There’s no point wasting too many words, the XF Sportbrake is a truly great car. Made in the UK and developed for the discerning driver who appreciates style with substance, this is a car which radiates coolness rather than brashness. Personally, as a fan of the XF, I find the Sportbrake to be a better all round package than the saloon and its styling looks mouth-wateringly classy without an overpowering status overtone – restrained opulence, if you like.
What we have here is a fire-breathing, petrol-eating, five-door time machine with the same running gear as the high performance 5.0 supercharged F-Type Coupe. For the statistically minded you have a quad-cam V8 power plant that’s supercharged to the tune of a staggering 550Ps and skilfully mated to a ZF 8-speed automatic gearbox. This engine is all about noise and sensation in the F-Type – as we found out, but in this Sportbrake and, indeed the superb XJ-R, the powertrain lives in an ideal home – smooth and refined… for most of the time at least. The RS Sportbrake is a true split personality performance estate, it all gels together and works with an emotional and enjoyable affect.
The clues to its time-warping performance are there to see all round with carbon fibre spoilers front and aft, 20in footprints (295 profile boots on the rear) and brake discs that look as if they could physically stop the world turning. What Jaguar have done (rather tastefully I may add) is to blend the monstrous performance into the pretty bodyshape – it’s all very subtle yet noticeable but not harming the overall package, with the most obvious clue being the dramatically reduced ride height. Gone is the chrome grille which has been substituted with a gloss back item fitted with a discreet “RS” badge.
While on the inside, front seat pilots are treated to a pair of figure-hugging wingback sport seats that even feature pneumatically adjustable side bolsters and “RS” embossments in the leather. Despite these seats being firm on initial first contact with your posterior, the comfort level has not been compromised over the other models. Some long-distance driving found them to be equally as comforting as those of any other Jaguar we have sampled in recent times. They also adjust in every direction – electrically, of course, and feature both heating and cooling functions while being treated to a carbon-fibre effect on the bolsters and door trims.
The 5.0 V8 fires up with a grumble that sounds like a mash-up of God clearing his throat and Brian Blessed yawning – it’s a hell of a sound that turns heads and makes curtains twitch early on a morning. Once the gears have been selected and you trundle away, the noise level in the cabin never gets any louder than a deep rumble – rather like distant thunder on a summer’s evening – the calm before the storm perhaps? For most of the time when driving or cruising the RS behaves like any other premium estate car – all you have to remind you of the potential velocity under the right foot is that aforementioned subtle deep rumble up front. Give it a nudge as it were and press the volume pedal and you get a startling and pronounced reminder of what this car is all about.
That said, if you have little or no experience of high performance, the RS will scare the living daylights out of you. Actually, to use the term high performance is rather underselling the RS package – we are, in reality, looking at genuine supercar levels of speed and ability here. The RS’s sheer performance and the way the car demonstrates its skills is, in all honesty, astonishing. The standard sprint from zero to a mile a minute comes up in a blink over four seconds and the car is electronically limited to a maximum speed just short of 190mph – as I have mentioned earlier, we are talking genuine supercar standards here. In any circumstance, in any gear, at any speed, the power and the ability is there with instant effect as if switching on a light.
Obviously, you have to acclimatise yourself with the car before you press on hard and, once you do for the first time, a lone driver may think or speak the odd four letter expletive. It’s properly entertaining and yet cruises like a limousine at the national limit with just 1400rpm showing on the rev counter. Handling and ride are just as good, too. For sure the RS Sportbrake rides firmly around town and a deep pothole has you joggling around in the seat but, out on the highway, the Jaguar rides with composure and calm. Should you opt for some G-force in the apex, the RS Sportbrake corners flatter than a Riley snooker table with heaps of grip from the nose. Its traditional hydraulic assisted steering rack is high geared for nimble and fast cornering – all you have to be aware of is laying the traction down at the rear.
As expected there is an active electronic limited slip differential, Jaguar’s drive control, sport and winter settings on the gearbox to give a helping hand but tail wagging will and can happen very easily. That said, it’s a very controllable car that’s also laugh-out-loud fun – Jaguar Land Rover chassis designers have certainly earned their Christmas bonus. To get the right balance of ride and handling in a package that has to cater for the family man or press-on-harder kind of driver is incredibly difficult to achieve but Jaguar have managed to pull it off – it really is quite superb.
The gearbox also features a paddle-shift function that blips the throttle on manual down changes – this gives a jolly nice spit, pop and burble from the tailpipes for your extra enjoyment. Manual up changes are rapid and only detectable by the change in engine note but, for most of the time, I was just happy to let the computer-controlled ZF 8-speeder get on and do its thing in fully automatic mode. Wet junctions and damp roundabouts can be entertaining to say the least but I found one way to avoid wheelspin or loss of traction was to engage winter mode. This alters the throttle pedal travel and engages second gear from a standing start – a rather handy function that stops you looking like a berk to lesser vehicle drivers.
However, this impressive showcase of handling, speed, British craftsmanship and performance comes with at a cost. The opening gambit for the Sportbrake RS comes in at £82,495 excluding options. Is that such a price for a well-equipped and classy-looking large estate car which drives like a Jaguar should but with exotic supercar performance? I don’t honestly think so and Jaguar’s recent awards in reliability polls suggest that the car is seemingly built to go the distance. It’s not the most frugal estate car I have experienced either. Average consumption showed the figure in the low 20s, but you know what? I didn’t care a hoot.
When a car rewards you with this level of driver appeal, equipment, style and utterly mind blowing performance, the running costs become academic. However, as the old saying goes, “if you can afford to buy it, you can afford to run it” and, when a vehicle gives you so many smiles per mile, you don’t mind queuing at the fuel station so much.
The full warts and all review can be read by clicking on this link.