Does Jaguar’s XF Sportbrake stand out in today’s SUV-heavy market?

Jaguar XF Sportbrake R-Sport
(Image credit: Jaguar)

The XF Sportbrake is classic Jaguar, a handsome car that looks back as well as forward. The company’s current status is emblematic of the traditional motor industry as a whole; poised on the brink of a technological revolution, yet still bearing a weight of historical assets and brand baggage that must somehow be hauled into the present. As part of JLR, which was founded in 2008, it has frequently been eclipsed by the sales success of its SUV-making sibling. In recent years, however, shifting market priorities, new legislation and a plateauing product strategy have left both brands looking rather listless and vulnerable.

That’s certainly not how you’d describe Jaguar’s cars. The company is justly famed for its uncanny grasp of elegance and poise, and this new estate version of the big XF saloon is no exception. It is handsome without being showy, meticulous, and over-styled. Inside and out, the XF Sportbrake doesn’t put a foot wrong, from the crisp digital dashboard to the (optional) full length glass roof. If we’re being really picky, the petrol engine in this R-Sport model feels a mite underpowered, especially given its 300 PS rating, but there’s also the more raucous Sportbrake S if raw power is what you crave. In all honesty, the R-Sport’s performance is more than ample for these straitened times, and a smooth ride and hushed ambience is far more important. Four wheel drive adds more security and grip, while Jaguar’s test car had a steep £12,500 worth of options to give it an even sportier look.

Jaguar XF Sportbrake boot

(Image credit: Jaguar)

And yet for all its ability and refinement, the XF Sportbrake still finds itself as something of an anachronism in the modern age. An estate car, conventionally powered and styled in the classic manner, is akin to a Georgian house on wheels – much loved by traditionalists, beautiful in form and craft and still held up as a high point in design, yet undeniably a thing of the past. Maybe that’s why the company’s recent focus has been on SUVs, including the E-Pace, F-Pace and all-electric I-Pace crossover (more of which another time), rather than its traditional saloon cars.

Jaguar is poised to make even more changes. Rumour has it that the replacement for its flagship XJ saloon – once deemed the default choice for cabinet ministers – will take a leap forwards and become an all-electric, Tesla-baiting futuristic machine. The burgeoning association between EVs and performance is also expected to impact the future form of company’s dedicated sports cars, currently represented by the F-Type.

Jaguar XF Sportbrake digital dashboard

(Image credit: Jaguar)

But perhaps most importantly, new technology like electric power and semi-autonomous driving will give a brand like Jaguar – and Land Rover too – a chance to break free from the straitjacket of the past. It’s understandable that car companies use nostalgia for commercial purposes and while we’re not accusing Jaguar of all-out retro design, decades of creating sleek, feline sports cars and saloons have left the company somewhat adrift. With the new I-Pace heralded as one of the most credible luxury electric cars ever made, the rest of the company’s line-up looks rather forlorn and bereft of purpose in comparison, even if their aesthetic credentials are unimpeachable. The XF is excellent, but there’s much more to come.

Jaguar XF Sportbrake R-Sport, from £44,700. For more information, visit the Jaguar website

Jonathan Bell has written for Wallpaper* magazine since 1999, covering everything from architecture and transport design to books, tech and graphic design. He is now the magazine’s Transport and Technology Editor. Jonathan has written and edited 15 books, including Concept Car Design, 21st Century House, and The New Modern House. He is also the host of Wallpaper’s first podcast.