Jaguar has announced updates for its XF saloon and Sportbrake estate for the 2019 model year.
The updates to the car in general are pretty minor – from now on, every XF model comes with a new Smartphone Pack that includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto in the InControl Pro infotainment system – something some may be happy about if they wish to ignore Jag’s sometimes-clunky interface.
The main focus is on the new Chequered Flag special edition. It’s available with five of the XF’s engines and can be had in either rear- or all-wheel drive, but the main differences are only skin deep.
There are some unique badges, plus the Black Pack, a boot spoiler and 18-inch alloy wheels. Navigation Pro and Connect Pro for the infotainment system are included too, which adds real-time traffic info, as is digital dials and keyless entry.
Waiting at the roundabout near Jaguar’s Whitley engineering centre, I found myself coveting another XF Sportbrake: an R Sport in vibrant Caesium Blue, with black rims and gloss black gills. In the XF aesthetic stakes, it was the Tess Daly to my Bruce Forsyth.
It shows how deleting the chrome and rolling on bigger rims eliminates one of my bugbears about the frumpy Sportbrake Prestige: its bulbous rear three-quarter section. Not that I’d upsize its 18-inch alloys: with the Goodyear Eagle’s 45 per cent sidewall, they still pack the arch, don’t compromise the splendid steering and have proven utterly impervious to the odd kerbside contact.
This aesthetic conversion reflects my XF Sportbrake experience in microcosm. It replaced an Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio: ballistic 503bhp petrol V6 for whimpering 178bhp diesel four-pot, with a near-200kg weight penalty. And yet the Sportbrake is really rather lovely to drive. The steering makes this 1720kg car feel alive and darty – Ben ‘Maximum Attack’ Barry even complained the rack was too quick during the Our Cars test day in Snowdonia, featured in our August issue.
It’s a wagon you can push in corners, with loads of grip and then a nice line in feedback if the grip’s about to run out. The Sportbrake feels inherently planted and its bodyroll well contained, more than your typical boat-in-a-storm SUV. That was all too evident when making a burbling V6 Maserati Levante look all mouth and no trousers: the XF dug into the curves, surfing the cambers and carrying speed, while the tottering 4×4 was marooned in the background.
This dynamism doesn’t come at the expense of comfort: the Jag bobs serenely over high-speed crests, though it does thump over potholes and expansion joints. And it’s largely a hushed place to be at motorway speeds.
All good. But the drivetrain is more workmanlike. Ours was the mid-ranking Ingenium diesel engine, with sufficient punch for sliding into motorway gaps and an eager launch upon kickdown. But it feels about as quick as an 8.8sec 0-62mph time suggests, with an engine note ranging from shrill to whiney and there are some vibrations when pulling from low revs.
Truth be told these are criticisms you could aim at most four-pot diesels: I just prefer the higher-revving character and smoothness of petrol engines. But there’s no denying the appropriateness of diesel for a big estate: going more than 500 miles between fill-ups was appreciated, though that was courtesy of the 66-litre tank rather than stunning economy – we averaged 42.8mpg over nine months.