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Jaguar: XF Sportbrake elevates new wave of wagons

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Body styles in cars are not so different than body styles for people. People come in all sizes from sleek, athletic and lithe to the other side of the spectrum – Sumo wrestler bodies. Taken at face value, a Sumo body might seem overwrought, unless you understood there was real function to the size and shape. Same goes for cars.

The wagon has been on the endangered list for decades since the introduction of the minivan and SUVs, but this year saw the launch of the Buick Regal TourX as well as the Jaguar XF Sportbrake, both wagons, both underappreciated for their high level of function. Wagons get better fuel economy than SUVs, and with almost equal utility – maybe more.

Wagon Returns

The name Sportbrake comes from “shooting brake,” an English term for a horse carriage — and later a car — that carried a hunting party and its gear. It had a long cargo space to provide room for guns, dogs and game, while the passenger compartment carried hunters in comfort.

Based on the Jaguar XF sport sedan, the Sportbrake is 400 pounds heavier and close to a foot longer, which during my test period it seemed to deliver ideal balance between sporty XF expectations, while still providing great cargo space.

This is a modern wagon design that is sleek and athletic looking. One of the biggest pay-offs for this Jag wagon – it does not look like anything else on the road. While the Jaguar signature design cues are there, the familiar cat logo in the grille’s center, the high beltline and the XF’s gorgeous etched hood lines, the real distinguishing characteristic is the quickly sloping roofline that dives into the rear gate after the B-pillar.

Performance

If you want to power up on your new wagon, Jaguar only offers it with one engine selection, but it’s a good one.  A 3.0-liter supercharged V6 is mated to a ZF 8-speed automatic transmission and potent all-wheel-drive system.

Offering 380 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque, this wagon is an impressive player off the line at 0 to 60 mph in about five seconds. Fuel economy (if you are concerned) is 18 city/25 highway.

Driving

My Jaguar XF Sportbrake tester had several drive modes and, unlike other supposed ‘sport’ models, there’s a real noticeable distinction between each setting. The standard setting offers a neutral suspension that’s ideal for getting around town. Dial it up into Dynamic mode and this cat jumps to attention, though you feel every bump in the road.

I really appreciated the dials on the dash that took on a red look as the throttle responds sharply, the shifts become crisp and the exhaust note elevates to a wonderful growl.

Interior

The star of the show for the XF Sportbrake has to be the cargo space. It can accommodate anything a midsize SUV could and with a lot better looks and comfort than most. The liftgate is easily triggered to open on power demand and it closes with equal one-step ease.

Rear seat legroom is tight and feels a little too close for the size of the Sportbrake’s total length, though passengers commented on the comfortable seating in both the front and rear seats. Jumps eats are not available, so a third-row concept is not doable. As far as the interior space, it’s very accommodating and with the huge moon roof filling out most of the ceiling and it opens the space up considerably.

The View

There are a couple sightline issues I encountered, most notably the high rear seat headrests and thicker B and C pillars. The cameras help with this and provide better views than are naturally there to start.

My tester had a base price of $70,450. Once a Tech Package ($3,256), a Driver Assistance Package ($3,495), and a Premium Interior Upgrade Package ($2,860) were added, my wagon landed at a hefty $84,815. This is the most powerful wagon and the most fun to drive on the pavement, though you will have to pay for the high-powered fun.

This auto review was researched and written by SteinPro Content Services and provided to the Sun-Times for publication