Ollie Marriage03 March 2014

First drive: Jaguar XFR-S Sportbrake

Is Jag’s super-estate a worthy rival to Audi’s RS6 and Merc’s E63? Ollie Marriage reports

What is it?
As we reported recently, Jaguar wants a piece of the super-estate market dominated by the Audi RS6 Avant and Mercedes E63. To that end it has bolted a Sportbrake body onto the XFR-S underpinnings. Lifestyle and speed in one handy package, that's the pitch.

Same basic power and torque figures as the saloon?
Absolutely, but to save you looking those up, the 5.0-litre supercharged V8 develops 542bhp and 501lb ft of torque. This is all sent to the rear wheels via ZF's rather excellent eight speed automatic gearbox. Before getting that far, the power is directed through an electronically controlled mechanical differential, because, y'know, traction.

Surely they must have done some suspension fiddling too?
They have indeed. The extra weight of the Sportbrake bodyshell meant the rear springs and dampers have a bespoke tune and aren't just carried straight over from the saloon. The rear axle is also changed, and there's a new anti-roll bar. Compared to the regular estate the bushes are also stiffer. This is entirely as you would expect. Tech-wise, not a lot else has changed from the saloon. It has continuously variable dampers, 380mm front and 376mm rear brakes, and lateral stiffness is up 30 per cent.

You've forgotten to mention how fast it goes...
Ah yes. 0-62mph in 4.8 seconds, limited to 186mph. The latter is plenty quick enough, the former isn't that speedy for a car with this much power. Both the E63 and RS6 do the same sprint in close to four seconds flat. Off the line the Jag is a fraction slower to wake up, but once up and running I'm pretty sure it can hold its own. However, effective though the supercharger is, the top end power delivery isn't as savage and exciting here as it is in either the RS6 or E63. It majors on low down torque, with all 501lb ft available from 2500rpm.

So, what does this all add up to?
Hard to say at the moment. TG got to drive one for about 15 minutes. Around Geneva. We went up a hill, through some suburbs and along the side of the lake. That was it. It was also a prototype car, so not fully representative of production models. However, rather handily we brought a rival out here, driving down from the UK in our long-term Audi RS6. What we can tell you is that compared to the Audi, the Jaguar has much nicer and more natural feeling steering and feels a bit more nimble. The Audi fights back with a mighty, mighty engine, the security and traction of 4WD and an interior that makes the Jag's look as old as it is now.

It's not the prettiest Jag, is it?
Blame the wheels. The 20-inch Varuna alloys aren't exactly subtle and when combined with bright paint do nothing for the XF Sportbrake's classy lines. This could be a stunning stealthy estate if specced properly. Even then, it would be hard to escape the feeling that time is catching up with the XF inside. Sure, the vents still rotate open, the rotary gearknob pops up and there's a reasonable amount of well thought-out stowage about the place. But it's not enough any more. The cabin fundamentals date back to 2008.

What about boot space?
It's fine. Not class-leading, but 1,675 litres of volume with the seats folded is adequate, and means the XF is up to most family tasks. If it doesn't fit in here, try an E63 wagon. Those are enormous in the back.

You can have a 4WD E63 now, can't you?
Only on the continent at the moment, but I doubt it'll be long before Merc realizes that distributing that torque across four wheels makes perfect sense in the UK too. Will Jaguar follow suit eventually? That's the big question. It has built 4WD XJs and XFs for foreign markets, but Jag doesn't seem to think the combination of 4WD and R badging is the way to go at the moment. It seems to like holding on to the purity of rear-wheel drive more than most other brands.

So, to sum up?
The XFR-S Sportbrake drives very nicely, but it looks a bit overblown. From first impressions, we'd like the exhaust to be a bit rowdier and the engine to be even naughtier in its delivery. It's almost too well mannered. Prices start at £82,495, and with a combined economy figure of 22.2mpg and a hefty 297g/km CO2 impact, running costs are on the high side. Like the XFR-Ssaloon, I think this is more about brand building for Jaguar. It wants the Sportbrake to be seen as a lifestyle estate, and this gives that claim a bit more kudos.

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