Jaguar didn’t offer the previous generation Sportbrake estate in our region, but now the company wants to push into new niches, presenting the updated 2018 XF Sportbrake as a bit of a model line flagship and hoping to attract more Emirati buyers, to mix up the majority-expat buyer base.

The old model was only produced from 2012 to 2015 and Jaguar didn’t even make it available in the US or here in the Middle East. The market for wagons, estates, avants, tourings, or whichever you prefer, has been on the rise and Jaguar’s gap years have allowed the company’s main rivals to take a lead with their own estates (Volvo and Mercedes-Benz even do lifted, all-terrain estates). The Brits are now trying it again saying some people simply don’t want a tall ride height or a high ingress, and the designer of the car, Wayne Burgess, says most Sportbrake buyers will be consumers who are simply bored of the ubiquitous crossover.

Looking at it realistically, these consumers won’t miss much of their old crossover’s practicality if they’d just get down closer to the road a little, and slide into a wagon. These cars have all the space of an SUV, with better looks and better driving dynamics.  

The lower ride height aside, estates offer as much practicality as an average SUV

In fact the company’s own F-Pace SUV only comes with an advantage of 40 litres of cargo volume — the XF Sportbrake has a total capacity figure of 1,700 litres as opposed to the F-Pace’s 1,740 litres. It’s also a car that’s longer and wider than, for example, the new Range Rover Velar. And seeing as it’s based on a saloon, the weight is kept down low too, and Jaguar claims 1,855kg for the top-of-the-line Sportbrake S with all-wheel drive and a six-cylinder engine.

A comparable all-wheel drive Volvo rated at 320 horsepower weighs over 1.9-tonnes, and it can haul just 1,526kg. A Mercedes E400 4Matic, while providing less interior room with a maximum of 1,620 litres, weighs significantly more than the Jag with a figure of 1,950kg. The Audi S4 Avant however is the segment champ when it comes to the scales at least, with a quoted kerb figure of 1,675kg, but it also has way less boot capacity than the Sportbrake.

With a cargo volume of 1,700 litres, the Sportbrake excels in terms of practicality

Jaguar’s second take on the Sportbrake follows the saloon model’s recent facelift, so the design has been brought up to date and passengers now get the benefit of a new-generation infotainment system within a new 10in display. It doesn’t do much to lift the somewhat bland, below average interior with plenty of plastics for company. At least in black, it doesn’t distract, and although the infotainment system gets mixed reviews with lots of hate from some, it worked okay for me. There’s no denying though that with Jaguar’s control and user interface design, it would all be more effective with regular old physical switchgear.

So it has pluses and minuses when it comes to some pragmatic aspects of estate motoring. But the driving experience is all pluses. With a V6 engine and all-wheel drive, the XF Sportbrake S variant is our tester in Portugal where wheels tried the car, and it’s priced at Dh293,900. Thanks to supercharging as opposed to the turbocharging that’s so prevalent across the 
luxury sector, the model is rated at 380bhp and 450Nm of torque, which affords brisk enough acceleration from zero to 100kph, in 5.5 seconds. It’s not a demon off the line, but with a smooth ZF eight-speed automatic transmission that’s in everything these days, the Sportbrake S gets off the line just fine.

Putting out 380bhp and 450Nm of torque, the supercharged V6 helps the Sportbrake dash from zero to 100kph in 5.5 seconds

It’s the corners where it gets better — Jaguar smartly put this international test drive on down the banks of the river Douro heading east from Porto, where the roads are some of the best on the planet. A few years ago actual scientists in lab coats came up with an algorithm that picked route N222 specifically as the best driving road in the world taking into account traffic, variety of corners, elevation and scenery. The geeks didn’t mess it up, because N222 in a Sportbrake S is a memorable countryside romp.

With that weight advantage and an aluminium intensive structure, the Jag is a bit of a drivers’ toy amongst the isolationist luxury cars of today. First there’s the correct driver’s position that’s easy to settle into with enough electrical adjustment all around (including plenty of reach and rake in the steering wheel), and good forward vision with easy-to-place front fenders so you can be precise with this car on the road. The view out is however pretty badly obscured through the tight corners up and down N222 by some big A-pillars.

The wonderfully sorted suspension is the highlight, firm and solid, with an obviously rigid body which must go down for a tap on the backs of some Jag engineers, considering this much car with that big 
a hole for a passenger space can’t have been easy to keep stiff. Over big bumps and some poor surfaces the way the car rebounds and settles down on its suspension tightly, and how secure it feels through fast corners has you creeping closer to some kind of sensible public road limit without any sweaty palms. Through hairpins and slower turns the all-wheel drive system doesn’t make the car chronically understeer or anything either — it just directly goes where you point it, and nor does the direct steering system need much work from your hands. It’s a fun car to get into a rhythm with and enjoy a Friday morning blast in, and there aren’t many family cars I can think of that warrant the ‘fun-to-drive’ description.

It’s not a demon off the line, but with a smooth ZF eight-speed automatic transmission that’s in everything these days, the Sportbrake S gets off the line just fine.

The aging, supercharged V6 engine stood out for me too — there’s a great throttle pedal in the Sportbrake S with nearly instantaneous response. Compared to turbocharged V6s ubiquitous across the industry, the Jag’s blown engine likes to rev and provides a more even spread of power. That means you can drive it on the throttle and that again means it’s fun. The brakes coped with the day well enough, too, considering the downward slopes of some of Douro valley’s roads.

I admit I didn’t think the saloon was this neat to drive but perhaps it’s been a while — with identical dimensions and wheelbase length between the two (although the Sportbrake is taller with its roof rails), the estate is actually heavier by nearly 100kg thanks to a bulky panoramic roof and model-specific air suspension at the rear. However these changes affect the Sportbrake’s weight balance so that it’s now been shifted rearwards, like a mid-engined car, to 47:53 whereas the saloon’s weight balance is 50:50 on the dot. Maybe that goes some way in making it rewarding to drive.

Besides the feel-good factor behind the wheel of the Sportbrake S, you also get estate lifestyle necessities such as a totally flat cargo area with the rear seats split 40:20:40 for that useful middle gap to secure long items. They also fold electrically with switches in the back, and there is a pair of rails on the floor for a range of official cargo accessories. Novelties include a gesture controlled sunblind, so you can open or close it with a wave of your hand.

Where the car falls a bit short is on kit, because the Germans are cramming everything into their offerings even if the headline stuff is usually a cost option. Regardless, I mean, the Jag doesn’t even have night vision, and there aren’t any self-parking gizmos on board either. Jaguar reckons maybe a fifth of XFs sold will be Sportbrakes, if that, but as an exclusive minority this car will represent a dapper flagship. In the end buying the Jag will be an emotional choice, so if you’re at all enticed by the 2018 XF Sportbrake S you shouldn’t be too disappointed.