This time round, with Gaydon’s impressive, investment-heavy playbook now on a metronomic footing, it’s two years on the nose. That’s progress. The model is a recognisable descendant of the first generation: still frumpily dubbed Sportbrake because, Jaguar being Jaguar, the car is ostensibly meant to prioritise appearance over practicality.
Is the Sportbrake just a fashion item?
Really, of course, the maker wants it both ways and, thanks to the efforts of the styling department, that’s precisely what it gets. In the flesh, the wagon is a corker.
There’s no special recipe here not already deployed on any number of rivals (the low, raked roofline; the high, chaste shoulder; the wrap-around lines; the tapered bottom), but it all colludes magnificently. And because it better conceals the saloon’s curiously long rear deck, it immediately stakes a credible claim as Jaguar’s best-looking non-sports car.
Gaydon doubtlessly sniffed the lifestyle potential of all this when the Sportbrake was still made of clay; hence those F-Type-cloned rear lights and the chrome exhausts. To their credit, the engineers accommodated all this curviness while still hollowing out a proper rectangular crypt of a boot.
True, there’s barely any more room in there than aboard the saloon – but its sides are so clean that you’ll convince yourself otherwise. And with the seatbacks folded impressively flat (another admirable internal target), the XF apparently boasts one of the longest loadspaces in its class.
As for what’s in the nose of the XF, you have the choice of five engines with most powered by a diesel unit, while the only petrol on offer is a 247bhp, 2.0-litre, four-cylinder affair.
Propping up the range is a 161bhp and 178bhp versions of Jaguar’s 2.0-litre Ingenium unit, with a twin-turbocharged version also available producing 238bhp. Topping the oilburner range is the silky, smooth twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre V6.
As for trims, there five to choose from at launch – Prestige, Portfolio, R-Sport, S and First Edition.
Entry-level models come with 17in alloy wheels, bi-xenon headlights, roof rails, rear self levelling air suspension and powered tailgate as standard on the outside. Inside there is a leather upholstery, heated front seats, carpet mats, rear parking sensors and Jaguar’s InControl infotainment system complete with an 8.0in touchscreen display, sat nav, DAB radio, USB and Bluetooth connectivity, and the ability to create a Wi-Fi hotspot.
Upgrade to Portfolio and the XF is adorned with 18in alloys, a Windsor leather upholstery, veneer dash trim, split rear seats, heated front windscreen, front parking sensors, a rear view camera, keyless entry and a 380W Meridian sound system.
The sportier looking R-Sport models get an aggressively styled bodykit, sports suspension, a dark headlining and gloss black exterior as standard. The range-topping S models get 19in alloys, a beefier body kit, aluminium interior trim and adaptive suspension.
Those looking for a little more exclusivity can opt for the tech-heavy First Edition model.
Getting acquainted to the XF Sportbrake
Inevitably, this all comes at a cost. To you, the buying public, it’ll be a premium of around £2500 over and above the equivalent saloon.
To the car itself, it’s weight. As well as requiring some more bodywork and the extra bracing that goes with it, Jaguar has fitted self-levelling air suspension to the Sportbrake’s shapely rear – meaning that, all told, your extra money pays for around 115kg of surplus bulk.
This slightly unwieldy fact does the latest 237bhp 2.0-litre diesel Ingenium unit no favours at all. Jaguar claims 6.4sec for the AWD version’s 0-60mph time; it feels at least a second slower than that in the real world and hasn’t shaken the slight sense of ponderousness identified during the Range Rover Velar’s road test either.
Combine the Sportbrake’s less-than-spirited overtaking performance with middling refinement under load and the niggle starts to swell ominously. Good job, then, that virtually everything else the car does works like a cold compress on the engine bay’s shortcomings.
The chassis’s benchmark was the saloon’s class-leading dynamic flair and, given the unsettling aspect of air springs and additional ballast, its mimicking of the XF’s trademark handling compromise is highly commendable. Measured against its passively sprung, rear-drive sibling, a modicum of direction-change athleticism has unarguably evaporated, but the wagon feels so assertively poised that it’s barely missed.
Much like the saloon, it’s the extraordinary parity given to sure-footed, super-snug, express-grade progress on the one hand, and free-flowing, B-road-scything responsiveness on the other, that generates a small mountain of driver goodwill.
Marginally softer, stockier and deliberate the estate might be (especially coupled with four-wheel drive), it is the all-court roundedness of the experience that once again ends up being the takeaway sentiment. That it arrives in a package with considerably more rear head room, a bigger, more usable boot, a more desirable design and the uncannily likeable ability to stow a large wardrobe is invariably to the model’s advantage.
Switch out the Ingenium unit for the more forceful oil-burning V6 and, unless you work in Munich, Ingolstadt or Stuttgart, the timely return of the Sportbrake is another Gaydon milestone worth cheering.