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It goes without saying that our motor industry has gone through many unprecedented changes, especially over the last decade. Our remaining UK based volume mass producer (MG Rover) fell by the wayside back in 2005 and the UK builder of prestige saloon and off road vehicles (Jaguar Land Rover) moved from American Ford to Indian TATA stewardship. Of course, there have been many rumours and brickbats hurled towards Ratan Tata’s empire from the dye in the wool brand enthusiasts, some harsh some unfounded. One think is certain; the level of aspiration and quality JLR products now enjoy would have been unthinkable in the Ford era of ownership.
Jaguar Land Rover invited me to taste the fruits of the XF Sportbrake – a car that left me deeply impressed after a short waltz around the Warwickshire countryside at a test event last year. The styling is a clever balance of retro and forward thinking with all the right splashes of brightwork and styling cues you cannot fail to notice. The raked roofline and tapering ¾ windows subconsciously hammer home the Sports Tourer shape that gives you that all important extra practicality and space without any sacrifice to styling. Just like the Rover 75 estate, the XF Sportbrake is very much a vehicle that looks even more adorable than the pretty looking saloon it is based on.
From every angle the Sportbrake cannot fail to make you nod in admiration
The huge imposing lattice effect mesh grille features a traditional Jaguars face logo on a circular badge, while around the back a leaper badge adorns the tailgate. From virtually every angle the Sportbrake cannot fail to make you nod in admiration – well that’s my opinion anyway. The styling really has worn well over the past few years and it stands out from the crowd in a way only a Jaguar can. Its imposing power bulge in the bonnet is simply wonderful and looks even better at the helm of the cockpit – a cue that JLR stylist Ian Callum borrowed from the XJS. As far as a visual picture goes, the XF is certainly eye candy without being over the top of vulgar to marque fans.
The impressive lustre of the Stratos Grey paintwork works well with the polished alloy roof bars and the general fit and finish of the panels allied to impressively tight shut lines give a reassurance to anyone who still doubts the quality of a mass produced British car. The model on test was the Premium Luxury edition fitted with an in-line 2.2 litre four cylinder offering 163Ps through a ZF 8 speed auto box that features Jaguars “sequential shift” system giving the option of using paddle shifts tastefully fitted to the steering wheel. The UK manufactured engine offers a CO2 rating of 129/Km – not quite up to Bavarian standards maybe but it promises good economy.
Cold morning start ups certainly reminds you of the fact it’s an oil burner, yet by no means is it intrusive on the ear, in fact the lack of thrum or vibration inside the car is credible to the engineers who packaged the drivetrain installation. Once warmed through she’s a very refined machine and at no point did I find myself yearning for petrol. Getting to grips with the controls takes no more than a few minutes to acclimatise ones self and in true modern tradition the handbrake is electronic with hold assist while the pretty polished alloy drum type gear selector is simplicity itself.
once on the move. the gearbox glides up and down the gears like a concert pianist glissando
Those familiar with XF will be aware of the dramatic rising and rotating of the selector and fascia vents upon ignition activation. Passengers not once thought it was a gimmick and I certainly love this touch, it really does portray the 21st Century high technology image that Jaguar now so deservedly have. Twisting the billet alloy gear selector into drive gives little sensation of driveline shunt and once on the move the 8 speed ZF gearbox glides up and down ratios with all the finesse of a concert pianist glissando. There’s not a great deal to mark down regarding the ride comfort, low speed ruts and pot holes show off the slightly firm ride that’s not helped by the ultra low profile tyres.
Once sailing along at a fair rate of knots the XF feels taught and well damped in every situation without being tooth shatteringly hard. Actually, at faster speeds the ride and body control is just right and fits with the cars modern sports tourer nature. You’ll have no worries over the handling; the XF Sportbrake simply takes the bends with no drama or roll and the car just seems to shrink in size as you steer just that little bit later with a soupçon of more throttle. To sum up the XF Sportbrake’s road manners, it’s fun and entertaining whilst keeping an almost regal level of composure when motorway munching.
…effortless to drive be it mile after mile county after county
High speed refinement is brilliant. One a long drive from Sussex to Castle Bromwich plant via North London and Northamptonshire, I felt insulated from the outside world. Only a tiny but of tyre noise on concrete surfaces even slightly threatened to compete with the impressive Meridian sound system. Upon arriving at my final destination, I exited the car with no aches, pains or cause for concern. The driving position, ventilation and seating comfort are three very important areas that I genuinely cannot fault. Once you are familiar with the controls and features, the XF turns into a point and shoot kind of car – effortless to drive be it mile after mile or county after county.
