Jaguar XF Sportbrake 2.2 diesel (200 PS) Portfolio - First Drive

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The setting: a small race-track in Scotland.

The car: Jaguar’s new XF Sportbrake estate.

The exercise: execute an “elk test” style emergency high-speed lane-change manoeuvre. Twice – once with the car in an unladen state and once with a fridge in the back.

Car manufacturers, it seems, often resort to the white goods department at Currys when they have a point to make. Back in 2002, MG Rover, after it had been cast adrift by BMW, showed a design study called the Tourer Concept Vehicle (TCV) at the Geneva Motor Show. It was intended to demonstrate the beleaguered company was serious about pressing ahead with a badly-needed new mid-range car, and also to show-case its capabilities to potential partners and investors. The TCV’s most memorable feature? The ability to swallow a washing machine - and the car appeared at the show with the relevant prop in place.

In 2010, Volvo launched the V60 estate. It made a special point of emphasising the new car’s inability to accommodate a fridge as evidence that the company was moving away from the big, boxy traditional Volvo estates of old in favour of more lifestyley “sport tourers”.

With the XF Sportbrake there are no such compromises – the Jag’s extra size gives it the ability to carry a big fridge while still looking sportily stylish. And the test laid on by Jaguar for journalists at the Scottish race-track was designed to show that the new car can not only swallow large household appliances but that its dynamic behaviour is largely unaffected by a big load as well. The XF breezed through the swerve exercise with ease, regardless of whether the fridge was present or not.

And when you spend time with the XF Sportbrake, you can quickly get used to not having to choose between the ownership and consumption of cake. This car looks good, but it can carry big loads. It can carry big loads but it can still handle. It can handle but it still has great ride. It can go quickly but it doesn’t use too much fuel. It’s pitched against capable but comparatively unglamorous rivals such as the BMW 5-Series and E-Class estates, but its novelty and great looks mean it can be bracketed with Mercedes’ more expensive CLS estate for impact and style, and so on.

Two engines are on offer – both diesels. One, a 2.2-litre four-cylinder, is available with either 163 or 200 horsepower. The other, a three-litre V6 comes with either 240 or 275 PS. I tried the more powerful version of each and both did a good job of moving the XF Sportbrake quickly down the road – although they are quite different in character. The 2.2-litre is quiet, refined and quite strong but its four-cylinder engine–note can sound a bit ordinary. The 3.0-litre V6 provides the sort of cultivated burble from under the bonnet you’d have expected from a Jag in the old days and a bit of an edge over the smaller engine in terms of effortless ness that isn’t entirely captured in the differences in the performance figures for the two options.

Estate body shell and load-carrying apart capacity apart, the Sportbrake feels much like the saloon. The addition of the rear tailgate and the extension of the roof-line have been carried out especially skilfully. Jaguar’s design boss Ian Callum has explained the challenges involved – apparently the XF saloon tapers inwards quite a bit at the back in plan but the rear of the Sportbrake had to be widened out instead – while using much of the same bodywork, including the lower part of the rear side doors. You’d never guess.

Mr Callum had a surprise for the first group of journalists to try to Sportbrake – the unveiling of a beautiful Jaguar speed boat design concept. It was displayed on a long trailer hitched up to a Sportbrake and the entire ensemble looked terrific. Perhaps, for his next effort, he could do a Jaguar fridge as well.

Jaguar XF Sportbrake 2.2 diesel (200 PS) Portfolio

Engine: 2.2-litre turbo-charged four-cylinder diesel

Transmission: eight-speed automatic

Power: 200 PS at 3,500 rpm

Torque: 450 Nm at rpm

Fuel consumption (combined cycle): 55.4 mpg*

CO2 emissions: 135 g/km*

Top speed: 134 mph

Acceleration (0-62 mph): 8.2 seconds

Price: £44,690 (Sportbrake prices from £31,940)

*figures for cars fitted with 17-inch wheels

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<p>
When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
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He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
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