In my travels I have found few places more ideally fit to open up a car—really open it up, I mean—than Interstate 10 in Texas headed west toward California. The Hill Country gives way to true desert and 80 mph speed limits between Kerr County and El Paso County, and while the State Troopers frown on this, every driver out there is doing closer to 90 if not more. In this instance, the car being opened up was a 2018 Jaguar XF Sportbrake S, the little-known but visually stunning Jaguar wagon.
This car can keep up on that long and lonely stretch of highway. It can more than keep up, in fact, with 380 horsepower coming from the 3.0-liter supercharged V6 under the hood. The Sportbrake is a very impressive vehicle and I’m amazed that it’s even sold in America.
But the whole time I was behind the wheel, I kept wondering how incredible it could be if it had just two more cylinders.
(Full Disclosure: Jaguar Land Rover provided this car with one full tank of gas during a recent trip to Texas. Its people were also very understanding when, due to a mix-up, I went more than a little over the allotted 500 miles for this loan. It’s Texas, these things happen.)
My colleague Kristen Lee gave this same wagon a very thorough shakedown and a full Jalopnik Review a few months ago, so I’ll try not to be repetitive here. Besides, I agreed with most of her assessments, and our cars also were similarly optioned, this one coming in at about $89,000.
She called the Sportbrake “handsome but understated,” but with this Firenze Red Metallic paint job my car was anything but the latter. It was a stunner. The wagon drew thumbs up and compliments everywhere it went, including one “I didn’t know Jaguar made cars like that!” at a gas station. Especially from that side profile to accentuate its long roof, it’s a great-looking machine that really stands out in America’s endless sea of crossovers and sedans.
The wagon bodystyle—remember, the Sportbrake is only available with the supercharged V6 and all-wheel drive—makes this XF a superbly executed do-everything car. While it didn’t seem as cavernous as, say, the Mercedes E-Class wagon, it will meet nearly all of your daily cargo and luggage-carrying needs. The interior is a clean-looking, modern place to spend time, and the back seat is generously roomy.
It’s all very balanced—comfortable, powerful, practical.
I expected all of that, because that’s what everyone should expect from a modern luxury car, especially one that nearly gets into the six-figure range. What I didn’t expect was for this midsize wagon to be such a capable and fun handler on twisty roads.
As Kristen suggests, you’ll want to keep this thing in Sport Mode much of the time. And when I did, I found it to be surprisingly agile and playful on the twisty mountain roads around Big Bend, enough to cause a few of my more squeamish passengers to get nervous.
The steering is tight and direct, and the car feels planted and smaller and lighter than the 4,000-pound longroof that it is. It outshines the E-Class wagon in the handling department and is at least as good, if not better, than the last 5 Series I drove.
One area it’s definitely behind both in is the tech. Here at Jalopnik we’ve been heavily critical of these Level 2 semi-autonomous driver aid systems like Autopilot—you know, the ones that require your constant attention and have lulled more than a few drivers into a false sense of security—but the Jaguar had no such systems. And I have to say that even though BMW’s Traffic Jam Assistant isn’t all that great, when actually used properly and attended to it’s a nice backup to have on a long road trip. On the eight hours between Austin and Marfa, I have to say I kind of missed its help.
Beyond that, Jaguar’s 10-inch rectangular infotainment system looks pretty, but it’s laggy and frustrating to use. Basic things like tuning a satellite radio station or sorting through the car’s various settings weren’t as easy as they should have been. And those tiny icons at the bottom of the screen aren’t nearly as user-friendly as they ought to be.
Our tester’s backup camera also wasn’t working, and the rotary dial shift knob was fussy about going into park on more than one occasion. I can tell you I’ve had a few similar issues on new Jaguar press cars I’ve tested, including the F-Type, but not all of them; dig up the old Lucas Electronics joke of your choice and insert it here, if you please.
I can forgive that for the centerpiece, which is still the supercharged V6. If you’ll pardon a sort of forced induction pun, it’s a welcome breath of fresh air in a world where everything is now turbocharged, and more specifically, is a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder.
I’ll let you in on an ugly secret of new cars: for a good many of them, their engines all feel and sound the same. They sound the same and deliver power much the same—lots of torque down low, flat power curve, more than adequate but never inspiring. You’d be hard pressed to really tell the difference between many of them.
The V6 with the blower stands out. It elicits a nice whine and growl under hard acceleration, though it’s more muted than I would have opted for, and it comes with none of the crackling, ear-splitting exhaust hijinks you get on the F-Type and various R and SVR Jaguars. Plus, while it’s good in the corners, I found the 380 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque to be just fine for moving this wagon’s mass.
In fact, that was my biggest beef with the XF Sportbrake: maybe I’ve been spoiled by driving too many F-Types, Range Rovers, SVRs and XJs—and I absolutely am, for sure—but in this wagon I truly longed for the company’s fantastic supercharged 5.0-liter V8 and something north of 500 horsepower.
In the past I’ve said the supercharged V6 is fine in the F-Type, and it is, considering that car is much smaller and weighs much less. And it has all sorts of aural insanity to help things along.) But this wagon deserves a V8. With the supercharged V6, acceleration is merely acceptable rather than bonkers, like it could be.
In a perfect world, I would absolutely love to see an XF Sportbrake R, or an XF Sportbrake SVR; those aren’t apparently happening at all, as Jaguar seems intent on keeping a V8 out of the XF or the smaller XE. That’s a shame.
I can tell you that I don’t know if a supercharged V8 XF wagon with all sorts of track day goodies could beat a Mercedes-AMG E 63 S wagon, or the awesome Porsche Panamera Turbo Sport Turismo, but it would definitely hold its own in a fight against them. I know that from having tested that motor in so many other applications. This wagon deserves a V8. As it is it’s quite good, but with a little more it could be a legend.
Would Americans buy it? I have no idea, but I would argue that if there’s a business case to be made for a Range Rover that can lap the Nürburgring, someone can make a case for this thing.
Call me, Jaguar. I’ll help with the PowerPoint.