Jaguar XF Sportbrake Diesel S (2013) long-term test review

Published: 30 June 2014

Month eight running a Jaguar XF Sportbrake: CAR magazine's long-term test XF Sportbrake review comes to an end

Testament to the XF’s continuing popularity are the whopping 2870 miles it’s clocked up this month while pounding motorways, helping out on shoots, taking the family on holiday with a boot full of luggage… it hasn’t stopped. Alas, it’s soon to depart, leaving a powerful, capacious, stylish hole in our car park.

But if it’s leaving a hole for us, the Sportbrake filled one for Jaguar, finally bringing an estate to keep the saloon company – albeit with a smaller range of engines: you can fill it with any pump you like, so long as it’s black. That gave me a choice of a 2.2-litre four-cylinder or a pair of 3.0-litre V6 diesels, one with 238bhp and 368lb ft, the other 271bhp and 443lb ft.

I ruled out the four-pot after driving our previous long-term saloon; it wasn’t particularly quick, so giving it 110kg extra to lug about didn’t appeal. I also disliked the way it thrashed up and down its eight ratios, and I thought the ride on passive dampers too lumpy. Both the V6s get active dampers and air springs at the rear and, while the top-spec Diesel S is £6k costlier than the base V6, it promises significantly improved thrust with the exact same 46.3mpg and 163g/km. That’s the car I went for, in mid-spec Premium Luxury trim at £48,610. I added £5k with a Meridian 825w stereo, carbonfibre dash trim, a different design of 20in rims, a rear diffuser, rear window blinds and other fripperies.

I loved the spec, but after placing the order I visited our local dealer and saw a white Sportbrake optioned with the Black Pack. It looked sensational. Argh! Good as Jaguar’s online configurator is, nothing beats seeing an actual car with your spec, but the range of options on offer these days makes that incredibly difficult.

I was very happy driving the XF: I liked the ride, the steering and the performance. Compared with the XF saloon, the Sportbrake felt softer and there was more understeer when I drove it hard – which I rarely did, as the still meaty rear tyres attest. But one thing did bother me: the Sportbrake arrived just before I drove the Range Sport with the same engine. The Sport is heavier and taller than the Sportbrake, and it’s four-wheel drive, but it’s actually better to drive.

The Sportbrake doesn’t boast any more load space with the parcel shelf in place than the saloon, but with the seats down there’s 1675 litres to the saloon’s 963, and I found myself using that capability regularly as I shipped equipment about for my pub band – I added an RGM guard moulding to the top of the bumper to stop it getting scraped.

The XF has typically been run up and down the A1, with regular 12-mile trips to work mixed with longer schleps to Heathrow. It’s sat in stop/start traffic, been constricted to 50mph, but most often it’s wafted along at 80mph. I’ve tried to up the mpg with gentle throttle inputs, but it’s struggled to beat 31mpg. The 400+ mile range has made it easy to live with, though, and it needed just one litre of oil at 10,346 miles.

The biggest black mark came when it keeled over at the side of the road and had to be trailered to the dealer. Marshall Peterborough sorted the fuel pick-up problem quickly and the breakdown happily occurred close to the office in daylight, but it cast an unwelcome sense of uncertainty over the Sportbrake’s reliability.

Really, though, I’d happily keep the Sportbrake for years, and with improvements to the performance, mpg and handling it could be even better.

By Ben Barry 


Month seven running a Jaguar XF Sportbrake: fuel-filler neck clicking noises

The problem with long-term reports is that after you’ve spent the first two months excitedly explaining the spec of your new car and going on about how the thing drives, you settle down into a relationship and do mundane things together. You go shopping, drive to work, leave it in the airport car park. And you think, hmmm, magazine readers don’t want that dreary stuff. They want sensational faults!

Well, readers, you might remember the XF once broke down due to a faulty lift pump in the fuel tank. It was quickly dealt with by Marshall Jaguar, but ever since it’s been plagued by clicky diesel-pump syndrome – the fuel supply is constantly cut off during re-fills. At first I presumed the filling station was to blame, but then the clickiness continued. I didn’t think I could spare the time to go back to the dealer, but then I did a cost/benefit analysis and realised that the hours wasted on forecourts would be more than offset by a cup of tea and some work on my laptop while the fault was remedied.

So I called Melanie at Marshall, who – after all my dithering – was able to suggest a fix over the phone. Something probably triggered the misfuelling prevention flap, she said. You can drop in if you like, but have a look for a yellow pointy thing on top of the battery, remove it, then poke it down the fuel filler neck. That should cure it. It did.

We’re into our final month with the XF, so tune in next time for a warts-and-all re-cap.

