To what end? In short, a welcome reminder that an AWD Jaguar station wagon is a classy way to offer snowbelt drivers a practical, all-weather performance car with a twist: It isn’t an SUV. The drive up to the ski resort of La Plagne is a chance for the XF Sportbrake to expose the myth you need a high-riding vehicle for life in the mountains.
On the freeway from the airport, the Sportbrake amply demonstrates that it is a lovely thing to be in. Sleek, low-slung and effortlessly sexy in that traditional Jaguar fashion, the XF arguably looks better as a wagon than it does a sedan. For 2019, the Sportbrake range has expanded, with the 296 horsepower 30t Ingenium gasoline motor joining the existing 380 horsepower V6 S and providing the option to downsize without sacrificing too much performance. It’s a tad gruff, but still packs 295 pound feet of torque to the V6’s 332 pound feet while 0-60 in 5.7 seconds is only four-tenths slower. It’s perhaps not decisive, but the official highway mileage improves from 25 mpg to 28 mpg. Its starting price of $64,575 saves a fair chunk of cash compared to a $71,215 V6 S, but the Sportbrake is still $10,000 more than an F-Pace with the same engine and equivalent Prestige spec.
The 2019 updates also include a standard 10-inch touchscreen-controlled InControl Touch Pro system in the center console and, on our test car, the $945 Technology Package with the configurable 12.3-inch TFT instrument binnacle. For the Sportbrake, the 30t model is available exclusively in Prestige trim, meaning Navigation Pro, associated Pro Services and 4G Wi-Fi Hotspot are standard; Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available via the $300 Smartphone Pack. Compared with the haptic displays offered in recent Land Rover products and the widescreen options in rivals like the equivalently priced Mercedes E450 4Matic wagon, the XF’s tech integration still looks somewhat old-school.
But its dynamics are anything but. If nothing else, the Sportbrake exposes the compromises required to make SUVs and crossovers handle in a sporting fashion. Because it sits low to the ground, there’s no need for rock-hard suspension to restrain the body through turns or over rough surfaces. And because it weighs less — at least 130 pounds less than an equivalent F-Pace — the suspension can be tuned for fluency and comfort as well as composure.
The road up to our resort is a combination of hairpin bends and fast straights, the surface pitted and bumpy with everything from bone-dry pavement to slush, snow and ice. Even with the chassis in its Dynamic Mode (available as part of the $1,020 Adaptive Dynamics package) and on optional 20-inch wheels, the suspension is comfortable and confidence-inspiring, its composure in transient, mid-bump situations a contrast with the locked-down sensation favored by the Germans. This is especially impressive considering the Sportbrake rides on coil springs up front and air springs on the rear.
This is a practical station wagon, but the XF carves corners with sports car enthusiasm, the steering fast, accurate and beautifully weighted. With less weight on the nose than the V6 version, the Ingenium-engined Sportbrake turns in smartly, a benefit also seen on the four-cylinder F-Type. This absence of understeer encourages deliberately provocative mid-corner throttle inputs to see how the chassis reacts. The answer: steadfast neutrality combining a delightful rear-driven balance with just enough all-wheel drive traction to pull you through, whatever the grip levels. There’s a Winter mode that locks the torque split to 50:50 if you want but, frankly, it’s more fun and just as secure in the more rear-biased Dynamic.
Clearly, Jaguar engineers want you to enjoy the XF on the throttle, prioritizing proactive traction over intrusive and reactive interventions from the stability control. And they’ve successfully tuned the all-wheel drive system to react this way, without compromising the security and grip you want when the conditions turn nasty. This, in short, is validation for all that skidding about on frozen lakes, with or without skiers holding on for dear life behind. And is what makes the Sportbrake such a satisfying car to drive quickly on any road, in any season.
Sure, the Ingenium engine lacks a little charisma compared with the V6. But it’s a chunk of cash cheaper to buy, loses little in performance, is a little better on gas and has a sweeter handling balance. Best of all it serves as proof there really is life beyond SUVs and crossovers.