It’s unlikely that anyone under the age of 50 has any childhood recollection of taking road trips with family while riding in the back of a thing called a station wagon and asking the eternal question: “Are we there yet?” But once upon a time, the station wagon was a ubiquitous sight in American driveways and on American highways. The enormous things usually had sides clad in tacky 3M wood grain, the perfect accent for ranch-style homes of the ’50s and ’60s. Inspired by authentic Woodies of earlier decades, these kitsch monstrosities are today collected by those with an appreciation for irony and a taste for chrome and vinyl. By the ’70s, the Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser ushered in a more futuristic look, but by the mid-’90s, the last Chevrolet Caprice Wagons gasped into extinction as the wagon was replaced by today’s ever-present SUV.
A few of us weirdos are into ’wagons—not necessarily my grandfather’s Ford Country Squire that used to haul Formica home-entertainment consoles for Frank’s TV Repair, but modern-era performance versions with big engines, sport suspensions, and sleek profiles. Call them four-doors with a dachshund complex. A long, lean fuselage with a carrying capacity and better aerodynamics, balance, and weight distribution than any sedan makes the sport wagon the perfect one-car-fits-all solution for daily driving. Finally, there is an alternative to the few German models that set wagon-lovers’ hearts aflutter. That’s where Jaguar’s XF Sportbrake comes in.
Talk about a good-looking car. I recall a conversation with Jaguar’s design director, Ian Callum, a few years back, who declared himself a committed wagon fan. At the time, Jag did not import wagons to America, but now, the XF Sportbrake is here, brilliantly expanding the Jaguar model offering. Our bright metallic Firenze Red XF Sportbrake S had an aggressive stance with a formal look—sinister but poised and mature. No boy-racer stuff here. Underpinning the taught aluminum body (which contributes to the Sportbrake’s relatively low weight of 4,045 pounds) is an all-wheel-drive platform with rear-leveling air suspension—a nice feature when the rear is loaded with almost 70 cubic feet of heavy stuff through the tailgate’s gaping maw (or, as Jag’s creative marketing literature reminds us, as many as 27,800 golf balls). A roofline as long as the Texas panhandle offers a full-length panoramic glass sunroof and sunblind, creating a sense of air and space for all five occupants, even when closed.
Sportbrake is a clever adaptation of the term “shooting brake”—Brit-speak for what is essentially an upper-crust station wagon. That the XF Sportbrake looks like a sports sedan is no coincidence, since it drives like one, too, with handling dynamics that belie its utilitarian role for transporting m’lady’s equestrian equipment or m’lord’s shotguns and canines. Those handling chops are abetted by permanent all-wheel drive that, in inclement weather conditions, optimizes adhesion on slippery surfaces and makes the XF Sportbrake a very competent handling machine. It’s hard to get the rear end out, though the devil knows we tried.
Power comes on quick enough—but without such an onslaught of excess that a driver feels like it’s taming a lion. Instead, a snappy, supercharged three-liter V-6 engine makes 380 hp at 6,500 rpm with 332 ft lbs of torque at 4,500 rpm. Plenty for anyone but the greediest power fiends, this XF will get to 60 mph in 5.3 seconds and has a limited top speed of 121 mph. Power is laid down seamlessly with an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission. Notably, the center-console-mounted rotary gear selector is a marked improvement from previous generations that turned quick three-point maneuvers into a game of chicken. That being said, the marque’s sweet 575 hp supercharged V-8 engine wouldn’t be the worst thing that could happen to the Sportbrake. C’mon, Jaguar, why should Mercedes-AMG E63 S Wagon owners have all the fun?
Inside, the cabin is just fine, with a nice variety of leather and trims. Not as opulent as the Jaguar XJ, it loses out a bit to cabins that are either more luxurious or sportier; we’d prefer that the XF stake its claim in one camp or the other. All the infotainment and connectivity one can wish for is there; a 10-inch touchscreen becomes the car’s brain, so drivers don’t have to use theirs. Instead, they can revel in the optional Meridian 17-speaker, 825 watt surround-sound system and enjoy the journey. Priced from $70,450, a fully equipped example tips the balance at about $87,000, but it looks and drives like it costs a lot more.