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2018 Jaguar XF 25t Sportbrake long-term review

By Ash Westerman, 02 Feb 2019 Reviews

2018 Jaguar XF Sportbrake

Welcome to the 2018 Jaguar XF 25t Sportbrake wagon with no delusions of getting its boots dirty

HERE’S the hypothetical scenario: choose one vehicle from the current Jaguar/Land Rover line-up. Feel free to add options, but don’t exceed around $120,000 before on-roads. What do you choose? We can pause if you need to dive into the Showroom section, but in simple terms, it means you only have to exclude the XJ limo-sedan (which no-one buys anyway) and the Range Rover. Everything else, from mid-size XE, to the E-Pace, F-Pace, F-Type, Velar, Evoque, Disco and Rangie Sport, is up for grabs.

Read next: 2018 Jaguar XF Sportbrake pricing and features

Which do you pick? Sales evidence suggests it’s unlikely you’d have jumped the direction in which I did: into an Jaguar XF Sportbrake. I’m also tipping many of you SUV-lovers are throwing down this magazine in disgust and declaring me a royal arse-clown. But hear me out, even if it is a familiar refrain: I have no need for a vehicle capable of going off-road. If that scenario does arise, I’ll beg, borrow, barter or hire a vehicle that can. I’m not anti-SUV, but for my needs, off-road ability feels a bit like doing a tarmac fun-run in hiking boots. What I do need is a generous load space, a reasonably well-endowed engine and keen, rewarding dynamics.

Now go back to the JLR line-up and you’ll see that an XF Sportbrake is not just a logical choice, it’s the only choice (the smaller XE would serve me fine, but is not produced as a wagon).

My petrol XF sits smack between the other two engine choices in the three-strong Sportbrake range: the entry-level 2.0-litre diesel (132kW/430Nm) and the 30d S, running a 3.0-litre V6 oiler good for 221kW/700Nm. The latter was tempting, but over budget at $123,450 before options.

Read next: 2018 Jaguar XF Sportbrake breaks record

So again, I go from seemingly in the land of over-choice to the choice really being made for me. At this first-impression stage I’m quite happy – the Ingenium 2.0-litre may only be in mid-strength spec here with 184kW/365Nm (it’s offered in the XF sedan as a Lite, with 147kW/320Nm, or a Stout, with 221kW/400Nm) but so far it seems ample, tied to the excellent ZF eight-speed auto, even if the Sportbrake weighs in at a pudgy 1705kg. Okay, this engine tune does seem a bit thin on character – there’s not much by way of rorty exhaust note to involve you – but it is smooth and lag-free.

I’ll go into more powertrain detail in the coming months, but before that we need to cover how this car lists at $91,400, but leaps $28,600 to $120,000 via some exuberant box-ticking. Not all of it is my fault, I swear.

Most expensive is the $4360 Active Safety Pack, which includes blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise control, and driver condition monitor. Yep, you could argue that this stuff should be standard; we’ll look at how the Jag’s spec compares with German rivals at a later date. The glass roof and gesture control (see sidebar above) is the next costliest addition at $5000 combined.

Then there are the matte-finished carbonfibre interior trim inlays, which are rich indeed at $3470. Better value is the pro navigation pack and sound system from Brit specialist Meridian, which adds $2690. The red metallic paint, as well as the black-pack finish on the grille and side vents, plus the 19-inch wheels, combine to soak up $4860. Another dozen or so items relating to comfort (heated seats, privacy glass, etc), convenience (360-degree parking aid) and storage (rails in the cargo compartment) quickly account for another $7000.

Read next: 2018 Jaguar XF 30d S Sportbrake review

You’d think that with that lot, there’d be precisely nothing missing, right? But dude, where’s my head-up display? Er, still on the options list, apparently, along with the climate control for rear-seat occupants.

Yes, shopping in this large-executive segment is not for the faint-hearted or thin-walleted. But look at it: isn’t it a proud, purposeful bit of gear? It looks confident and able, ready to be loaded to the gunwales with all my crap and go on adventures. Okay, not muddy, rocky, off-road adventures, but that’s what I have a mountain bike for. We’ll stay on piste and have a blast, I’m sure.

