XF Sportbrake is Jaguars only estate

XF Sportbrake is Jaguar's only estate

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Is a large, heavy Jaguar estate powered by a diesel engine which produces 700Nm of torque and 300PS far less planet-harming than any Tesla? 

The question is worth asking, as anyone in Britain choosing to purchase a diesel-powered car now feels compelled to justify their decision. Is any vehicle truly clean though? Of course not. Some, however, are certainly far less polluting than others. But which ones?

Diesel, petrol, PHEV, EV - the pollution question

Consider the environmental footprint of a Tesla Model S, Volvo S90 PHEV or BMW X5 before it arrives at a British dealership, ready for collection by its owner. The Tesla has to be shipped from California to The Netherlands, and from there to England. The Dutch detour is to avoid the EU's 10 per cent import duty. Tesla gets around this by shipping the Model S and Model X minus batteries and certain other components. These are then refitted at an assembly facility in the city of Tilburg. It's almost - not quite - an SKD operation. 

Volvo manufactures not just the petrol-electric version of its largest sedan in China but all S90s. What is the environmental impact of making them in Daqing, taking into consideration where the factory sources its power from? And how about the energy expended by the trains which deliver these cars across the north of Asia, then through the European continent and eventually, into the UK? Or how about what BMW does with all of the SUVs made at its giant Spartanburg works in South Carolina? No engines are made in the USA so these must be sent across from Europe, fitted to the X5, X6 and so on, and then transported back across the Atlantic.

The test car returned in excess of 40mpg, while its official CO2 number is 149g/km.

Tesla, Volvo and BMW are three examples, chosen due to each being a Jaguar rival. You could say the same thing about the C-Class which Mercedes builds for British buyers in South Africa or ask Toyota how the chemicals and precious metals for the battery it fits to the Lexus LS hybrid arrived at the Tahara plant in Japan. 

Would any owner of these or any other so-called 'green' car know for a fact where the electricity used to recharge their vehicle comes from? Is it eco-friendly if the origin is one of the more than 50 nuclear reactors dotted around France? Or indeed from a British reactor, or a gas or coal-fuelled power station? The whole topic is complex, and yet so often, some media outlets choose to ignore this reality.

Now, consider the case of the person who chooses to buy a Jaguar XF Sportbrake 3.0-litre V6 diesel. I was challenged about its emissions and impact on the planet during a week in which I logged up multiple hundred miles. It's a good thing that more people are aiming to discover just how environmentally harmful their new vehicle purchase decision is, and will be throughout the standard three-year lease. The test car returned in excess of 40mpg, while its official CO2 number is 149g/km.

The Jaguar is built in the West Midlands, its aluminium body no doubt uses more energy in its manufacture than steel would but the engine is where it gets really interesting. This is why I wondered if in Britain this 700Nm diesel-powered estate might be 'greener' than a Prius or a Tesla.

Making engines with wind power

As we know, JLR still has certain ties to its former owner, even a decade on from the sale to Tata Motors. One such link is the supply of V6 diesel engines. These come from Ford's Dagenham powertrain plant east of London which is famously powered by three giant wind turbines. These are claimed to give this factory enough energy to run the site's engine manufacturing operations.

Knowing that one fact should make anyone who wants to rage against so-called 'dirty' diesel think twice. And for those of us who love the feeling of driving a high performance car which might run on any one of a number of stored energy sources, the XF Sportbrake - if purchased in Blighty - might well be a truly eco choice.

Space and pace

Zero to 60mph takes just 6.2 seconds and the top speed is limited to 155mph.

The XF Sportbrake had eluded me until this month, even though it has been available for around a year. This estate absolutely deserves to be a car which sells better than it does. Competition is strong, with the Audi A6 Avant, Volvo V90, Mercedes E-Class estate and BMW 5 Series Touring being the direct rivals, although multiple SUVs, including Jaguar's own F-Pace are chasing the same buyers.

Many believe the big wagon to be far more distinctive and beautiful than the saloon. If it wasn't part of JLR's original plan to offer a second generation XF Sportbrake then the design team needs extra praise for what was created. This is a roomy car too.

The boot has plush carpeting, quick-release levers to drop the seat-backs, and a relatively low sill for loading. Not all rivals have this feature either: buttons to close, not just open the tailgate electrically. There is one on the key and the other to the right of the steering wheel.

Some may consider the XF's dashboard to be dated but that's unfair. You won't find the minimalist gorilla glass touch panels of the Velar; instead there are brilliantly clean-design controls on the centre console. The window buttons and mirror switches on the driver's door are instantly navigable by touch so no need for those dangerous eyes-off-the-road moments, and the head-up digits and messages are models of clarity.

The best thing about the Sportbrake in 300PS diesel form is how it goes. Zero to 60mph takes just 6.2 seconds and the top speed is limited to 155mph. The official Urban mpg average is 42.2mpg but this can in theory be stretched to 55.4mpg in the Extra Urban cycle. There is so much torque that the driver has no need to press down too hard on the throttle pedal, so for once, the quoted fuel economy numbers are very close to what can be expected.

There is just the right amount of excess-torque promise in the sound this engine makes at idle and low down in the rev range. Grip on hot roads is not an issue, even without all-wheel drive, so well honed are the springs and dampers at the back end of the car. Adding a load to the boot makes little difference, and sway isn't something that the suspension allows much of either, with zero trade-off when it comes to compliance. Never too soft, the ride has been tuned by people who understand the variability and often poor quality of British roads.