By Ben Barry 


Month five running a Jaguar XF Sportbrake: using the Jag to live our very own Tour de France dream

I'm not sure who I felt most sorry for, my 15-year-old son or my brother. My son Seth had to pedal 200 miles in 35 degree heat; my brother Paul had to drive so slowly the tedium was worse than watching granite erode. We were all bound together in a quest to cycle from London to Paris – not on any organised event with other riders, just the three of us. Seth has an epic school trip to Africa coming up in 2014, and has to raise some money – I suggested we do a sponsored bike ride to Paris. My brother kindly offered to drive the support car. Something he probably regretted by Day 3.

CAR’s long-term Jaguar XF Sportbrake was the perfect car for our trip. Jaguar’s been involved with the Sky Tour de France team since 2010, and the XF Sportbrake was there with the victorious Bradley Wiggins last year, and again this summer, as Chris Froome’s official support car. It was a great omen for us: basically – studying the statistics and analysing cause-and-effect – it appears that if you have an XF as a support car you win the Tour de France.

I drove us down to London the night before our ride. I love this XF – it has a great driving position, lovely interior, and our V6 ‘S’, with 443lb ft of torque, is fast and effortless. This car positively wafts along.

The boot isn’t enormous, but we didn’t have much kit: a change of clothes, an electric cold box that plugged into the 12v socket in the boot, and enough painkillers to bring down a woolly mammoth, in case I got so saddle sore I couldn’t pull my lycra shorts up.

The Jaguar XF Sportbrake's boot in maximum-attack mode, with seats folded 

A trickier issue was the bike rack. There are a couple of options on the Sportbrake’s accessory list: there’s a roof-mounted carrier on cross-bars (£237 for the bars, £144 per bike carrier); or there’s a tow-bar mounted carrier that carries up to three bikes (£528 for the tow bar and £482 for a two-bike carrier). We had neither, because I had a cheap universal Halfords bike rack I assumed would fit, and didn’t test until the day. The Sky manager would have been furious at my sloppiness. Anyway, the steep slope of the XF’s rear hatch means the carrier was leaning, which means the bikes were hanging close to the car, rather than dangling out the back. We got it to work, but it wasn’t an ideal solution, and a pedal ended up marking the paint beneath the registration plate. Very annoying.

Still, the ride went well: we set off from St Paul’s early Sunday morning and rode 70 miles south to Newhaven. Next day we caught the ferry to Dieppe, and then followed the ‘Avenue Verte’ cycle path towards Paris, arriving at the Eiffel Tower Wednesday morning. It’s only 200 miles that way – there’s a great online guide to the route on www.donaldhirsch.com/dieppeparis.html if you fancy it.

So Seth completed the journey and raised over £500 for his school trip; my saddle worries evaporated, along with about 200 litres of sweat. In fact, my rear bumper was in better shape than the Jaguar’s by the time we got back. The only one who really suffered was Paul – not that driving an XF Sportbrake is any kind of hardship – just because giving someone a fast, capable car, and then asking them to pootle for 50 miles a day is enough to send anyone stir crazy. When we packed up in Paris and headed back to the UK, we galloped home like a greyhound let off the leash.

By Mark Walton


Month four running a Jaguar XF Sportbrake: The great estate leaves us by the roadside

Last time, we left you on tenterhooks, our art director Andy Franklin broken down at the side of the road, his two-year-old son also on board. He’d been driving along – no, not the two-year-old – in the XF when a warning message suddenly bonged up; within a couple of minutes the XF spluttered to a standstill, luckily in a safe spot in a quiet little village. It was 8.50am.

Andy tried the classic IT trick of turning it off and turning it back on again, only to find that the Jag’s rotary gearstick had sunk back into the centre console, as it always does when the car’s turned off. Problem was, he was in Park and he couldn’t select Neutral to push the XF out of the way.

Andy called Jaguar Roadside Assist, who couldn’t get there until at least 10am, and so sent the AA, who arrived at 9.43am. It was the usual scenario: AA man checked a few obvious things – removed oil filler cap, removed fuel-filler cap, checked underneath for leaks, checked fusebox – and then plugged his laptop into the car, which diagnosed low-fuel pressure. ‘Can’t fix it at the roadside, mate.’

More than two hours passed before the AA tow truck arrived, unscrewed part of the XF’s expensive centre console to get the gear controller in Neutral, then transported the XF to Marshall’s Jaguar in Peterborough.

What was wrong? The supply pipe had come off the lift-pump in the fuel tank, cutting off the diesel supply. No, they said, they’d never had it happen before. Let’s hope it’s a one-off.

