At first, I was slightly put off that the loaned 2018 Jaguar XF Sportbrake S was silver. It’s a really petty thing to complain about, the color of a press car—but after driving it for a weekend, I realized that the more mundane one of these wagons looks, the the more covert you actually feel about driving it. This is a good thing.
(Full disclosure: Jaguar wanted us to drive the 2018 XF Sportbrake S so badly that it dropped one off at our office with a full tank of gas and let us keep it for a week.)
This Jag marks the fourth wagon that Jalopnik has had since the beginning of 2018. And though I didn’t get to drive the Mercedes-Benz E400 wagon that Patrick tested, I have drive enough similar Benzes to pretty much know how it operates.
And I’d wager that the Jaguar Sportbrake S is the best one of the four. Seriously.
The Jaguar XF Sportbrake S is the wagon version of the XF sedan. But unlike the sedan, which comes in a myriad of flavors and engine options, there is only one way you can get it: With a 3.0-liter supercharged V6 mated to a ZF eight-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive.
That’s fine. Those are all the boxes I would have checked for it anyway.
And it just makes me so happy that this is the only Jag wagon that you can get. There are no others, no lesser four-cylinder version or what have you. It’s this supercharged beast or nothing at all. Go shop somewhere else if it’s too much car for you. It’s like Jag knew what kind of people would be shopping for such a vehicle and made one just for us nerds.
I suspected this combination of things made the Sportbrake the ideal sleeper car. I was right.
I would like to remark on the simple brilliance of taking an engine out of the V6 F-Type and sticking it into a wagon. It’s a great engine that needs to be in more cars anyway. Or lawnmowers. Motorcycles. Anything, really.
The resulting Sportbrake has 380 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque. Jaguar claims that a zero to 60 mph sprint happens in about five seconds. Personally, I don’t give a hoot about the numbers because I drove around all weekend without knowing them and I still loved the car regardless. I didn’t know the specifics; I just knew it was fast.
Unlike other cars with changeable drive modes, you can actually feel a big difference between each setting in the Sportbrake. The standard setting keeps the car tame, the suspension neutral. You’re not so numb that you can’t feel the road under you, but it absorbs the worst of the bumps.
But in Dynamic mode, the car wakes up and you feel most every imperfection in the road. The dials on your dashboard take on a reddish outline, the throttle responds more sharply, the shifts become snappier and the car gets louder. The steering becomes heavier and more substantial in your hands.
I did not switch it out of Sport mode once. I don’t recommend you do, either.
And thank the gods for superchargers.
I am so tired of driving turbocharged cars, with their largely muffled exhaust notes and discernible lag. Turbos used to be special, but in recent years they’re found on everything from high-end exotics to bargain-basement Fords and Kias.
I want linear power delivery, I want noise, dammit. The Sportbrake delivers both of those things.
The clever ZF box, always at the ready, will drop down a few gears at a moment’s notice to make the job of accelerating easy. The sheer pull of the engine is intoxicating and, above all, relentless. It really doesn’t feel like you are going to run out of power, even as the revs climb.
I backed off well before I felt the engine approaching its limit, but I had no doubt that it would keep climbing if I had enough room and nobody was looking. Don’t let this wagon fool you; it will get you into trouble, if you let it.
But even if you don’t tempt fate with speed in the triple digits, exploring the rev range in the lower gears is great fun, too. Bring it up above the 4,500ish rpm range and a high-pitched supercharger whine joins in with the raspy V6 burble. It only gets louder as you press the gas pedal harder. It’s hard to quit because it’s so accessible.
I tried to get the engine to snap and crackle when I put it in manual mode, like the F-Type can do. No dice. Sad.
In fact, the engine has such a strong presence that you almost pay far too much attention to it rather than the rest of the car. Which, if the Sportbrake were a car purely devoted to the engine, would be fine. But it’s a wagon, so it’s not. There is some degree of utility implied here, and that’s unfortunately where the Jag falls short.
For as large as the Sportbrake is on the outside, that girth mysteriously does not translate to a lot of interior room. My friend, whose full height comes to a whopping 60 inches from the ground, reported that even she felt cramped while sitting in the back seat. And that the seats also had a strange hump that pressed into the back.
Sitting up front, I was astounded at how much car surrounded me—to the point where it was actually difficult to see out of. I verified this fact with my coworker Erik Shilling, who is a very tall human, just to make sure that it wasn’t just a Short Person Problem.
The A-pillars are thick and the wing mirrors are large, which create a significant blind spot. Looking back, it’s not any better. The C- and D-pillars are thick as well, with the back window slanted so viciously that it makes for highly inadequate viewing room. To make matters worse, the backseat headrests are so tall and massive that they just obstruct visibility further.
