The Bigger Cat: Jaguar’s XF Sportbrake

Norman Dewis, Jaguar’s legendary test driver, ex Le Mans driver, and the man who has driven more miles around Mira’s banking than anyone else alive once told me something I’ll probably never forget. As he strolled back towards his house, after thoroughly inspecting the Morgan Aero 8 I was driving that day, he inquired as to how much it cost. At the time the Malvern manufacturer’s Art Deco all-aluminium chassis’ed  180mph coupe could be yours only if you parted with £127,000 first. Norm as he’s affectionately known – he is 93 - shook his head incredulously.

“Still…” he said “you’ve got to pay for performance”.

That comment has been rolling around inside my head all of this week probably in part because I too have been clocking up the miles behind the wheel of a Jaguar: An XF SportBrake to be precise.

Granted the SportBrake – that’s what Jaguar call the estate version of their XF – may not be quite as glamorous, exotic, or indeed as quick as the C, D, and E-Types that Norman got to drive on a daily basis, but you have to admit it’s still a bit of a looker. Turning one of the most handsome saloon cars in to a load-lugger was never going to be easy, but Jaguar’s design team lead once again by Ian Callum have done a sterling job of keeping things neat whilst in effect grafting a box to house either your flat-pack or your Labrador on the back.

The truth is Sportbrake is completely different to its saloon shaped sibling from the B-pillars back. The roof, needless to say is longer, more tapered too, and supported by blacked out C-pillars in order to give it the “floating” look. There’s a more broad-shouldered look to the whole car, and a greater sense of presence maybe? Your rear seat passengers will appreciate the extra shoulder room – although the one sat amidships will still have to straddle the transmission tunnel – and like me they may be surprised to learn the wheelbase dimension stays the same.

So bigger inside it may be, but fortunately the Sportbrake gets the same minimalist chic interior as the saloon. In the case of our demonstrator, soft black leather covers the dashboard, steering wheel and door tops, as well the seats; graphite-grey suede covers the roof and extends down the thick A pillars, and a black carbon-weave effect centre console and touch sensitive map lights complete the look. Come nightfall indigo blue lighting illuminates the instruments and switches. Some would argue this interior is beginning date; nevertheless, it’s lost none of its sense of occasion.

It’s only when you thumb the starter, let the gear selector rise to in to your palm and watch the air vents pirouette into place that the SportBrake’s glamour starts to fade little. Jaguar only fit diesel engines to Sportbrakes, and if, as in our case, yours is fitted with a 2.2 litre 4 cylinder unit rather than Jaguar’s usually silky-smooth 3litre V6, there’s no hiding it’s… How shall I put this? Rather working-class (Ford/Citroen/Peugeot) upbringings.

On the narrow, bendy roads that litter this part of The Marches the engine’s narrow power-band has the 8 speed auto-box searching constantly for the right ratio. When coupled with the somewhat industrial sounding engine note that accompanies more spirited driving, it makes the Sportbrake sound similar to a trawler fighting a heavy tide. It just doesn’t sound like a Jaguar should. Shouldn’t a big cat purr?  And neither does it deliver anything near its claimed 55mpg; low 40’s were the best I could muster, and that was with the Stop-Start enabled.

Respite comes however when the roads get wider and the going smoother. Once up to speed and in cruising in its higher ratios the Sportbrake feels like its barely breaking sweat. The legal limit equates to little more than 1600rpm, the ride on the 19”rims and self-levelling rear suspension is firm but smooth, the Sportbrake begins to claim back its grace.

If it was my money about to be spent on the Sportbrake the truth is I’d go for one with a bigger, smoother engine. I’d wager I’d probably get better MPG out of it too, due to it not having trouble the transmission as much, and not having to work quite as hard.

I can’t say I’m surprised. In the end Norman Dewis – the man who really knows his Jags - was right all along.

Jaguar XF Sportbrake 2.2D 163

Engine: 2,197cc 4Cyl turbo-diesel
Transmission: 8 speed automatic, rear wheel drive.
Power:  163bhp @ 3500pm
Torque: 295 lbft @ 2000rpm
0-62MPH: 10.9Sec
Max Speed: 124mph
CO2: 135g/km
MPG: 55.4 combined
Price: From £31,945


Liam Bird Liam Bird

I'm Liam Bird, a freelance Motoring Writer based in the South Shropshire Marches. I currently write car reviews and road tests for a number of regional lifestyle magazines and newspapers which are distributed throughout Cheshire, Herefordshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, Worcestershire, most of Wales and beyond.

As a member of the Welsh Group of Motoring Writers I'm as happy behind the wheel of a super-mini as I am in the latest super-car. I have press accreditation with most of the major motor manufacturers, meaning that as well as always being on the look out for further commissions, I always have a number of cars arriving each month ready to review.

Read More from Liam Bird