Just to clarify one thing, the XF is not rip snortingly fast. It is after all an entry level diesel unit with the accent on economy but what I would say in a true Rolls Royce of old style is that it’s more than adequate for the application. Expect a sub 9.0 second sprint to sixty and Jaguar claim a top speed of around 130 and for most of the time it’s very refined. Only when you hold onto the gears and throw the needle around the tacho does the 2.2 four cylinder really let its presence be known. Kick down is immediate and so long as a few revs are rung down into the engine room overtaking is swift and secure with serene refinement back in place once the rush is over.
Very little can be said about the brakes. They work very well and have more than reserve needed to rein the car in at any speed. Only one minor gripe is at just how quickly the wheels get grubby. I wonder if the car would actually look better or stealthier with smoked grey effect alloys – what do you reckon Jaguar? The same applies to the steering too; it’s an absolute dream to weave along a fast back lane – just the right amount of weight and feedback whilst being effortlessly light when parking. Also of note, the optional rear parking camera with trajectory lines that aid your positioning take some of the sting out of the raked roofline which hampers rearward visibility.
I’ve covered the grace and pace, so what about the space? Well, I found the elbow and headroom fine for my 5ft 10 bulky frame and rear legroom seems to be fine too. The rear bench is comfy and passengers also benefit from individual air vents, a power socket and privacy glass. Boot space is good and the cargo deck is long with some very sturdy looking adjustable and lockable load lashing devices which run in alloy sliders. A retractable load space cover hides your nick nacks from envious eyes but it is a little fiddly and I reckon it could be made a touch better. Two decent sized lidded cubby areas are to be found in the centre console with a deep box under the armrest.
…a 200 mile late evening journey via the M6 M1 & M25 had rarely been so pleasurable
The car featured an optional Meridian Hi-Fi sound system with sub woofer and DVD player that treats you to a truly incredible sound quality and the DAB radio had superb reception. Night time driving is just as pleasurable thanks to the subtle interior mood lamps and very impressive back lighting to the clocks and controls which extends right around the centre console. Headlight quality again is impressive thanks to the adaptive HiD system and automatic high beam function with power wash. The XF Sportbrake is in fact almost better to drive at night than in daylight – a 200 mile journey via the M6, M1 and M25 in late evening had rarely been so pleasurable.
So it comes as no surprise that I was deeply impressed with the 2.2 diesel Sportbrake Jaguar, but are there any reservations? I found some little things an annoyance or below par like the aforementioned load cover for example. The panel rheostat and fog lamp switch could do with being located closer to your fingertips rather than closer to the throttle pedal and the stop start function kicks in way too soon – a bit of a bind at busy roundabouts. The underbonnet view shows a little too much engine and insulating tape for a car of this class with plenty of wiring plugs and connectors on display. I found the fuel filling a tad messy at the cut off point although this issue is one you can cope with after experience – but only after you have sprinkled diesel on your shoes first.
It would be fair to say I loved (correction) adored my week with the XF Sportbrake. As a driving tool I cannot really fault it. It turns heads in the High Street and soaks away the miles with astonishing ability. It’s rather akin to a very expensive leather jacket I bought some 10 years ago…despite the fact I have grown over the years…it continues to fit, looks great with a quality feel and I still can’t help checking my reflection in shop windows and more than anything, makes me feel special. Some cars hit the spot while some cars tug the heartstrings – the Sportbrake does both for me and it’s certainly a car I would buy with my own money.
Its not 100% perfect but there again neither am I but it does come damn close. So on that basis I’d make it my perfect choice for a car with sporting cache and emphasis on extra space – and of course, its styled and built here in Britain.
My thanks are due to Lindsey and her ultra efficient team at Jaguar Cars for supplying the vehicle.
OUR SCORE? 9/10
Model: XF Sportbrake Premium Luxury Diesel
Price: (ex Options) £38.295
Engine: 2.2 litre Turbo diesel in line four
Power: 163Ps with 400Nm of torque
Driveline: 8 speed ZF automatic with traction control and Sport / Winter setting
Brakes / Suspension: Vented discs all round with self levelling air suspension
Fuel Consumption & CO2: 51.4 mpg (test) & 129G/Km
The Highs: Pretty styling cues – A Brilliant driving experience – Decent overall quality – Good performance – credible economy – Refined – Practical – Soaks up the motorway miles with astonishing ease.
The Lows: CO2 figure could be better – Some attention to detail flaws – Awkward and cheap feeling load cover – Engine is vocal when pushed – Stop start acts too quickly – Drivers door a long reach to close once seated – Care needed when fuelling to avoid wet shoes.