Why are we changing cars?” I ask, momentarily confused. Climbing out of Jaguar’s new XF Sportbrake and into exactly the same car – the top-end 271bhp 3.0-litre twin turbo diesel V6 version – makes no sense. And then it all becomes clear – the new car has a 50kg Smeg fridge in the back.
This is the first time I’ve ever been racing in an estate car, any estate car, and certainly the first time I’ve done so with a fridge in the back. The rear seats are folded down to extend to 1,675 litres of load space and the heavy fridge is strapped down to the car’s floor rail system to stop it moving around. I am sure the Jaguar guys have done this with mathematical precision. But even so, it’s raining heavily here in the Scottish Borders and the East Fortune race track is very wet. I’m about to drive the most powerful version of Jaguar’s latest rear-wheel-drive XF. With a fridge in the back.
Off we go. What’s most surprising is how unsettling it isn’t. One lap in and I’m pretty much tooling around the track as I would in a regular XF saloon car. Thanks to its clever new self-levelling suspension system, which has been especially developed for the estate version of Jaguar’s sporty XF – it works very well. So good, in fact, that the additional weight of the fridge is neither ruining my racing experience nor sending me off into the wet weeds. As a display of the new Sportbrake’s load-lugging abilities it’s impressive, if slightly tongue-in-cheek: proof that, despite its additional practicalities, this is still a sportscar at heart. It’s also nice to know that, if you do fancy a bit of track day racing on the way home from picking up a new fridge or telly, the Jaguar XF Sportbrake is the car to do it in.
But making a sporty estate car is no mean feat. Given its heritage, Jaguar has a lot to live up to but it was a marketplace that was crying its name. It seems many of us – myself included – still rather like our estate cars. Despite this, you can count on one hand the number of genuinely quick, attractive estate cars currently on sale. Jaguar is only selling its XF Sportbrake with a range of diesel engines, for now at least. I drove the higher-powered 2.2-litre diesel and the top of the range 3.0-litre V6 turbocharged diesel but lower-powered versions of each will also be offered. The 3.0-litre V6 turbocharged version is a revelation. I have driven few cars this year that have engines as compliant and effortless as this. The eight-speed transmission is diligent and readily complies with my paddle inputs, when shifting up or down. This translates to a 0-62mph time of 6.6 seconds and this estate feels like a fast and powerful car. It rides well and is particularly impressive in the corners but this is also a car that has plenty of straight-line speed. On the motorway it is quiet and refined and very, very comfortable. I drive for hours at a time weaving my way through the slippery country roads. It is a marvellous experience, not least because of the wonderful and varied autumnal colours of the tree foliage this year, which blends and blurs and bends around me as I scoot through the glens.
There are other powerful diesel-powered estates, but none this pretty. Jaguar may have arrived late to the this particular party but it has arrived in style. And so may you. With or without the fridge.
JAGUAR XF SPORTBRAKE DIESELS
0-62MPH: 6.6 secs
TOP SPEED: 155mph
CO2 G/KM: 163g/km
MPG COMBINED: 46.3mpg
VALUE FOR MONEY ****