Update #2

MORE God-fearing men than myself may be well-advised to follow the ninth commandment; the one that decrees thou shall not covet thy neighbour’s wife. But what about coveting the interior of thy car’s cousin? Surely that’s not off limits?

See, I recently fell under the spell of the stunning, game-changing interior of the Land Rover Velar, with its dual-screen lushness and high-end touch points. As I sat there making lame little cooing sounds, it brought into sharp relief the generational gap between it and the perfectly adequate, but rather less-stunning interior of my XF. I admit to a few improper thoughts, Lord; those of the lustful kind. 

Read next: 2018 Jaguar XF Sportbrake pricing and features

Yes, different brands, and models from different eras. The reality is that interior design and in-cabin technology is one area of the automotive world that’s been on a sharp upswing in recent years, so it’s inevitable that design and features considered seductive and cutting edge in 2015 may appear a little passé as 2019 looms.

Specifics? The pop-up rotary gear selector in the XF – which actually debuted in the first-gen XF (X240) from 2007 – never feels as intuitive nor as satisfying to use as a conventional lever. And the air vents that rotate into the open position as the ignition is switched on – another carry-over from the X240 – now feel a little gimmicky. 

Read next: 2018 Jaguar XF Sportbrake breaks record

But I’ve been diligently noting more practical shortfalls, such as the front door bins that aren’t designed to take a water bottle, or the fact that there’s nowhere to store the key if the cupholders are in use. Then there’s the USB ports mounted high in the rear of the lidded centre console, meaning that the cables’ plugs block you from either placing or retrieving anything from within the box.

But I’ll stop my first-world whinging right there because while the XF stumbles on a few details, it nails the fundamentals comprehensively. The front seats strike a sweet balance between pliant comfort and essential support, the electric column adjustment allows the wheel to glide into an ideal position, and I’m not missing an SUV’s ‘command’ driving position at all.

But what is delivering the most day-to day satisfaction is the dynamic polish. The steering is slick, ideally weighted, and has real nuance either side of centre without ever feeling over-reactive. On this measure alone, the Jag easily beats the multi-mode rack fitted to BMW’s 5 Series. Likewise the ride, which is mostly calm and absorbent, thanks in part to the rear air-springs and adaptive dampers. It’s not what you’d call plush – it’s too disciplined for that – but it dispatches Sydney’s battle-scarred bitumen with just a muted thudding from the 19-inch Goodyears that rarely jars.

Read next: 2018 Jaguar XF 30d S Sportbrake review

Then there’s its enthusiasm for corners, which is constantly leading me into temptation, especially in the eyes of the law, if not the Lord.

Update #3

IT WAS a line I heard recently from poker-playing heavyweight and professional hedonist Dan Bilzerian that made me stop and think for a second. The big ‘Blitz’ documents his life on Instagram, which seems to mostly involve private-jetting his GI-Joe beard to exotic locations with bikini babes, handguns, and the occasional alligator. His house parties have become legendary in their bacchanalian debauchery, all of which may have given rise to his observation: “The only issue with living this kind of lifestyle is that it takes quite a lot to get me genuinely fired up. It used to be a lot easier to get excited…”

Read next: 2018 Jaguar XF 30d S Sportbrake review

I feel your pain, Dan, I really do. Because by any measure, the AJ200 four-cylinder turbo- petrol in my XF is an excellent unit, but – and you may have sniffed this coming – it’s just a little lacking in aural involvement and redline-chasing thrills.

Don’t for a second think this stems from a lack of technical sophistication; quite the opposite. As part of the Ingenium family it’s an all-aluminium construction featuring a twin-scroll, variable-geometry turbocharger that spools up incredibly quickly, helping deliver peak twist of 365Nm at an astonishing 1200rpm – barely faster than idle speed – and maintaining that until 4500rpm. The inlet side of the electro-hydraulic valvetrain is fed by direct fuel injection, while an ECU-controlled oil pump matches the flow rate according to engine speed, load and temperature, so the switchable cooling jets only spray oil onto the underside of the piston crowns when required. That reduces parasitic losses, and the mere mention of the word ‘parasitic’ makes me feel as though I’m in my own warm oil bath.

