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 Jaguar 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 Jaguar’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 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Estate or Audi 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.