Jaguar's XFR-S Sportbrake offers a convincing alternative to the usual crop of German ??berwagens. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The 550PS XFR-S Sportbrake delivers an emphatic response to those who hankered after a fast Jaguar estate. It's charismatic, good-looking and the dynamics are well-sorted. It has some serious rivals to face down but it offers a very different take to vehicles from Audi and Mercedes.
Jaguar doesn't have a particularly compelling history of estate cars. Most of you will remember, probably without a great degree of fondness, the X-TYPE estate; a Ford Mondeo that had raided the Jaguar dressing-up box. Those with longer memories may recall what might have been with the Lynx Eventer, a surprisingly elegant aftermarket take on a Jaguar XJS shooting brake. Looking to make up for lost time, Jaguar came good with the XF Sportbrake. What we've never had up until now was a hot version of this car, which was odd given a). how the XF saloon had so quickly sprouted an XFR sports version and b). how vibrant the market was for the German alternatives, cars like the Audi RS6 and AMG versions of various Mercedes estates. Again, Jaguar has arrived a day late but hardly a dollar short with this model, the XFR-S Sportbrake. With 550PS to call upon, it's a car not shy of expressing its opinion.
Mechanically identical to the extrovert XFR-S saloon that we tried and loved, the Sportbrake gets a supercharged 5.0-litre V8 with heroic amounts of torque plumbed beneath its bonnet. The torque response of this engine is quite incredible, generating its full quota of 680Nm from just 2,500rpm and holding it there until the eight-speed Quickshift transmission plugs you in for another draft at it. The transmission is smart enough to recognise when you're pitching the car into a corner or overtaking, holding gears where necessary. It adapts to more aggressive driving styles and throws in some outrageous throttle blips on downshifts. As a result, the XFR-S Sportbrake is searingly quick. Even without the Audi RS6's traction advantage of all-wheel drive, it'll still rocket to 62mph from rest in just 4.8 seconds and keep going to 186mph - or 300km/h if you prefer. The main challenge in the development of the XFR-S Sportbrake was to manage the extra rear mass of the car while retaining the sharp turn-in and response of its saloon cousin. In order to achieve this, Jaguar engineers tuned the XFR-S Sportbrake's rear active suspension to cope with the extra weight of the car's increased rear mass, with the dampers and springs adjusted to match the mass distribution of the car. The anti-roll bars have been changed and the rear axle has been modified, while the brakes have been uprated. The 380mm front and 376mm rear discs are internally ventilated for assured repeated stopping power and on XFR-S, benefit from additional cooling provided by under-body air channelling. The electronic control systems have been uprated to match, with the adaptive damping system tweaked so that the damper rates are comparatively even firmer when switched into Dynamic mode. The throttle responses have been sharpened, the rear diff beefed up to cope with all that torque and the stability control system has been reconfigured to allow more yaw angle before it intervenes.
Design and Build
If you found the styling treatment of the XFR-S saloon a little outre for your tastes, the Sportwagon might prove a little more discreet. You'll need to steer clear of the lairier colours, but finished in a darker paint finish like Ultimate Black or Stratus Grey, there's a nice blend of muscularity and purpose here. There's a set of forged 20-inch Varuna alloy wheels, which can also be specified in gloss black or technical grey finishes. There's also a revised front bumper with carbon fibre splitter, a carbon fibre rear diffuser, unique R-S extended side sills, a performance exhaust and LED daytime running lights. The interior features charcoal leather trim on the seats and doors, contrasting with carbon effect leather used on the seat bolsters and arm rests reflecting the use of exotic carbon fibre on the aerodynamic elements of the car. The seats themselves are embossed with the R-S logo and can be finished with a choice of contrast colour micro-piping and stitching in either red, blue or ivory. This detail runs across the top of the dashboard, the fascia of which is finished in a Dark Aluminium unique to the R-S, complete with badging. At almost two metres in length and over a metre in width at its narrowest point, the Sportbrake's load space features 1,675-litres of volume capacity when all the seats are folded down and 550-litres with the rear seats in place. You also get under floor stowage, a 60:40 split rear seat and a remote release.
Market and Model
The asking price of around £82,500 puts the XFR-S Sportbrake between its two key rivals, the Mercedes-Benz CLS63 AMG Shooting Brake and the Audi RS6 Avant: which seems about right, value-wise. Clearly a good deal of that sum is accounted for by the dynamic excellence of the XFR-S. You're getting a lot of engine and the fruits of one of the best chassis development teams in the business. The interior is well finished with soft leathers and technical finishes but the XF cabin is just starting to feel a bit old compared with its German rivals. Some recompense comes in the shape of one of the finest standard-fit stereo systems anywhere in the car industry. The Meridian 825 watt Surround Sound System features no less than 17 loudspeakers (including a subwoofer). The system features Meridian's proprietary Trifield System that places every occupant at the centre of their own perfectly focused surround-sound area. Other standard equipment includes cruise control with Automatic Speed Limiter (ASL), a rear parking aid with visual guidance, rain sensing wipers, the Jaguar Smart Key System with keyless entry and start, suedecloth headlining, automatic climate control, Bluetooth and a 7-inch colour touch-screen.
Cost of Ownership
Jaguar have worked hard to improve the economy and lower the emissions of the XFR-S but there's only so much they can do with a two-tonne car powered by a five-litre supercharged petrol engine. On the simulated lab test that dictates the NEDC combined economy rating, the XFR-S Sportbrake will achieve 22.2mpg. That's a long way down on its key rivals and if you can routinely achieve that figure in day to day driving, you've probably wasted your money and should have gone for a Prius instead. The 297g/km emissions figure lands you predictably in the top tax banding. You also get to pay group 50E insurance, so you'll need to do a bit of hunting for the best quote as premiums will vary widely between companies. A specialist broker might be your best bet here. Use the car as designed and you might well get very well acquainted with the cheapest source for those 295/30/20 rear Pirellis.
Viewed in isolation, it's hard not to be sold on the Jaguar XFR-S Sportbrake. It's hugely quick, extremely well finished, handles well, looks great and has genuine charisma. This car's problem is that at some point while assessing its talents an awkward question will form in your mind. Does this car do anything better than an Audi RS6? The Jaguar is more expensive, less well equipped, thirstier, slower, will cost more to tax, hold less luggage and will likely depreciate more sharply. Its interior isn't as slick as the car from Ingolstadt and its basic engine architecture nowhere near as modern. Plus of course, unlike the Audi, it's only 2WD. Logically then, the RS6 is a better buy. The thing is, do we buy cars in this price bracket based purely on logic? No. We buy them for the way they make us feel and the XFR-S Sportbrake feels utterly different to an Audi or a Mercedes-Benz and will therefore appeal to a different subset of buyers. To choose one is to accept its shortcomings and to revel in its undoubted brilliance. There's still room at the top table for this one.