With air suspension at the rear axle and a slightly greater concentration of mass above it, the Sportbrake was unlikely to equal the handling flair of the XF saloon, but it remains a dynamic benchmark among its estate-bodied peers.
There’s a surprising and wonderful fluidity to the manner in which it sets itself through corners, and conspicuously good handling balance combines with high grip levels and almost unbreakable four-wheel-drive traction to deliver cross-country pace that belies the car’s dimensions. There’s another element at play in defining the car’s distinguishing handling appeal, though: confidence.
The XF’s steering set-up is surely the best in this class for feel, natural weight and well-judged gearing. At 2.6 turns lock-to-lock it is quick but also precise, and with the weight of two cylinders taken out of the engine bay, the Sportbrake scythes into corners with a genuinely satisfying shortfall of inertia. We concede this is not the most effortless of steering systems to use, and corrugations and depressions in the surfaces of minor British roads can on occasion deflect the front axle. For many, though, that will be a reasonable price to pay for a set-up that leaves an E-Class Estate or A6 Avant feeling wholly inert.
The XF’s lowered sports suspension is an equally impressive feat of tuning. It deftly resists crashing into its bump-stops even when the Sportbrake is driven in a manner unbecoming of a family car. Certainly there is an edge to the ride, although for a passive set-up it strikes an excellent balance between body control and impact absorption, while handling is engaging at all times. So engaging, in fact, that with the assurance from the steering and brakes, you might be lured into teasing the Sportbrake into a little positive attitude through slower corners.
That such temptation exists speaks volumes of the dynamic flair of the XF; that this Jaguar will indulge you, even in four-wheel drive form and midway through its life, cements its place as the class’s handling benchmark.
The snaking Tarmac of Millbrook’s Hill Route served to shine a light on just how good a job Jaguar’s dynamics engineers have done of making the XF Sportbrake handle like a proper sports estate should.
Despite its reasonably large footprint, the XF still felt impressively lithe and athletic. Directional changes were delivered in a much more expressive and enthusiastic fashion than is the norm for the class – a trait no doubt aided by linear steering response and a helm that doesn’t dial in an artificial amount of weight when Sport mode is selected.