Head over heels with a big cat

XF Sportbrake 1

Out and about in an XF Sportbrake

Aaaahhh, Jaguar.

I have loved this marque since I was a child (a long time ago). I don’t remember how or why I fell in love but I must have seen one on TV. We certainly didn’t move in the circles where people owned them.

Before you ask, no, it wasn’t the Mark II Jaguar Inspector Morse drove. It probably was that model, but we are talking long before that series was made.

Years after the passion was first awakened, a friend turned up in our driveway with his ‘brand-new’, pre-loved E-Type. Which he let me drive. With one instruction.

“I’ve disconnected the speedometer, so when the power poles start looking like the pickets in a fence, you are going too fast.”

With that, he curled up in the passenger seat to sleep, letting me loose with the beast for the six hours it took to reach our destination. I confess to a couple of white picket moments, but mostly, mostly I was good. And I was completely, totally, irrevocably besotted.

Since then, I have not set eyes on one of the big cats without going slightly weak at the knees, so when the nice man from Jaguar offers me a week in the 2018 XF Sportbrake V6 turbo diesel, there is no chance I will refuse.

Cards on the table. I have to admit, the idea of a Jaguar-plus-wagon is a bit difficult to deal with…until I put my foot down as I leave the dealership. A flashback to those white picket moments, and from that second on, I don’t care about what is going on at the rear. It is all about that Jaguar grace and the grunt!

The week goes far too fast, but I discover the XF Sportbrake is an easy car to live with. It doesn’t happen often but some cars just fit like a glove and this is one of them. From the moment I slip behind the wheel, I feel at home.

Creature comforts

The driver seat feels as if it is tailor-made. Obviously it hasn’t been, but that is the sensation. Just a smidge of adjustment (plenty of possibilities on offer) to suit my driving style and I’m set – and everything else in the cockpit seems so close to hand.

While I like a classic car to look and feel classic, I won’t turn my nose up at modern conveniences, especially if they are intuitive and easy to operate, which is certainly the case with the Jag’s sat nav and information/entertainment panel. The controls are sensibly sized too – I really dislike cars where I need to put on my glasses and use a sharpened pencil to select the button I need.

Need space? Obviously a Sportbrake, by design, offers heaps. I’m not a golfer but I could be, with this much boot storage on offer. Certainly enough for a family weekend away, and if I need more, I discover the rear seats fold down, and really, truly flat.

XF Sportbrake 7

You expect a car like this to have all the bells and whistles and the Sportbrake is no surprise. There is a long list of standard features and optional extras, with the test car ticking pretty much every box on the specification sheet.

Particular favourites include the eight-speed auto transmission (with gearshift paddles to drive the fun stuff like a manual), the head-up display for keeping an eye on my speed (NSW police do not like drivers having white picket moments), and the 360-degree surround camera parking system. Even though I pride myself on my reverse parking using my mirrors, it’s nice to have ‘back-up’ now I’m a wee bit older! Controlling the roof blind and tailgate by hand gesture is a bit of fun.

So much fun

Despite its racer-bred pedigree, the Sportbrake proves to be a delight around the suburbs, pottering around like a vehicle a third of its size, but it is on the open highway and – surprisingly – in the tight and twisty stuff, where it really shines.

It fairly lopes along the freeway, much like its namesake, but it is more fun than I am expecting in the hills where you would expect an AWD pocket rocket to be at its best. No matter where you are, this beast is smooth, quiet, precise and quick – and easily the silkiest, most refined diesel I have ever driven.

The suspension is nicely firm but not harsh, so a full day in the driver’s seat is a pleasure rather than requiring post-drive chiropractic attention. And the steering, what a joy! Turn the wheel and you are heading exactly where you want to go. Ride and handling are nothing short of superb.

XF Sportbrake 4

As to design, while I struggled with the concept of a Jaguar wagon before I saw it, seeing is believing. All credit to the design team, because the lines of this car are lovely. The wagon rear is not tacked on as an after-thought, as seems to have happened with some of its rivals. Rather, it is the perfect finish to its swoopy, fast-looking front end. In fact, though it might sound surprising, I like the wagon variant as much as the sedan. And that is a big statement. (Interestingly, I have since discovered the wagon variant came before the sedan.)

Inevitably, in what seemed like only moments since I had collected the car, it is time to return it. A friend comes with me.

“Do we have to?” she asks, as our destination loomed. “Can’t we just keep on driving?”

Oh, how I want to do just that.

 

Summary: sporty, practical, well-sorted, and gorgeous.

Car info:

Engine – 2993cc V6 turbocharged diesel

Maximum power – 221kW @ 4000rpm

Maximum torque – 700Nm @ 2000rpm

Price (as tested, in Australia, as of March 2018) – around $155,000 plus on-road costs.

XF Sportbrake 5

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