Welcome to Critic's Notebook, a quick and off-the-cuff car review consisting of impressions, jottings, and marginalia regarding whatever The Drive writers happen to be driving. Today's edition: the 2018 Jaguar XF S Sportbrake AWD.
The 2018 Jaguar XF Sportbrake S AWD recently inspired in me an idea for a television show, so I searched, "How to pitch an idea for a TV show" on WikiHow. The first step was to come up with a "what if...?" premise. So here it goes:
"What if I drove around the country, methodically tracking down every single nitwit who insists he simply had to buy a crossover for the unparalleled convenience, even though he totally loves driving or whatever, bombing into his driveway in the JagWagon and rubbing his face in the soft leather seats like a puppy into wetted carpet while screaming, 'See? SEE, YOU DOLT? YOU ARE THE REASON WE CAN'T HAVE NICE THINGS!' as his family wails and his house burns in the background (note: I also burn down his house) until through a combination of financial ruin and abject humiliation he sees the light and reforms himself into a man of taste and sophistication, and thus, eventually, America is saved."
As it turns out, the "what if?" premise is supposed to be succinct—what if we pointed a camera at a bunch of vacuous morons?—and I'm honest enough with myself to know that I could only do five, maybe six seasons of that show before getting bored. But the good news is that the Jaguar XF Sportbrake is an extraordinarily nice thing indeed, and we can have it, assuming we have seventy thousand dollars and change.
- Who knew 380 horsepower was the exact right amount of horsepower? I recently got out of the Porsche Panamera Turbo Sport Turismo, and the rocket shuttle thrust actually felt ludicrous by comparison (and, it should be noted, by design). Instead of the violent, explosive power of large ordinance, tapping the Jag's supercharged, 380-hp V6 creates the inevitable sensation of a plane taking off, pulling the wagon along with an increasingly aggressive whine that builds to a frenzied wail—smooth, linear, fully exhilarating. Power was more than sufficient for all conditions save one, when I stepped on it to keep up with a Dodge Challenger Super Bee going hell for leather when the passing lane opened up on a congested stretch of I-80, when it was straining to keep pace and not quite maintaining. Still, it's remarkably fast and quick.
- Speaking of, I've seen the understated engine note knocked elsewhere, but I disagree with the premise. The sound is subdued but lovely, which about sums up the whole car. I don't need or want a station wagon to sound like a muscle car.
- Apparently I missed a memo, because wagons are a thing again: Aside from the Jag and aforementioned Porsche, there's the lovely new Buick Regal TourX, the stunning Volvo V90 (my vote for prettiest non-exotic car available right now), the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-AMG E 63 wagons, as well as the stalwarts from Audi and VW. (I would say the Northeast corridor is alive with the sound of music at the news, but that whole area has since moved onto pickup trucks.)
- There's ample room up front and in the rear for people-sized people—the seats are firm, which I like but some find uncomfortable after long stretches—and a robust climate-control stack for the rear passengers.
- Loads of room for hauling stuff, as well. On a weekend trip I loaded two people (myself included), a dog, and a whole bunch of stuff: five away bags, a dog bed, a dog crate, a small piece of furniture, two motorcycle helmets, three bags of groceries, and a large stack of blankets between the cargo bay and free space on the rear floor well. There was still room to spare.
- I've always found Jaguar's infotainment interface to be intuitive, and so it was here. The display is not quite as crisp as some of the competition, but you never feel like you're swiping endlessly through sub-menus—nav, radio, climate control, and other commonly-used features are handy, visible, and always available—and the maps are easy to read and well detailed. Address input in the nav menu is a cinch, which is true of very few systems.
- The massive panoramic moonroof—which comes standard—is a lovely touch, as are the soft-close doors (part of the $1,805 Convenience package, which also includes heated and cooled front seats and heated rear seats).
- At 4,350 pounds, it's not a light car, but it spends all of its time dancing—this is a singularly lovely vehicle to drive. It doesn't have the planted, slot-car-tank feel of the Panamera Sport Turismo; instead, it is a pure if modern distillation of that lithe, lightly sprung, dancing-along-the-hedgerows athleticism the Brits do so well when they're at the top of their game. And here, they're at the top of their game: everything is light and subtle and communicative and full of feel. Just wonderful.
- This is a genuinely sexy vehicle nose-to-tail, muscularly proportioned and aggressively handsome from almost every angle. This is the estate car that the Bond family would have kept at Skyfall if they weren't all murdered and such.
- Nothing. Stuck the landing, perfect score! You could make the passenger seats entirely out of creepy doll parts and burnt hair and it would still be my favorite car on the market by a long shot.
- Ah, okay, there are a few gripes, with the somewhat sleepy transmission being chief among them.
- Also, to reiterate, the display quality of the large graphics displays seems mildly outdated (and it is) compared to the most-recent offerings from ze Germans, but the only guarantee about large displays is that they will very quickly look outdated.
The 2018 Jaguar XF S Sportbrake AWD, Ranked:
Hauling People: 5/5
Hauling Stuff: 5/5
Curb Appeal: 5/5
"Wow" Factor: 5/5
The Bottom Line
The Jaguar XF S Sportbrake is an example of a car that is far more than the sum of its parts. The Jag's supercharged V6 is wonderful—breathy and eager—but it isn't the greatest six-cyclinder available; likewise, the infotainment has fallen a half-step behind and the wagon isn't going to win an outright cargo-hauling competition. But it's fiercely competitive across every single category, and is a better, more cohesive and charming final product than anything else I've been in in recent memory: fast, luxurious, elegant, brutally sexy, and sure to be rare. If I could afford a $70,000 station wagon, which I cannot, I would own this car tomorrow; as it is, I'm considering the next best thing, which is to ditch all my friends and family and replace them exclusively with Jaguar XF S Sportbrake owners. I would trust their taste and sophistication implicitly, and they would number few enough for comfort. This is my overall favorite new car, full stop.
The 2018 Jaguar XF S Sportbrake AWD, by the Numbers:
Base Price (as tested, incl. destination): $70,450 ($84,245)
Powertrain: 3.0-liter supercharged V6, 380 horsepower, 332 pound-feet of torque; eight-speed automatic; all-wheel-drive
Fuel Economy: 18 city, 25 highway
Passenger Volume: 98 cu. ft.
Cargo Volume (flat-floor with seats folded down): 32 cu. ft. (70 cu. ft.)
Better overall vehicles on the market: 0