The gear shifter, confusingly, is a dial. I’ve been conditioned to understand that dials are tools for volume or temperature control, but never a gear selector. Upon startup, the big dial rises out of the console for you to use and doesn’t retreat down until the car is off.
More than once, though, I toggled it by mistake while on the highway because I mistook it for the volume control knob. Why can’t I just get a regular shifter? This feels like one of those cases where design overruled reason.
It’s really more of a hatchback than a wagon.
Thankfully, though, the trunk was still quite deep, despite not being very tall. I cannot imagine storing luggage or groceries will be a problem in the Sportbrake.
But beside the visibility shortcomings and the general cramped interior, the inside of the Jag is still a cool place to be. My press car came with two-tone leather and a suede headliner. You can change the ambient lighting running along the doors and center console. The large, single pane of glass filling the ceiling of the car is, for lack of a better word, awesome.
It is like a massive skylight, letting in sunlight and giving the cabin a very airy feeling. I don’t know why anyone would cover that pane of glass up, it is such a treat to have it open on a sunny day with the light pouring in.
The front seats are good! You want to be up front if you ride in this car. They are comfortable and supportive, hugging you in place when you take a corner. Whether you are taking a long ride across the country or just a quick dash into town, these seats will never be an unpleasant place to be.
I had the great pleasure of being stuck in a massive traffic jam on a rainy New York City evening while I was taking the Jag home for the weekend. It wasn’t really that bad because the seat heaters were on, the stereo sounded good and heat blasted from the vents. The rain was coming down hard (and sideways, at times), so watching the other New Yorkers scurry for cover beneath umbrellas turned inside out made me feel very spoiled indeed.
Low-speed merges are nerve-wracking, however. Because the Sportbrake is so tough to see out of, you’re never really sure where your car is in relation to all the other cars. You have an approximation and for the rest, you have to rely on the car’s sensors to be your eyes.
That being said, the front collision alert would freak out every time something even thought about coming close to the nose. There did not seem to be any rhyme or reason to the freaking out and that was the worst part. I couldn’t figure out a pattern between how fast I was traveling and how close something came to the car to set off the alert. Frustrated, and unable to determine how to disable the alert, I gave up and shouted at the car instead.
Nobody was in a good mood after that. Not me and not the car. Don’t get me wrong: The Sportbrake will do the casual driving just fine, but you won’t feel happy doing it. It will feel too much like doing the car (and yourself) an injustice. There is simply too much joy lurking behind that gas pedal only to masochistically push it some of the way.
The Jaguar Sportbrake S has an MSRP of $70,450. My test car, laden with features like a $3,000 technology package, a $3,500 driver assistance package and a $2,800 premium interior upgrade package, came out to a total of $84,245, which brings it into spitting distance of a Mercedes E-Class wagon. The one we just tested was $89,860.
Having been in current Mercedes-Benz models, I can solidly say that Mercedes has got luxury interiors locked the hell down. At the moment, no company this side of a Rolls-Royce or Bentley makes a better interior than a Mercedes. Not even Jaguar.
However! I think out of all the wagons currently being offered from Mercedes, BMW, Buick, Volkswagen, Subaru, Audi and Volvo, the Jaguar is perhaps the most fun to drive because of its unyielding and ferocious engine. It is a true sleeper car.
After I left it in a parking lot and made my way toward a restaurant, I looked back at it again. It gleamed in the pale winter sun, its coat of silver paint blending it in perfectly with the sea of other gray, black, white and beige cars that surrounded it.
I’m not saying it’s not a handsome car, because it is. It’s just missing all the sharp angles and flared lines that the traditionally “aggressive” and “sporty” cars wear. It is heroically understated, to the point where even I had trouble picking it out right away upon returning, which means that a cop probably would, too.
No one but you would know that there’s a mad supercharged engine beneath the hood, howling for blood. You could come off the highway and stop serenely, wait for a crowd of school children to cross the street, and not one of them would know that you’d just spent the last 20 minutes blowing past lesser cars like they weren’t even moving. There’s a kind of self-indulgent thrill to harboring a secret like that.
Unlike the Volvo and the Buick I drove recently, which were great utility vehicles but boring driver’s cars, I feel like this Jag was designed in the opposite direction. Its focus seems to be the engine and driving experience first, utility second. An F-Type hiding in the body of a wagon. Like they set out, specifically, to build a sleeper.
So while the Sportbrake isn’t the best of both worlds, it’s damn close.