In 2017 former Olympic skier Graham Bell broke the record for the fastest person to ski behind a car – hitting 117mph while being towed by a Jaguar XF Sportbrake.
So somewhere in the heads of Jaguar’s PR bods it made sense to launch the updated 2019 model of the car by recreating that stunt with a load of car journalists.
It’s fair to say that I’m no Graham Bell, I’m not even close to Eddie Edwards, so clinging onto a tow rope as a mad Frenchman towed me up a ski slope at 30mph, I began to wonder why I’d accepted their invitation.
Jaguar XF Sportbrake S
Price: £54010 (£66,190 as tested)
Engine: 3.0-litre, V6 diesel
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, rear-wheel-drive
Top speed: 155mph
0-60mph: 6.1 seconds
CO2 emissions: 160g/km
Maybe it was the chance to scare myself silly, maybe it was the prospect of practicing my car control on Jaguar’s purpose-built skid pan or maybe it was the chance to drive one of my favourite type of cars – a luxurious estate – rather than another bleeding SUV.
In saloon form the XF is a handsome, fine-handling machine and by adding an estate body without making it any longer, Jag have created something even better looking, with a purposeful but unfussy style that’s refreshing in the chrome-encrusted face of its German rivals.
But good looks only get you so far. Jaguar is all about sporty luxury and the estate needs to match the saloon’s sharp on-road manners to justify its existence.
Like the saloon, the Sportbrake can be ordered with two-wheel-drive and a manual gearbox but we tested two of the most powerful engines, which come with automatics and, in one case, four-wheel drive.
Features such as its aluminium-intensive bodywork and a polymer tailgate help give the Sportbrake 50:50 weight distribution and the suspension, stability and traction control systems are set up to offer a rear-drive bias.
Enhancements over the saloon include revised front dampers with a bypass valve that adapts for sporty or relaxed driving as well as standard self-levelling rear suspension that keeps things composed no matter how laden the car or how hard you drive.
Cars with the eight-speed automatic gearbox also get selectable drive modes that adjust the steering, throttle and gearshift as well as the suspension in cars fitted with adaptive dampers.
Pressing on as hard as the conditions allow, the XF’s inherent dynamism is pretty evident. It manages to feel smaller than it is as it flows around corners and there’s a sense of poise and purpose to the handling, as well as a tonne of grip.
Dynamically it doesn’t feel like it’s losing out to the saloon and that’s a good thing as the XF is one of the nicest large saloons to hustle along a B-road.
The Jag’s real skill, however, is in balancing this engaging feel with the ability to cover massive distances in refined comfort.
It’s just as capable of carrying five people across a country in hushed luxury as it is sprinting up an slippery mountainside. That smart suspension means rough roads won’t disturb passengers and the cabin is quiet, spacious and, thanks to the updates, finished in higher grade materials than previously.
Like the outside styling, there’s an elegant simplicity to the interior’s design and the biggest black marks are a lack of lateral support from the seats and the InControl infotainment, which still lags behind the Germans.
Of course, being an estate there’s a focus on practicality too. The 565 litres of boot space is roughly on a par with the Audi A6 and BMW 5 Series but left behind by the 640-litre Mercedes E-Class. The space is wide and uninterrupted and there are user-friendly touches such as a gesture-controlled tailgate, automatically retracting luggage cover, tie-down hooks and 40:20:40 split rear seats that fold with a single button press.
The snow-covered switchbacks of our alpine routes made it hard to fully judge the potency of the 296bhp petrol engine but a run up some well-kept French motorways revealed a willing, smooth and quick engine that bears the R-Sport badge well.
While the petrol certainly has the power and poke to give credence to the XF’s sporty image, I’m still drawn to the engine in our second car – a 3.0-litre, twin-turbo 296bhp V6 diesel.
It might be 0.4 seconds slower to 60mph than the petrol but with 516lb/ft of torque it doesn’t lack for grunt and once you’re moving the endless silky mid-range pull of the engine makes for a more flexible easy-going motor. Overtaking is an effortless surge and there’s no penalty in engine noise as the cabin remains suitably hushed.
Further down the range, there is a four-cylinder diesel in 161, 179 and 237bhp tunes and a four-cylinder petrol with 247bhp outputs so there’s an engine to suit most wallets.
Speaking of wallets, the XF Sportbrake starts at £37,390 in two-wheel-drive Prestige trim with the manual 161bhp diesel. Our four-wheel-drive 296bhp petrol R-Sport cost £45,000 before options and the rear-driven V6 diesel S £54,010 before the likes of an electric tow bar, 20-inch alloys, cold climate pack and a head-up display pushed it up to £66,000.
It’s easy, then, to get carried away, especially if you’re a sucker for sporty styling additions and powerful engines.
Plenty of cars try to be a jack of all trades and end up master of none. The XF Sportbrake, however, manages its balancing act far better than most. It has poise, accuracy and engagement when you want to press on but can cosset and comfort on long, dull drives. It’s also a practical and spacious family car with the optional reassurance of all-wheel-drive and, in TDV6 form, a cracking engine.