The ol’ station wagon ain’t what it used to be but it’s still as functional as it once was. This sedan-extension body style is finding new relevance that is not a minivan or an SUV and not looking like either while having more manners.
Wagon’s had become a universal gag reflex among those who grew up sliding around the back seats in the 1960s and ’70s. Even the European and import brands that continued with the body style created such descriptors as Sport Wagen, Touring or estate car.
But wagons have pushed back into the carscape in plentiful numbers, small and large. The styling trick is to avoid the squared off rear — then provide attitude in the stance and make sure it is sporty to drive.
Among the big wagon roundup are such choices as the Porsche Panamera Sport Turismo, Mercedes-Benz E- and S-Class, Volvo V60 and V90 (both in standard longroof or raised Cross Country) and the Buick Regal TourX.
And now Jaguar is testing the niche in the U.S. with its new XF Sportbrake with standard all-wheel drive. The moniker goes back to ye olde England when hunters boarded a “Shooting Brake” truck or wagon to be carted off to the countryside to harvest game.
If prestige and sex appeal sells wagons, then the XF Sportbrake is the runway model. The silver tester was a constant conversation starter all week with plenty of photos taken home on smartphones.
So far, the XF Sportbrake is sold in Jaguar’s sportiest S model configuration, which adds exterior elements of sportier front and rear bumpers, gloss black side sills and trunk lid spoiler. Pricing starts at $71,445, including the $995 freight charge from Castle Bromwich, U.K. The tester was $84,245 with four packages and the Indus Silver paint ($565).
The starting price of the Sportbrake is $3,585 more than the powertrain-comparable XF sedan.
While the XF sedan has engine choices of 2.0-liter turbodiesel and turbocharged gasoline four-cylinder, the Sportbrake gets Jaguar’s top XF engine: the 380-horsepower supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 with 332 foot-pounds of torque at 4,500 rpm. All XF models have an eight-speed automatic transmission with steering wheel shifters. In addition to a Sport mode, which adjusts steering, transmission, throttle and suspension settings, there are configurable modes of Eco, Dynamic, Normal and Adaptive Surface Response (for low-grip situations).
The advanced AWD system puts most power to the rear until there is slippage and power is transferred as needed to the front wheels.
As old-school as the Jaguar brand once was, the modern re-incarnation is completely contemporary with compelling design and graceful interiors of fashionable arcs and bevels, solidly built and handsomely stitched.
Based on the XF sedan, the Sportbrake is the same length but appears longer. And it is roomier inside, which is accentuated by the optional panoramic glass roof. And is a functional roof that can handle 220 pounds. The overall roof height is 57.4 inches (less than 5 feet) so it should be a simpler process to load bikes and other gear. And the Sportbrake can tow up to 4,408 pounds but the sedan is not rated for towing.
Inside, there’s almost an inch more rear headroom (than the sedan) and the same comfortable rear legroom of 37.2 inches. The rear structure added 165 pounds, but you don’t feel it on the road because of the retuned front suspension and the S model’s self-leveling rear suspension.
With much aluminum throughout the body and architecture and a polymer (plastic) tailgate, the curb weight of 3,880 pounds is diminished by the big engine.
But fuel economy does take a hit compared to the AWD sedan with the big motor: 18 mpg city, 25 highway and 21 mpg combined vs the sedan’s 20/28/23 mpg, using premium fuel.
I was averaging around 18.5 mpg and not sparing the Sport and Dynamic modes. But a 19.5-gallon tank gives a wide range.
Jaguar says the Sportbrake has a near-perfect 50/50 weight balance. While Sport mode has a desired effect, it is Dynamic mode that transforms the driving experience. It is easy to get hooked on its decisive launch acceleration among the faint whine of the supercharger. The ride stiffens but not harshly so and the steering is sensitized for minimal inputs when carving up blacktop roads. It just feels good to hold the nose to the apex and then roll on the power — and this much pleasure from a wagon.
Braking is absolute but never grabby from ventilated, four-wheel-disc brakes with 13.8-inch rotors front and 12.8-inches rear
Sightlines are mostly clear but the base of the righthand side mirror is wide and is worth a second look for pedestrians in crosswalks. The driver area is simple but with many touch-screen controls rather than switches and buttons.
The large cabin is rewardingly roomy, which also leaves room for many storage places. But there is a little too much British theater with the large shifter dial that rises from the console on ignition. It’s a cool detail for about a hundred times, then the owner might wish for a more functional e-bin charging area with an array of USB and 12-volt plugs.
I also griped about the noisy cabin fan at higher speeds and the maddening door-lock sensors that require massaging, gripping or slapping to coax into locking, and even that often didn’t work and I had to dig into my pocket for the fob. Just put a little button on the door handle to lock and unlock.
The big glass roof is barely noticed in the front seats, but it is majestic for back seat passengers. The back seat has wide and upright door openings for easy entry and exit. But the three-seat bench has a butts-down orientation to maximize foot and legroom. The center seat is compromised by the tall transmission tunnel and the 40/20/40 folding seatback leaves a narrow center position. Three air vents in the right places are a luxury.
Cargo space, stacked to the headliner, spans 31.7-69.7 cubic feet. It is wide space at 49.5 inches with about 6 ½ feet of length with the seat folded.
Wagons were once a “life-stage” choice, but the XF Sportbrake is a lifestyle choice.
2018 Jaguar XF Sportbrake S AWD
- Body style: large, 5-passenger, AWD wagon
- Engine: 380-hp, supercharged 3.0-liter V-6; 332 lb.-ft. torque at 4,500 rpm
- Transmission: 8-spd automatic with shift paddles
- Fuel economy: 18/25/21 mpg city/hwy/combined; premium fuel
- 0-60 mph: 5.3 secs
- Drag coefficient: 0.30
- Fuel tank: 19.5 gal.
- Cargo space: 19.1-31.3 cu. ft.
- Front head/leg room: 39/41.5 in.
- Rear head/leg room: 38.2/37.2 in.
- Length/wheelbase: 195/116.5 in.
- Curb weight: 3,880 lbs.
- Turning circle: 38.1 ft.
- Standard equipment includes: smartkey locking and push-button ignition, rearview camera, panoramic glass roof, LED headlights and running lights with high-beam auto assist, power heated and folding side mirrors, soft-grain heated steering wheel, metal sill plates, carpeted floor mats front and rear, 40/20/40 folding back seat, cargo-area cover, blue ambient interior lighting, foot-gesture activated tailgate, 380-watt Meridian audio system, front and rear parking tones, 8-inch touch infotainment screen, S body kit with tailgate spoiler, 20-inch wheels
- Safety features include: 6 air bags, lane-keep assist, driver drowsiness alert, blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert
- Base price: $71,445, including $995 freight charge; price as tested $84,245
- Options on test vehicle: Indus Silver metallic paint $565; carbon fiber trim finisher $810; Tech package B, $3,265, includes 10-inch touch screen with navigation, WiFi hotspot, 825-watt Meridian surround sound system; Driver assistance package B, $3,495, includes adaptive cruise control with queue assist, traffic-sign recognition, 360-degree parking camera, blind-spot assist, parallel and perpendicular parking assist; Comfort and convenience package B, $1,805, includes heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats, soft door closers; Premium interior package B, $2,860, includes four-zone climate control, manual rear sunshade, microsuede headliner, premium front and rear floor mats, lighted sill plates, 10-color ambient lighting
- Where assembled: Castle Bromwich, U.K.
- Warranty: 5-years/60,000-miles bumper to bumper with free scheduled maintenance and roadside assistance