First drive: Jaguar XF Sportbrake
Lovely to look at, brilliantly relaxing to drive and a handy, practical size. A seriously attractive car...
It's an XF estate right?
Well, yes, but a bit more than that. Because it's been styled by a man who knows how to make cars look good, not just... bigger. So the Sportbrake is more in keeping with something like a Mercedes CLS Shooting Brake than the E-class. Practical enough, but with a touch more style than the really boxy estates. Go for the right options and colours and it's a seriously good-looking thing.
So how big is it?
The XF is pretty big, but the interior space sits between the usual German standards. So for example, a Mercedes C-class estate has 1500-litres of loadspace with the seats folded, and an E has nearly 2000, the Jag sits somewhere in the middle at 1675-ish litres. It's a useful size, but feels on the large side. The sloping roof means it's not quite as practical as it might be - there's a whopping blind spot created by the rear-seat headrest and the sloping C-pillar for instance - but you'll get everything you need in there, plus it looks pretty bloomin' brilliant. Subtle but svelte. Have we mentioned we like the way it looks?
So what are we going to get?
There'll be four diesels available from launch, with a 335bhp supercharged V6 petrol arriving later. The diesels come in batches of two, with 163bhp and 200bhp versions of Jag's 2.2-litre four-cylinder, and 240bhp and 271bhp options for the 3.0-litre V6. All versions get an excellent 8-speed automatic, stop/start and self-levelling rear air suspension as standard, as well as an options list long enough to cause a migraine.
Does it drive as good as it looks?
Possibly better than we expected. We've got the higher-power V6 with 271bhp and 600Nm, dripping with decent options, and it's cracking. Refined, quiet - even on these 20-inch wheels - reliably rapid, even if the engine does its best work before 4000rpm. Surf the torque and make use of the brilliant gearbox from the column-mounted paddles and you can make this car hustle at hot-hatch embarrassing pace, even on the lumpiest of B-roads.
So it's a sports car hiding in a big-car body then?
No, not really, and it isn't trying to be. It's just fast without fuss. The engine is all about real-world delivery, which means that while 110kph in 8th gear is a loping 1,500rpm, flatten the throttle and you'll be able to overtake with a minimum ruffling of hair. The same goes for the suspension: the aforementioned 20-inch rims don't even disturb a pillowy ride that still translates into a car that can be fun on a B-road. It might not be as dynamic as a BMW, but it's a better car day-to-day.
So this, or one of the Germans?
Honestly? We think it looks better than the XF saloon and better than the others in the sector. We've only tested the top-spec diesel S so far (so we need to try more variants before we get definitive), but on this outing, we'd be buying British. Feels nice to be able to say that and really mean it.
2,993cc V6 turbodiesel, RWD, 271bhp, 600Nm, 16.2kpl (combined), 163g/km C02, 0-100kph in 6.6 seconds, 250kph (limited top speed), 1,880kg
Lovely to look at, brilliantly relaxing to drive and a handy, practical size. A seriously attractive car from Jaguar. 8/10
A BMW 530d M-Sport Touring is bang on the money and more dynamic, but lacks the super-relaxed atmosphere.