2018 Jaguar XF Sportbrake Review and First Drive

“Sweet car, bro!”

Momentarily startled out of my red light zone-out, I look to my left to see a car full of young men leaning out the windows of their lowered Ford Focus ST. Each and every one of them is wearing a giant grin on their face as they gesture towards the car I’m driving, thumbs firmly in the air.

The light changes and they speed off into the Florida afternoon. As an automotive journalist, this isn’t a rare experience for me. I get to pilot interesting new cars on a regular basis and have become semi-accustomed to the praise of passersby as they ask questions about whatever I’m driving that day.

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The only thing is, I was driving a station wagon on this particular day.

The 2018 Jaguar XF Sportbrake marks the first time drivers on this side of the Atlantic get to slip behind the wheel of a model that’s been available in Europe for more than five years. The family-friendly version of the XF sedan takes everything that’s good about the mid-size four-door and adds considerable practicality to the mix by way of its larger, enclosed cargo area.

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But that’s really not the entire Sportbrake story, as I would discover again and again during my time spent driving up and down the southeastern coastline between Florida and Georgia with the leaping cat’s latest family cruiser. It seems as though somehow, only a year or so after having joined the SUV party with the F-Pace, Jaguar has managed to make wagons sexy again.

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Long-Deck Dreams

I know what you’re thinking — sexy again? When were wagons ever considered anything other than paragons of soccer practice, the first car you inherited from your parents and couldn’t wait until some combination of corrosion, mechanical entropy, or parking lot carelessness pulled it from your anxiously sweaty teenage hands?

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While the stereotype of wagons as the mere genetic ancestors of minivans (and then, by extension, crossovers) is a popular one, there has always been a segment of the market that takes one look at a long-roof and falls head over heels in love. Witness the lineage of sporting wagons from Audi, Volvo, Mercedes-Benz, and BMW for ample evidence of how devoted patrons of this particular niche happen to be.

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Judging by how many looks, questions, comments, and over-the-transom offers I got during my weekend with the car, the 2018 Jaguar XF Sportbrake has somehow scooped up this steaming pile of wagon lust and run it through the hands of design chief Ian Callum until it has emerged as a fully formed, traffic-stopping bombshell.

Supercharged for Your Pleasure

The 2018 Jaguar XF Sportbrake’s appeal, fortunately, goes deeper than its elegantly sculpted aluminum skin. Positioned as a range-topping option, the Sportbrake can be ordered exclusively as an S model, which means the most powerful version of the automaker’s 3.0-liter supercharged V6 is standard under the hood.

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The unit sends 380 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque to all four wheels by way of its eight-speed automatic transmission, and with my foot to the floor, the Sportbrake felt every bit as authoritative in a straight line as its slightly lighter four-door sibling. While there weren’t all that many twists and turns to be tackled on Florida’s flatness, Georgia provided a few opportunities to test out the wagon’s revised and quite competent suspension tuning, which includes air springs in the rear that will keep the Sportbrake’s attitude level even once you’ve overloaded its near-70 cubic feet of cargo space.

Great Big Back-End

Even with the rear seats occupied by adults, there’s still over 30 cubes of room for stuffing coolers, dogs, pool noodles, small pieces of wicker furniture, and, of course, track day tires (should you decide to push the XF Sportbrake to its limits under safe and controlled conditions). Just make sure that whatever you’re hauling likes the sun, because the car’s full-length glass roof panel brightens up the cabin considerably (and can, of course, be covered when it’s time for doggy siesta).

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The rest of the Jaguar’s cabin is standard-issue XF, which means high-end leather for the seats, soft-touch materials wherever your hands may stray, and the company’s latest infotainment effort, which covers all of the communications, navigation, and stereo system bases one would expect with eye-pleasing graphics. While I wasn’t enamored of the Meridian sound system itself — which I found bass-heavy and difficult to modulate — I did enjoy how comfortable the car was during my all-day road trip.

SUV-You-Later

That the 2018 Jaguar XF Sportbrake drives better than any existing crossover at its price point of $70,450 USD (not currently available in Canada) is not up for debate. With its low-slung center of gravity and respectable supercharged power, it offers a level of engagement with the road that few SUVs can approach, and it does so while delivering similar, if not better, utility than many of its would-be competitors.

Throw in the fact that it’s either more affordable, quicker, or fun from behind the wheel than any of the handful of other luxo-wagons on the market (and that it looks the business while doing it), and the Sportbrake becomes that much more compelling.  Jaguar’s gorgeous recipe for useful luxury has attracted an entirely fresh set of eyes to a brand that is perfectly poised to pull in new blood — or perhaps bleed a few would-be F-Pace buyers from across the showroom.

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