By Ben Barry


Month three running a Jaguar XF Sportbrake: Ben tests out the Sportbrake's Dynamic side

Last time I admitted to completely failing to engage the Jag’s Dynamic mode. The thing is, if I’d had the XF for a day I would have put myself into Road-Test mode (little button behind my ear) and tried every function immediately. But knowing the Jag was around for months, I defaulted to Man-On-Street mode (just happens when I wake up): I got in it, drove it home, drove it back, liked it very much. Every now and again it felt a bit soft, but usually I had the kids in the back and they’d already be complaining about having their heads banged against windows and suchlike, so I left Dynamic alone.

Anyway, I pressed the button recently and I like it. It firms up the adaptive dampers, and you can feel that the body no longer rocks side-to-side when you’re driving in a straight line, which translates into a flatter, more composed feeling through corners. It makes the auto gearshifts much more positive too but – and I love this – does it without the overly hyper hunger for revs that you get in Sport transmission modes.

Sadly, the XF broke down at the side of the road shortly after. Art director Andy Franklin was in Dad-To-Nursery mode (insert buckle for screaming) and the XF croaked a warning message before rolling to a standstill. More next time.

By Ben Barry


Month two running a Jaguar XF Sportbrake: why a Range Rover Sport is a better drive

What’s the difference between a Jaguar XF saloon and our long-term XF Sportbrake? I bet most people would guess it comes down to a chunky wodge of extra luggage space and a chunky £2.5k more subtracted from your bank account.

But it’s actually much more than that. The Sportbrake’s extra bodywork piles on an additional 110kg to the scales versus the 1770kg saloon – that’s more than a 6% jump – and it places that all aft of the front seats. The knock-on effects are that the Sportbrake’s centre of gravity is slightly higher than the saloon’s and the bodyshell isn’t quite as stiff either.

All of this has a bearing on how Jaguar tunes the chassis. Engineering guru Mike Cross told me that early Sportbrake test mules were actually XF saloons fitted with 1970s muscle car-like rear spoilers to simulate the extra weight. Which sounds quite cool, actually.

CAR magazine's Jaguar XF Sportbrake: the Diesel S

‘We wanted the Sportbrake to have a similar character to the saloon,’ explains Cross, ‘but we’ve got air springs at the rear [rather than the saloon’s coil springs and dampers] to keep any loads that you might be carrying level, the rear anti-roll bar is a little larger and it probably is a little softer than the XF saloon as a consequence of the changes we’ve made.’

If you’ve spent time in the saloon, the differences between the two models are easy to detect: the Sportbrake feels softer to the benefit of ride quality but rolls significantly more through sharper corners to the detriment of dynamic finesse. Push it very hard and you’ll also notice that the load-lugger understeers far more readily than the saloon. Does this mean I’m enjoying this XF any less? Not at all. It still flows down a twisty road in that effortlessly Jaguar kind of way and, while it does lack the last bit of involvement, it’s still very good at your typical seven- or eight-tenths pace.

And while I’m sure the chassis changes have had an impact on the XF’s delicate steering, to my hands and memory it feels just as satisfying to twirl as the wheel you’ll find in a saloon. Telling too that I haven’t even felt the need to put the Sportbrake in its Dynamic chassis mode yet, which will firm up the XF’s clever adaptive dampers a little more and hopefully make it feel sportier. I know, I should have done. I will do.

Ultimately, though, the heavier, taller, all-wheel drive Range Rover Sport with the same engine feels significantly more dynamic than the Sportbrake. Which is pretty clear evidence that there’s room for improvement, I’d say.

Also this month, I managed to get a back-to-back drive in the XF Sportbrake’s key rival from Stuttgart: the Mercedes CLS350 CDI Shooting Brake. Two things are obvious: the Jag’s ride quality is miles better and the Merc’s engine serves up notably more performance. The XF Sportbrake Diesel S is a quick enough car, no mistake, but all the premium Germans are continuing to make big strides with their powertrains and it’s leaving Jaguar-Land Rover’s engines looking exposed.

All things considered, though, I’m enjoying this car: the refinement, the easy performance, the relaxed ride, the looks, the interior – all are very satisfying.

Really, the only black mark so far is that someone managed to put the rear wheels on the wrong way round back at the Jaguar press garage, so that the directional arrows on the tyre sidewalls were facing backwards. These things do happen, of course, but it must be frustrating for those chassis engineers to hear someone else has messed up all of their hard work.