Read next: 2018 Jaguar XF Sportbrake pricing and features

Yes, all the requisite tech is in place, to the point this engine landed a spot in the Wards Auto (USA) 10 Best Engines for 2018.

So while it’s possible I’m just suffering from a bit of Bilzerian syndrome – and the engine is smooth and lag-free, no question – I don’t think it sounds especially exciting, which seems at odds with other engines in the Jaguar line-up. In this engine’s higher-output guise when fitted to the F-Type sports car (221kW and 400Nm), it rasps, crackles, and drops a cheeky volley of low-frequency pops on overrun.

Sure, I understand those characteristics may not be an ultra-high priority for XF wagon buyers, but when specced as an R-Sport, as this car is, it seems a slight miss to not at least include a switchable exhaust to allow owners a richer, more involving soundtrack when having a pedal. Jaguar aims to position itself as a more daring, edgy alternative to its German rivals, so it needs to grab opportunities to actually deliver on this.

Read next: 2018 Jaguar XF Sportbrake breaks record

Then there’s the idle, which (I’m being very picky here) is just a fraction more chuntery and audible than you may expect from a car in this class. A friend recently jumped in, and, at the first set of lights, as we sat idling and a song ended, he perked up with, “Is it a diesel?”

Then again, he’s half a clown who really should be locked in a small room with Dan’s alligator.

Update #4

When I really drill down into the whole ‘weekend away’ thing, it’s possible that I enjoy the journey more than the destination. Sure, there’s plenty about camping that I do really like – a crackling campfire, being able to delight my camp-mates with a delicious meal made from just three ingredients, then horrifying them when I eat it like that feral kid from Mad Max 2. And how great is it to have a semi-legitimate excuse to abandon all personal hygiene for a few days?

Ah, but then … eventually the reality of ants, flies, the lack of a comfortable lounge and Netflix documentaries can conspire to make me feel like an Akubra-wearing fraud.

Read next: 2018 Jaguar XF Sportbrake pricing and features

However, with the Jag cleaned and fuelled, I was at least confident that the journey part would be great. But before a wheel is turned, there’s pleasure to be had in loading the thing – pop the electric tailgate, use the remote tabs to auto-fold the rear seats, then shovel in every conceivable bit of gear like you’re feeding the boilers on the Titanic. The claimed seats-down cargo capacity is 1700 litres, so I don’t even bother looking to see if we are starting to run out of space – I just make a bunch of clicking and whistling noises, like a fleshy upright dolphin, and when the echo goes a bit flat, that’s it, we’re chockers and ready to roll.

It was especially gratifying to finally use the big wagon in the role for which it was born. Sure, I’ve been enjoying schlepping around the suburbs in it, and it does help soothe the traffic-snarled commute into the office, but fact is, loaded up for a road trip is where the XF Sportbrake feels most deeply entrenched in its sweet spot.

Read next: 2018 Jaguar XF 30d S Sportbrake review

We took the brilliant Old Pacific Highway out of northern Sydney rather than the motorway, which gave me the opportunity to have a hustle and test the strength of my partner’s stomach versus inner-ear function. There’s a natural fluidity to the Jag’s dynamics that make it such an enjoyable thing to drive quickly. I rate the steering as near-flawless for this class, and the car’s containment of roll, the progressiveness of its responses and clearly telegraphed limits of grip are superb. There were no visible signs of terror from the passenger’s seat, and no projectile vomiting, so that rates as a win.

By the time we did rejoin the motorway before Gosford, the fast-fang itch had been scratched, at least temporarily, and I was okay to drop into a 115km/h cruise and appreciate the measured suspension compliance, excellent muting of road noise, leggy gearing, and the power and clarity of the Meridian audio. The British hi-fi specialist manufactures properly high-end home audio, and that expertise translates seamlessly into the car. Vocals are precisely staged across the dash area, highs are shimmering and detailed, and the bass is superb; the subwoofer delivers serious visceral slam without ever getting boomy or overbearing.

