Twenty years after Audi recognized that the key to success in the premium market is diversification, Jaguar is finally filling in the gaps of its own lineup. All-wheel-drive versions of the XF and XJ sedans are soon to debut in the U.S., while Europe is about to be seduced by the new 2013 Jaguar XF Sportbrake.
Yes, that would be the British way of saying Jaguar XF wagon. Built to take on the BMW 5 Series Touring and Mercedes E-Class Estate, the Jaguar XF Sportbrake is less of a traditional wagon, and more like a sedan with a twist. At least, that's how Jaguar sees it.
For now it won't be coming to the U.S., but Jaguar's top brass admit that if there's proven demand, it could find its way across the Atlantic. They reckon the Sportbrake's style might just attract those who wouldn't normally lean toward a wagon. If they're right, it might provide a neat stopgap until a Jaguar crossover arrives in a couple of years' time.
A Wagon and a Sedan
According to the exterior designer, Adam Hatton, the XF design was always conceived as both a sedan and a wagon. The Sportbrake is identical to the sedan up to the B-pillar, after which matters get more interesting.
The days are long gone when the rear of a wagon was designed with the help of a setsquare. On modern wagons, a rakish rear profile makes a very different statement even if it does affect the maximum cargo capacity. In Europe, Jaguar expects the Sportbrake to account for 50 percent of sales, and it will be bought by younger go-getters, not just empty nesters.
The rear window line — what designer types call the Daylight Opening (DLO) — tapers to the rear to give the car a more athletic stance, while the gloss black rear pillars echo the XJ sedan. There are LED rear lights, a prominent roof spoiler and a "chrome signature blade" that help to emphasize the car's width.
The 2013 Jaguar XF is one of the few cars that actually looks better after its midlife face-lift than it did at birth. Hatton reckons this was due to the development of lighting technology. The feline headlights were part of the original design concept, but LED lighting hadn't progressed to the point where it could be incorporated on to the 2008 original. Today, almost five years on, the XF looks as fresh as ever and its appeal is enhanced by the Sportbrake.
Old Cabin With New Tricks
While the XF's interior is aging gracefully, the cabin is showing some evidence of the ravages of time. The Jaguar was always one of the smallest of the executive sedans when it was launched, and the problem was exacerbated by the arrival of the 2011 BMW 5 Series and the 2012 Audi A6, both of which feel significantly more spacious inside. The Sportbrake does counter slightly with a 1.9-inch increase in rear headroom (a function of the raised roof line) but although the rear seats are new, the wheelbase is unchanged and rear legroom remains adequate at best.
In common with most of Europe's "lifestyle" wagons, the XF's cargo area is defined more by its versatility than its capacity. With the rear tonneau cover in place, for example, there's no more luggage space (19.4 cubic feet) than you'll find in the sedan, although you can, of course, load the car up to the window line.
To make using those cubes easier, there is a powered tailgate, a load fixing system in the trunk floor, a standard ski hatch and 60/40-split folding seats. Levers located inside the tailgate also fold the rear seats flat in a single movement to liberate a load bay that's 77.6 inches long. Overall, the Jag is competitive with the 5 Series and A6 wagons, but the larger E-Class wagon is a much more effective load-lugger.
The extra mass of the Sportbrake — it's 243 pounds heavier than the equivalent sedan — coupled with the likelihood that the customer will be hauling more kit, prompted Jaguar's engineers to replace the sedan's coil springs with a self-leveling air suspension at the rear. This, they reckon, allows the XF to retain its dynamic repertoire whatever the load. The XF's double-wishbone front suspension remains unchanged.
The XF has always been a fine car to drive, and this has changed little with the arrival of a larger trunk. The steering — so linear and responsive — remains the finest of any executive car and despite the increase in mass, the XF retains a poise and agility that's truly impressive. The ride quality lacks the "flying carpet" feel of Jaguars of old but that's a small price to pay for the increase in composure. It's a fine compromise.
So confident was Jaguar in the Sportbrake's abilities, our time behind the wheel even included track time, both with and without a sizable fridge in the trunk. On the limit, the Sportbrake remains utterly predictable, hanging on tenaciously before giving way to gentle understeer. These dynamics reaffirm once more the validity of a wagon — no crossover or SUV has ever felt this good to drive.
For now at least, Jaguar is attempting to tailor its offerings to suit each market. That's why the Sportbrake is only available with turbodiesel power to suit its Euro-centric customer base.
There are four options to choose from. A pair of four-cylinder, 2.2-liter turbodiesels offer 161 and 197 horsepower respectively, and two versions of the 3.0-liter V6 can be supplied with either 237 or 271 hp. The four-cylinder cars are hardly rapid — the entry-level car takes 10 seconds to sprint from zero to 60 mph — but it's a refined, cost-effective choice in a land where diesel costs more than $9 a gallon.
The V6 diesels are more in keeping with the Sportbrake's dynamic aspirations. The flagship "S" is genuinely rapid. Jaguar says it will sprint from zero to 60 mph in 6.1 seconds while achieving 46.3 mpg on the European cycle. It's a fine engine that, in common with all the Sportbrake models, benefits from ZF's excellent eight-speed automatic.
Will the 2013 Jaguar XF Sportbrake ever come to the U.S.? It's a nice thought, but updating the car to meet U.S. standards would require changes to the roof structure and fenders. For now at least, Jaguar's bosses don't reckon it's a price worth paying, but they admit that the door is always open.
One of the neat things about quickly expanding a range is that so much of it is modular. It wouldn't be so difficult to imagine an all-wheel-drive Sportbrake with a gasoline engine. It's all about demand and building a business case.
For what it's worth, we think such a car might be exactly what Jaguar needs in the U.S. as it seeks to distinguish itself from the Audi-BMW-Mercedes triumvirate. Good-looking, capable, versatile and great to drive, the Sportbrake is everything a Jaguar should be. And everything your average crossover isn't.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.