OK, two questions may come to mind. First, who still wants a station wagon these days? And, what the heck is a Sportbrake?
While most folks have moved on to crossovers and SUVs, it seems Jaguar and others have found some folks still like the wagon concept. The British carmaker's XF Sportbrake is for those who want the comfort, style and supercharged performance of a sedan, plus cargo-carrying capability that rivals some SUVs. And, hey, the low-slung wagon offers easier access for the kids and dogs, too.
The Sportbrake is the first wagon for Jaguar since the X-Type Sportwagon, which was halted in 2009 after a five-year run. The odd name? It stems from the old English "shooting brake," a carriage or car that hauled hunters and their gear. Go figure.
Surely this Sportbrake bears no resemblance to yesteryear's Sportbrake or station wagon. It's way cooler and will turn heads with its rounded edges, sleek profile and long barrel snout. At the rear, distinctive wraparound LED taillights.
The wagon is based on the XF midsize luxury sedan, has the same wheelbase but is about 10 inches longer and 400 pounds heavier. The U.S. only gets one trim level for now, but it's the well-equipped, supercharged S version.
It gets the same powerplant as the XF sedan, a 3.0-liter V-6 engine good for 380 hp and 332 pound-feet of torque. An innovative all-wheel-drive system is standard, along with an 8-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters for those who like more control.
Sportbrake launches with authority and gets up to 60 mph in 5.3 seconds, competitive but a couple of tenths slower than the slightly lighter sedan. On the highway it's smooth and quiet, with strong midrange torque for the passing lane.
It stays flat enough on corners and grips the road confidently, likely benefiting from its 50-50 weight balance and adaptive suspension that adjusts to your driving style. For crisper performance, you'll want to flip to Dynamic mode: Suspension stiffens, steering gets more precise, and the throttle and shifter responses quicken. On the dash, dials brighten to set the sportier mood.
Fuel economy isn't bad, considering the herd of horses, at 18 mpg city, 25 highway, for a combined average in the low 20s.
Active types, however, may be more interested in how the wagon performs as a utilitarian vehicle. While it drives like a sedan, it has the cargo space of some premium SUVs: 37 cubic feet in the rear, 70 cubes with the rear seats folded down. And, the roof can accommodate 220 pounds, plenty strong enough for surfboards, kayaks or camping rear.
An activity key, a rubber-like bracelet that can lock and unlock the car, means there's no need to take the key fob onto the beach. The tailgate also has a gesture-control feature.
Inside is all the comfort and niceties of the XF sedan, with supportive seats wrapped in two-tone leather. Rear seats are heated, too, and offer enough room for adults. Overhead is a full-length glass-panel sunroof.
Jaguar's new and improved infotainment system has a standard 8-inch or optional 10-inch screen. It's markedly better than Jag's older system, with better graphics, though still not the easiest on the market to navigate through.
As for driver visibility, some neck stretching is required due to thick A and B pillars and a steeply raked rear windshield. On the plus side, plenty of active safety features help out, like blind-spot monitor, lane departure warning with lane-keep assist, parking assist plus automatic emergency braking.
Price as tested: $84,100 (includes $3,000 technology package; $3,500 driver assist package; $2,800 premium interior upgrade.
While wagons won't rival SUV and crossover sales anytime soon, it's easy to see they do fill a niche market. The Sportbrake, along with foes like Mercedes E400 wagon and Volvo XC90, should top your shopping list.