Britain is fast becoming a nation of SUV lovers, which is bad news for our nation’s second love: dogs. Spare a thought for poor Fido, who needs to jump four feet in the air just to get into the back of one. Not to mention the slipped discs and hair-covered clothes of Fido’s owners as they desperately attempt to haul him out of the thing without breaking a leg.
For many people the solution is to eschew the SUV entirely and choose an estate instead. After all, they’re cars with a more accessible load bay and, sometimes, even more space within than an off-roader.
The latest company to roll out a posh new wagon? Jaguar, a firm that can’t build its F-Pace SUVs fast enough. Jaguar has done this, explains rock guitar-loving musician and Jaguar designer Wayne Burgess, because Brits love their executive estate cars.
Some manufacturers sell nearly as many estates as they do the saloon equivalents. And during F-Pace preview events, more than a few customers were badgering Burgess about when the new Jaguar XF Sportbrake was coming.
So here it is, the all-new wagon for dog lovers and musicians alike. Burgess is going into the recording studio in a couple of weeks, so is nabbing one of the launch cars to load up with Marshall amps. But not before I got to drive it around the sunny Cotswolds, enjoying the scenery from a refreshingly low-slung, sporty driving position.
It’s a beautiful car. Burgess cares about the details and has ensured the new Jag load-lugger is elegant, pure, simple and anything but bloated. It’s about as pretty as a big wagon can be, despite boasting a load bay big enough to swallow a fridge-freezer (or 215 rugby balls) with no hassle.
The boot is pretty, too, designed to look clean and elegant, with a button that lowers the rear air suspension and make things a little easier for Fido to get in and out. Up front, it’s all raffish charm, a mix of sophisticated materials and a few too many dodgy plastics. It’s hard to shake the lacklustre feeling of sitting in an F-Type sports car, yet hearing a diesel engine that vibrates too much at low speeds than a premium car ought. I have no doubt Jaguar is aware of this flaw, I just wish it would come up with a solution.
This is a surprise, because the XF Sportbrake is otherwise a great car to drive. The steering is more like that of a coupe than an estate car, the dignified class with which it wafts along the road is impeccably well-bred, and if you want a family-friendly holdall that really handles, well, look no further. It may hold 27,800 golf balls, but it’s above all still a Jag.
By the end of lunch with Burgess in a Cotswolds pub, we hatched a plan to dognap a couple of spaniels for a real-world XF Sportbrake review. On reflection, we bottled it and played a game not unlike ‘how many sweets in the jar’ instead. The publicity claimed you could squeeze 194 pairs of trainers in, although 2,090 ski goggles seemed a bit much. Load-swallowing facts like this were abundant and there’s even a long-winded back story behind the 1.6sqm panoramic roof and gesture-controlled sunblind.
But the only thing we dog lovers need to know is whether the hound will be more comfortable in this than an SUV alternative. I’m sure Fido won’t find anything to complain about with this big cat.
Richard Aucock works for motoringresearch.com