Read next: 2018 Jaguar XF Sportbrake breaks record

Parked at our lakeside spot, and used as a 1705kg, 380-watt Bluetooth speaker, the XF sure helped soothe some of the harsh realities of the great outdoors, and made me a (mostly) happy camper. The big cat really is becoming nicely integrated into the family.

Farewell

Allow me to share a few things that were not said from the driver’s seat of the Jag wagon during my five-month tenure. The first: “Hey honey, there’s a muddy, rocky, rutted trail that surely leads to somewhere magical – what a shame we can’t explore it because we’re not in a SUV.”

Nor was this ever heard: “If only I was in a more elevated driving position, I’d have a much better view of this wretched Sydney traffic.”

Read next: 2018 Jaguar XF Sportbrake pricing and features

You get the gist. I know I’m way out of step with a big percentage of Aussie cars buyers, and JLR’s own sales of the Velar and F-Pace SUVs in the year to date (see sidebar, above) are indicators of just how strong the tide is.

But my time with the big Sportbrake proved to me why large family wagons were such a staple of Aussie motoring life for so long. For me, it’s about fitness for purpose. Put simply, the Sportbrake delivered everything I want and need in a daily driver: a generous load area, room for long-wheelbase teenagers in the back, healthy torque to overcome the inevitable weight, a resolved, comfortable ride, tactile, accurate steering, and a quiet cabin. The fact that the XF laps up a spirited punt so eagerly is almost a bonus, but the core dynamic goodness is something I enjoyed every time I drove it, and underpinned the affection I developed for the car.

Here’s another telling fact: after a week in Victoria testing the 47-strong COTY field, there was a not a single car from that event that I wished was occupying my parking space instead of the Jag. And that includes the brand’s own I-Pace, the mega-dollar Bentley Conti, and the seductive, beautifully resolved Alpine A110. All have plenty of virtues, of course, but none could slot into my life and deliver the crucial daily usability I need.

Read next: 2018 Jaguar XF 30d S Sportbrake review

And let’s not overlook the fact that in the time I had it, and the near-6000km I travelled, the XF didn’t develop a single rattle or software glitch, let alone anything more serious. Jaguar has consistently ranked highly in JD Power customer satisfaction ratings, and my (albeit brief) time as an ‘owner’ aligned with this.

The judging role during COTY week does make you something of an ‘against-the-criteria’ data-crunching machine, though, and if I put the Sportbrake under the Value spotlight, it does start to expose some shortcomings – especially a close look at the $28K of options fitted to this car. The one I find most objectionable is the $4360 active safety pack, which bundles rear cross-traffic alert with blind-spot monitoring and a few other functions. Cross-traffic alert is, I reckon, an absolute essential on any car, let alone one that measures 4955mm in length. Imagine declining this pack due to the expense, only for you (or your loved one) to be T-boned while reversing out of an unsighted driveway. Doesn’t bear thinking about, so it’s hardly an option.

Then there was a matt carbonfibre interior trim, which didn’t look like $3470 worth no matter how hard I stared at it. The fixed panoramic roof, the other big-ticket item (at $4910 with gesture control) was nice to have, but I really only opened the retractable blind at night or on heavily overcast days, as sunshine brought too many reflections on the screens.

Read next: 2018 Jaguar XF Sportbrake breaks record

Against the efficiency criteria? Not brilliant at around 11.0L/100km overall, but that’s Sydney traffic for you. Less bumper-to-bummer driving and more 80-100km/h cruising, and it’s a low-9s car.

The bigger challenge facing not just Jaguar, but all of the premium brands, is the gulf between their prices and those of the Japanese and Koreans, when the real-world gap in performance, presentation, safety, and equipment continues to shrink. The Mazda 6 wagon being run by art director Felipe is a prime example of this.

Yet the Jaguar does have a degree of presence and a feel-good factor that made it a lovely thing to slide into each day, despite me pointing out a few areas that could use some additional attention (partly because that’s my job, and partly because I’m a champion whinger). But those criticisms – the lack of a more overtly sporting engine character, or the fact the interior design feels less than cutting edge – well, they weren’t enough to dull the experience.

I’ve revelled in my time with this car, and I’ll miss it hugely. I’ve always been a dog man, but this was proof I can definitely grow to love a cat.