Maybe it's me, but it seems that sport utility and crossover utility vehicles have become the Colony Parks and Kingwood Estates of the 21st century. Their image no longer promises off-road adventures. They are family-friendly pack mules, a vast vanilla chai latte of suburban cul-de-sac cliche residing alongside minivans and family trucksters.
Not that there's anything wrong with a truly great SUV or crossover. In fact, Jaguar builds two particularly fun ones: the compact E-Pace and midsize F-Pace.
Nevertheless, they're still crossovers; driving one is to assimilate. It's like attending a business meeting in a blue blazer and tan khakis only to find everyone else has dressed exactly the way you have. Why not show up wearing the automotive equivalent of a smoking jacket?
Ladies and gentlemen, might I recommend the 2018 Jaguar XF Sportbrake S AWD instead of a crossover?
Jaguar's new shooting brake — British lingo for a station wagon — is its first in nine years and employs the same architecture as the XF sedan and the F-Pace crossover. So it shares their glued, riveted aluminum construction, as well as their lively supercharged V6 engine that pours out its 380 horsepower through an eight-speed automatic transmission to a rear-biased all-wheel-drive system. This offers up 60 mph in a swift 5.3 seconds, according to Jaguar. Not only will that ensure you get the rugrats to school on time when you're running late, but this car will also provide an incredibly fun way to do it.
Surprising? Not in a Jaguar.
Like its sedan sibling, the XF Sportbrake's steering is quick, responsive, and precise, although some might want more road feel. The V6 provides plenty of power, although the transmission shifts more for comfort than speed in its standard mode. Shifts seem designed to enhance fuel economy and not jar occupants. Switching to dynamic mode awakens the fierce beast within, and makes for a far more vigorous drive. This is when you'll want to push this kitty hard in corners and experience the joys of oversteer. It's a hoot.
Additionally, the XF's the torque vectoring system, which individually slows the inner wheels while cornering to improve stability. It's all enhanced by a boatload of safety systems, including Heads-Up Display, Autonomous Emergency Braking, Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Keeping Assist, and Semi-Automated Parking.
It's all wrapped in a wardrobe that's arguably more fetching than its sedan sibling or the F-Pace. The Sportbrake's sophisticated face, menacing eyes, and long hood work well with this car's long, lithe proportions and low stance, lending it a sportier persona than the F-Pace. At the same time, it hauls as much as its crossover cousin despite being 8.8 inches longer and 6.1 inches lower. While the F-Pace wins with all the seats in place, if only by 1.8 cubic feet, the Sportbrake wins with the seats folded, beating the F-Pace by 5.7 cubic feet.
Beyond its ability to carry stuff, this Jag is surprisingly good at carrying humans. The Sportbrake provides ample space for four adults, with a surprising amount of rear leg space — something lacking in too many European cars. Nevertheless, its mammoth panoramic sunroof enhances this car's feeling of space.
Cabin ambience lacks the hackneyed wood-trimmed warmth of older Jaguars. Instead, the instrument panel mimics that of the revised XF sedan. The carbon and metal trim and dark smoked wood perfectly frames the 10.2-inch touchscreen that uses on-screen commands rather than physical buttons. This cleans up the instrument panel, lending the interior a uniquely modern minimalist European feel.
And kudos to the 17-speaker, 825-watt Meridian digital surround sound system that transforms the Sportbrake into your favorite concert venue.
Alas, the Sportbrake isn't cheap, but its demeanor — vehement, polished, minimalist, upscale, athletic, utilitarian, yet fast — ensures you'll have fun every time you climb behind the wheel. And no one will mistake you for driving anything vanilla.