It’s a bit like when you spend forever crafting a magazine feature, then your witty conclusion gets chopped off during the production process just before you have

By Ben Barry


Month one running a Jaguar XF Sportbrake: the XF wagon makes its first impression

When Jaguar launched the XF back in 2008, there were two major chinks in its armour: no four-cylinder turbodiesel to woo the company fleets, and no estate version either. Late in its life-cycle, those twin flaws are now belatedly eradicated thanks to 2011’s 2.2 TD and the latest addition to the range, the Sportbrake estate, which is available in diesel flavours only.

The Sportbrake offers drop-dead gorgeous looks coupled with 540 litres of luggage space. And that’s, hold on a sec… that’s exactly the same as the saloon. No, the benefits come from the easier loading access, the extra room above the load cover and the 1675 litres of stowage space – vs the saloon’s 963 litres – unlocked by dropping the rear seats. There are side benefits too: because the roofline no longer tapers, there’s much more rear headroom and it’s now possible to load my two kids into their child seats without cracking their heads on the roof.

We’ve previously run the 2.2-litre TD on our fleet, and it was widely liked. Not by me, though, sorry: I didn’t think the passive dampers gave a good enough ride, and I wasn’t keen on the way the four-pot thrashed about while the auto gearbox raced up and down its eight ratios. And that grey leather? About as covetable as a Jim’ll Fix It badge. But a chance to run a Sportbrake? Yes please.
With my four-pot aversion and the fact that the Sportbrake is 110kg porkier than the saloon, I homed in on the pair of 3.0-litre turbodiesel V6s, one with 238bhp and 368lb ft, the other promising 271bhp and 443lb ft. Go on, guess… the fact that the pokier Diesel S still promises the exact same 46.3mpg and 163g/km CO2 swung the deal, though some might find the £6k premium a little steep.

There’s no choice when it comes to suspension: the Sportbrake gets dampers and coil springs up front, but air suspension at the rear – unlike the Diesel S saloons, which get coil springs all round. Crucially – and unlike our old 2.2 TD – the dampers on the Diesel S are also active, computer chips adjusting their characteristics to suit the conditions.

We’ve got the mid-ranking Premium Luxury trim at £48,610 – a £4k premium over plain old Luxury, lesser specs being reserved for the four-cylinder models – and the standard spec is strong with 20in alloys, heated electric mirrors, rear parking sensors, heated screen, xenon lamps, electric tailgate, electric heated and cooled seats, full leather…

We previously tested a similar Sportbrake with black leather, and I thought it looked a little flat. So the red and black leather was my choice. I think it gives the interior a real lift, but a few people have already been a bit snooty; a reminder of why we stay conservative to preserve resale values. I’d love to hear what you think – email CAR@bauermedia.co.uk.

With barely a thousand miles on the clock – and only a tankful under my stewardship – it’s too early to judge the XF. But so far, so good.

By Ben Barry


CAR's Jaguar XF Sportbrake long-termer: the spec

So, here it is then, the upcoming addition to the CAR longterm fleet: ‘my’ Jaguar XF Sportbrake. You can’t get a Sportbrake in the petrol flavours offered in the saloon; instead you’ll choose from a 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel in either 161bhp/295lb ft or 197bhp/295lb ft guises, or a 3.0 TD V6 with either 237bhp/368lb ft or 271bhp/442lb ft.

The Sportbrake is around 110kg heavier than a like-for-like saloon – that’s a lot of extra weight for a four-pot to lug about – and that’s before you’ve exploited that extra load capacity. That’s a long-winded way of saying I’ve been greedy and gone for the top-dog V6 Diesel S, but it still claims the same 46.3mpg and 163g/km as its less punchy brother. You do, however, have to pay £6k more for the top V6 than the base model.

Base SE and Sport trim levels are reserved for four-pots only, so Diesel S Sportbrakes start at £44,360 for Luxury models, rising to £48,610 for Premium Luxury and £51,510 for Portfolio.

I’ve gone for mid-ranking Premium Luxury trim. You get bags of kit, including adaptive dampers, 20-inch alloys, heated/electric door mirrors, heated windscreen, side and rear window privacy glass, electric tailgate, soft-grain leather, electric heated and cooled seats, dual-zone climate control, 380W Meridian sound system, HDD sat-nav, Bluetooth and keyless entry and start. It’s a good spec.

On top of that I’ve added £5k in options, taking the total to £53,956. There’s an upgraded Meridian 825w surround sound system (£990), metallic silver paint (£650), upgraded leather (£1100 – yes, the red and black was my choice and I love it), carbonfibre dash trim (£1000), a different design of 20-inch rims (£400), a rear diffuser (£165), rear side window blinds (£95) and a couple of other bits and bobs.

Check back soon for more updates on CAR Online when the XF Sportbrake arrives to start its life at CAR HQ.

By Ben Barry

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