with the lines or dynamics of a coupe but the practicality (or at least some of it) of an estate car.
While the XF was never a coupe - it’s always been a saloon - it has been pretty sporty and there’s a certain dynamic poise to the new Sportbrake. So I’ll forget about the slightly awkward name and focus on whether it works as a standalone model. Which is actually an estate car.
From a distance, glancing at the XF from most angles, it looks stunning. Many sporty saloon cars translate better into an estate car shape in my opinion. Cars such as the Alfa Romeo 156 and the current Ford Mondeo seem to suit the shape better. Vauxhall’s latest Astra also looks better with its lines flowing out into a long load bay.
Interestingly, with the Jag, when you actually get up close to the XF Sportbrake and start to drink in all the details - when you start to see the new elongated shape in the flesh, you start to notice that the back end looks a bit bulbous.
It’s not a complaint, more of an observation. The rear end overhangs the wheels quite a bit and it’s not until you open the electrically-operated tailgate that you realise why. The boot is huge.
It’s a really pleasant surprise when you think of the number of sporty estate cars that are always a bit lacking in rear load space. Jaguar’s designers seem to have pulled off a remarkable feat of fitting in a cavernous estate boot without ruining the looks of the XF.
I actually think, true to form with sporting estates, it looks better than the saloon on which it’s based and I’ve even started to like the mis-fitting black panels on the D pillars that I was initially so disappointed to see carried over from the bigger XJ saloon.
In the right colour, with the right wheels and the right interior, it’s a stunning thing. A proper interpretation of how a Jaguar estate car should be. And it’s practical too. Bravo.
Sit in the driver’s chair and there’s nothing to set the Sportbrake apart from the usual familiarity of the XJ cabin. Apart from what you can see in the rear view mirror, of course.
Jaguar has left in all that lovely theatre of the rolling air vents, the rising gear selector and the pulsing light on the start button.
In the rear, there’s also little to distinguish the Sportbrake from the normal XJ, apart from a little more headroom perhaps and the seats will split fold to allow and even more capacious load space.
The load bay is lined in a beautiful carpet with lugs fitted to allow for luggage to be fastened down. Little space is lost by all the gubbins under the boot floor and the access is wide and easy to reach.
If anything, I’ve got a feeling the Sportbrake drives a little better than the saloon. Perhaps the rear end has been stiffened up a bit to accomodate the extra bodywork but it hugs the road beautifully. Just like a Jaguar should.
It rides well too. Nothing of the usual Jag experience is not lost in its elongation and it becomes the perfect long-distance cruiser, with its eight-speed gearbox ensuring the engine is at a mere tickover on motorway runs.
One moan I must make about my test model, with the base 163bhp 2.2 diesel engine, is that the powerplant was a bit on the noisy side.
It was noisy at idle, noisy when pushed hard and - unusually - noisy at most speeds.
I’m not talking uncomfortably loud, of course, but a Jag should be near-silent, even with an oil burner in. In practice, with the four-pot diesel, at around 50mph, on my usual commute, there’s a constant ‘growl’ emitted from a particular part of the engine bay. It’s a sound vaguely reminiscent of a slighly broken air compressor.
I’ve used this engine before in another of the Jaguar Land Rover stable’s big-hitters, the Evoque.
In the Evoque it was the only thing I wasn’t really satisfied with in the car and it’s the same with the Jag. It feels old and lethargic.
In reality, though, it’s actually quite a decent engine (barring the noise).
At around 2,000rpm there’s actually quite a lot of grunt but the brilliant gear box is usually too busy shifting through its eight ratios to let you exploit its sweet spot.
You’re actually better switching it into manual mode and selecting your own choice of gears with the steering wheel-mounted paddles. That gives you the chance to seek out the best of the rev range.
A more powerful version of the 2.2 is available but the sublime 3.0 V6 diesel is the one to go for, if you can.
It has to be said, thought that the 2.2 is extremely economical. I guess that’s the pay-off.
There’s little else to fault though, if I’m being honest. It’s a shame some of the basic controls are hidden away in the dash-mounted infotainment system’s menus and sub-menus but actually that just makes for a less-cluttered dashboard.
All in all the XF has lost nothing by becoming an estate car. Sorry, shooting brake.
If anything it’s gained a finer-looking body shell and heaps more in the way of practicality.
Pick one with a decent engine, try not to skimp on the options, and you’ll have one of the best load luggers on the market.