Stealth Fighter – Driving the Jaguar XF Sportbrake


OK here’s some interesting numbers. 2,000 rpm, 8th gear (yes, 8th), 95 mph, 41mpg.That’s the complete recipe for pan-European progress in the Jaguar XF Sportbrake 3.0 turbo diesel. I’m impressed and the more I drive it, the more I’m smitten. Not just by it’s looks, as I think it’a one of the best looking sports-estate cars out there right now, but by it’s combination of relaxed motorway cruising ability and it’s almost Jeckle and Hyde like ability to transform into a very agile cross country sprinter, all at the push of two buttons. Sit at 95mph, with 2,000 rpm on the tacho and enjoy sports seats built for long thin European people like me, with good under-thigh support and a telescopic adjustable steering column that gives me an almost sports car like driving setup, sitting low in the car, steering wheel rim just below my eye line. I don’t feel like I’m driving a diesel estate car. And believe me, I’m not a diesel fan. I agree with those that describe it as The Fuel of Satan but currently, it’s the European car’s drink of choice whether we like it or not. Hybrid petrol power is coming, is superb in the urban environment and will undoubtedly surpass diesel for high speed motorway use, in my view. But not for a while longer yet.


Turn onto your favourite, bumpy, A Road, push the Dynamic Mode on the suspension. Wrap your fingertips around the steering wheel mounted paddles, click down and ride a torque wave, clicking gear after gear. No need to stretch the engine, you can make indecent progress shifting at less than 3,000. Hang on further, though and that flat, flat toque curve just continues onwards, progress becomes seriously quick until just under 4,000 rpm. You forget its a diesel estate and initially tend to rev onwards, but there’s no need. Better clicking the paddles upwards, all the while the dynamic damping absorbing bumps and undulations that have sent other cars I can recall leaping skywards, making our progress rather too adventurous. Hard on the brakes over bumps, the car’s rock solid stable, none of the anteater darting about that you often get with big tyre footprints, crisp downshifts on the paddles. Carry some brake into the corner, the nose turns in super-crisp, no indecisiveness, nicely neutral, then drive it out the Sportbrake going neutral and then to gentle oversteer if the stability is disengaged and you insist. I’d head elsewhere that the Sportbrake was more prone to understeer than the standard XF, but I only found that when too early with the power in tight, greasy corners. In the faster stuff, brake confidently, deeply into the bend and the front end bites very positively.

It’s not the biggest of the luxury diesel estates out there. Mercedes E Class is the comfortable winner there. But for sure, it’s comparable with the Audi A6 Avant in terms of rear load space and rear seat legroom. Other very useful touches include remote releases to drop down the rear seats without having to trot around to each side door, a rather clever track system built into the floor that comes with an easily adjustable and yet secure rail for stopping everything from tumbling about when you start making that indecently fast progress down that A Road.

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I hadn’t expected to like the eight speed gearbox. It just sounds like a recipe for muddled gears and sitting waiting that annoying moment for it to shift down on corner exits. But nothing is further from the truth. Approaching corners, you feel it downshifting ready for the exit, a glance at the revs shows that you’re right on the edge of peak torque, ready to go. By all means use the paddles for entertainment and engagement, but I never felt the car unable to make the right decision at the right time in all the time I was driving. The further, remarkable, characteristic of the eight speed ‘box it the way it coasts off-throttle. See the brake lights coming on ahead, roll off the power…. and it doesn’t really slow down that much. It simply rolls along in that tall eight gear, hardly shedding speed at all.

[quote]I hadn’t expected to like the eight speed gearbox.[/quote]


Bad points? At rest, there was significantly more diesel noise than I was expecting. Using the Stop Start function actually made the feeling worse, as each time it cracked back into life, there was that typical asthmatic diesel starter cranking noise and the car rocked under the compression. It’s got some way to go to reach the seamless integration of a Lexus hybrid Drive. Fuel consumption? We achieved a high of 44 mpg and a one-timelow of 31mpg under hard charging down my favourite A Road, giving an overall 39 mpg in the Sportbrake’s time with us, ranging from A Road blasting and high speed motorway cruising to stop-start udrban crawls. Not too bad and even five years ago, that would be commendable. Today, there are others offering better figures, if that’s important to you. For me, that was more than acceptable, especially given the driving regime. But where the Sportbrake scores is in driver engagement and chassis ride / damping combination. Just like our time with the XKR-S, I was constantly surprised at just how agile this car is, thanks to the work of Jaguar’s chassis and suspension engineers.

For sure, I’d love it to make the same pop and crackle as the XKR-S, have the same stupendous midrange and V8 howl when charging on, but as a compromise of load carrier, fast motorway driver, A Road blaster, plus of course very cool looks, then this is a very good combination indeed.

Diesel is still the fuel of Satan in my book. I’ll never truly love it. But if I can have 40 mpg, great mid-range torque, great handling and very decent luggage carrying capability in a sharp looking estate car, then I can live with smelly hands and a bit of devil worship at the pumps. For sure, these days there are plenty of indecently quick turbo diesels out there. But for me, none give the unique combination of cool looks, Jaguar style, sharp handling and smoothly styled interior. I’d liked to have tried towing with the Sportbrake, just to investigate that torque and rear end ride levelling. Can’t help but think it would look pretty cool driving down through France with a racing E Type strapped down behind.

[quote]Can’t help but think it would look pretty cool driving down through France with a racing E Type strapped down behind.[/quote]








Model Driven XF Sportbrake Diesel S Portfolio £51,510 (With options £55,823)

Indigo Metallic Exterior Colour (no cost)
• Jet Grey Trim Colour (no cost)
• Blind Spot Monitor (£460)
• Xenon Headlamps with Adaptive Front Lighting, Cornering Lamps
and Automatic Levelling (£450)
• Ski Hatch (£260)
Jaguar VoiceTM (£450)
• 19-inch Alloy Space Saver (£150)
• Adaptive Cruise Control ACC (£1,275)
• Detachable Tow Bar (£528)
• Heated Leather Steering Wheel (£240)
• Front Parking Aid and Rear Camera (£500)

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Author: Neill Watson

If you love the sound of the Cosworth V8 as much as the V12 Merlin, the smell of Jet A1 as much as Castrol R and admire the late Ray Hanna as much as Sir Stirling, you’ll find you’re both on the same page. Neill's love of art deco buildings means that his ideal home would be a brilliant white, 1930′s control tower in Southern France, with crisply mown grass, biplane parked on the driveway and a Ferrari 288GTO in the garage. This is something that those around him tolerate, though it does concern them from time to time.

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