- Bags of personality
- Extremely spacious
- Stylish for an estate
- Dated infotainment system
- Rivals are safer
Ever spotted a big-wheeled, body kitted and low-slung BMW 3 or 5-series, just like the ones you’ve seen being drifted in YouTube reviews, only to pull up behind and notice a single weedy exhaust?
That’s because BMW and Audi realised a while ago that Brits are the motoring equivalent of magpies, lusting after big alloy wheels, sparkling LED lights and bucket seats, without actually wanting V8 running costs.
The Jaguar XF Sportbrake R-Sport is the British manufacturer’s riposte, with all the kerb appeal of a BMW M Sport or Audi S line model combined with thrifty running costs courtesy of its rather less glamorous 2.2-litre, four-cylinder diesel engine. Win win, then? Yes, actually.
The R-Sport trim level introduced in May 2014 is available with the XF saloon and the elegant Sportbrake we’re testing here. Even in standard guise, it really is a lovely looking car, with a muscular bonnet, eagle-eyed headlights and tapered roof. We would argue the estate looks even better than the saloon, because there’s something subversive about a load-lugger with such a purposeful stance.
Aside from the lack of a badge in the grille, the R-Sport’s new bumpers and side skirts make casual observers think you could have eight cylinders under your right foot. The standard 17-inch wheels give the game away, but they are also quite stealthy thanks to an anthracite finish.
“At low speeds the suspension can thump into pot holes, but once up to pace the Sportbrake R-Sport settles into a relaxing stride…”In the more powerful R-Sport versions, wheels up to 20-inches in diameter are available. A unique rear spoiler, blacked out chrome and badging on the front wing complete the look.
Getting inside, you’ll step over an R-Sport sill plate and should spot more branding on the steering wheel. A charcoal-on-charcoal interior – not quite as oppressive as it sounds – with cloth seats should suit most customers, but for those who love a full leather upholstery, it’s a chunky £2,500 option.
You can also choose between a black or grey headlining and dark oak, piano black (£500) or carbon fibre (£833) veneer for the dashboard, centre console and door linings.
The interior is definitely a highlight, even if the dials and infotainment system are starting to look ancient compared with the brand new Mercedes C-Class and recently revised BMW 5 Series.
A big selling point of the Sportbrake R-Sport is practicality. With 550 litres of space behind the rear seats and 1,675 litres with the rear seats folded flat, it is very similar in size to the 5 Series Touring and A6 Avant. The loading lip is low and wide, while an extra storage space under the boot floor is useful for tools or valuables.
A rail system can be fitted with dividers to stop objects sliding around as you drive. If you often find yourself searching through your pockets or bag, keyless entry is a £375 option. A wide range of official accessories are available, from roof racks to tow bars.
Performance & handling
Three engines are available, from the aforementioned 2.2-litre diesel with either 161 or 197bhp to Jaguar’s tried and tested 3.0-litre V6 diesel with 237bhp. All come fitted with a smooth eight-speed automatic gearbox. In the spirit of the company car man, we drove the lowest CO2 oil burner.
We were a bit worried when we saw its claimed 0-62mph acceleration of 10.5 seconds, as this does make the lowliest £36,495 R-Sport slower than a 1.4-litre petrol Golf. As with most economy-biased diesels, however, it actually feels quicker than the numbers suggest, with a sizeable 400NM of torque making overtaking easy. The automatic gearbox helps because it keeps the engine in its power band without you having to frantically change gear.
“It actually feels quicker than the numbers suggest, with a sizeable 400NM of torque making overtaking easy.”The more powerful, £37,950 2.2-litre hits 62mph in 8.8 seconds, while the £39,865 V6 takes only 7.1 seconds, but its greater consumption and tax bill will rule it out for many.
With rear-wheel drive, the XF’s surprisingly light steering always feels smooth and crisp and the Jag is in its element on sweeping A-roads – and even along twisting country lanes. It’s a more rewarding car to drive than the inert Audi A6 and while it doesn’t quite have the precision of the 5 Series M Sport, it’s more comfortable as a result.
Jaguar has resisted firming up the R-Sport’s suspension, a move we think was right given our crumbling roads. At low speeds the suspension can thump into pot holes, but once up to pace the Sportbrake R-Sport settles into a relaxing stride, with a pliant ride some of its stiffly-sprung rivals are unable to compete with.
The 197bhp and 237bhp models are available with adaptive suspension (£1,020), which should smooth out the ride even more, while firming it up in its sport mode.
Economy & environment
The R-Sport we drove can manage 57.7mpg and emits 129g/km of CO2, which is just behind the BMW 518d Touring M Sport Auto (60.1mpg and 123g/km), but costs the same £110 to tax annually and should drink a similar amount of fuel in the real world.
The Audi A6 2.0 TDI 190 Ultra S line Multitronic, meanwhile, is better again (61.4mpg and 119g/km) and costs only £30 to tax.
It helps the Jaguar features a stop and start system to cut the engine in traffic and features a second battery to keep your music flowing, even if the lights don’t want to turn to green.
Equipment & value
The R-Sport is well-equipped, with a seven-inch touchscreen dual-zone air-con, DAB radio, sat-nav, USB and iPod connectivity, Bluetooth, cruise control, self-levelling rear suspension and Xenon headlamps, not to mention the styling kit.
The A6 is similarly equipped, but a slightly cheaper starting price and standard leather seats give it the edge. The BMW 518d M Sport is a few hundred pounds more than the equivalent Jag, but gets leather from the off.
The biggest fly in the ointment is the XF’s ageing infotainment system, which is less attractive and simple to use than those found in the aforementioned rivals.
Disappointingly for a large executive car, the Jaguar XF scored four stars in Euro NCAP crash tests, trailing behind the A6 and 5 Series, which both managed a full five stars. The 5 Series scored an impressive 95 per cent for adult occupant protection, while the A6 scored 91 per cent and the XF 79 per cent.
A generous amount of safety kit comes with the R-Sport though, including a full complement of front and side airbags, electronic skid detection, cornering brake control, ISOFIX rear child seat anchoring points and a tyre pressure monitoring system.
With BMW M Sport and Audi S line models dominating sales, we are glad Jaguar has taken the plunge and offered business drivers – and private customers on a budget – a car that combines the looks of a supercharged V8 with a miniscule yearly tax bill.
We’re sure the R-Sport will be a hit and with a spacious boot and stunning looks, the Sportbrake estate is the one we would buy. Its infotainment system might be looking somewhat last-generation, but the rest of the car oozes a charm its German rivals are unable to match.
Jaguar XF Sportbrake R-Sport pictures
|Engine||2.2-litre turbocharged diesel|
|Acceleration||0 to 62mph in 10.5 seconds|