What should normally be an easy 80-mile motorway trip home from just-auto HQ in Bromgrove went wrong when the M5 was suddenly closed for several junctions. So often car makers' branded navigation systems are inferior to what we use on our phones yet in this case, JLR's supplier deserves credit for re-routing me around the worst of it.

The Sportbrake is built at Castle Bromwich, coming down the same line as the standard wheelbase saloon.

The need to avoid gridlock also provided an excuse for an unplanned high speed run into Wales along the M50, surely one of Britain's best motorways. This, the XF appeared to be designed for.

In the XF, long curves can be taken well in excess of what would unsettle the drivers of quite a few big front-wheel drive luxury cars. Close to zero other vehicles on this two-lane road on a weekday evening made the Sportbrake even more enjoyable. Of steering vibration or wobble, anxiously leaning springing or wind noise, there was none. Jaguar dealers should find roads like this one to send anyone test driving an XF on. And tell them that the 300PS diesel is the engine to have.

Why China is vital

Even though there is also production of the XF at the Chery Jaguar Land Rover (CJLR) joint venture in China, the Changshu factory makes only the saloon, and even then, only in special extended wheelbase form. So the Sportbrake is a car exclusive to Castle Bromwich, coming down the same line as the standard wheelbase four-door.

JLR is understandably quiet about this but the XF hasn't been selling too well of late - Europe-wide, the total was just 4,091 cars from January to May. The smaller XE, which is only available as a saloon, remember, found 4,593 buyers in the same period. The frustration for Jaguar is that having developed two models which remain class leaders in so many areas, buyers are far more interested in SUVs. At least this trend was seen early: the F-Pace and E-Pace are each selling well, not just in Britain, but in multiple other countries including the US.

Interestingly, in China, the picture is quite different as the marque's saloons are far more popular than SUVs. With overall sales of SUVs having declined there for two months in a row, many now wonder if the boom for such vehicles has finally ended. Eight weeks does not necessarily make a trend, so it will require one more month of numbers to ascertain if there was loss of interest in SUVs and a revival for sedans and hatchbacks during an entire quarter.

The XF has only been available in China for a short while compared to other countries but it's the number one market.

CJLR produces two Jaguar four-door cars, each with an extended wheelbase. Local buyers bought 5,211 XELs between 1 January and 31 May, as well as 7,800 XFLs. The E-Pace has just been added at Changshu so Jaguar should this year see its previous best 12 month period in the People's Republic surpassed. Next year might be better still, considering that both the XEL and XFL will be due to receive a freshening for their looks and various other changes as the cars reach the mid-point of what should be a seven-year period of production.

Manufacturing and life cycle

The PRC might be the XF's number one market yet the car has only been available in China for a short while compared to the rest of the world. The second generation (standard wheelbase) sedan had its world premiere at an event in London in March 2015, with the public seeing the car a month later at the New York auto show. Build commenced at Castle Bromwich in August 2015.

X260, the sedan, and X261, the XEL long wheelbase saloon, and the X262 Sportbrake use the same aluminium platform as that of two other Jaguars, the XE and the F-PACE. Land Rover's Range Rover Velar is another current model for D7a, with the next XJ (X360) and 'XJC', a possible big coupe (X764) also to draw on this architecture, albeit in an evolved and updated form.

The Sportbrake, along with the saloon, comes with a variety of engines in the UK market, the 300PS V6 being the most powerful diesel. ZF supplies its 8HF70 torque converter automatic gearbox which is fitted as standard.

It's still a little early for the model year 2019 line-up to be announced so the latest news remains the MY2018 range. New engines which were part of this most recent update were as follows:

  • 200PS 2.0-litre petrol Ingenium (20t badge on the boot lid/trunk lid)
  • 250PS 2.0-litre petrol Ingenium (25t)
  • 240PS & 500Nm 2.0-litre diesel Ingenium (25d)

There was further change, when in June 2017, Jaguar announced that the same 300PS and 400Nm 2.0-litre Ingenium petrol engine which had already been new for the MY2018 F-TYPE would now also be available in the XE, XF and F-Pace.

What's next for the XF?

Potentially making the XF generation three a low-roof fastback would be risky.

A facelift is likely to debut at the 2019 New York auto show. At the same time, JLR's as yet unseen in-line six-cylinder petrol engine might be added.

The third generation XF will probably not be on sale until 2023. Jaguar will likely have to accept that the segment in which this model competes is controlled by Audi, Mercedes-Benz and BMW and so find a way of becoming a high-margin niche player. The obvious answer would be to reinvent the XF as a car that those intending to buy an Audi A7/S7/RS 7 or Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class should also look hard at.

Evolving the XF generation three into a low-roof fastback would be a risky strategy as a direct replacement for the extended wheelbase sedan would probably be needed for China. Europe, meanwhile, would probably still want a Sportbrake wagon as well as a sedan or fastback. JLR might even bite the bullet and make the XF 3 solely in China. Right now that sounds shocking but when BMW began making the first X5 in the USA rather than Germany this too was scandalous to some. Soon, it became a non-issue.

Naturally, the car will feature JLR's Ingenium three- and four-cylinder engines as well as the firm's future in-line six. A PHEV and possibly even an EV will also likely feature. As for diesel power, this will come in four-cylinder form but the V6 which JLR buys in from Ford will probably no longer be available. Will whatever replaces it in the next XF and other Jaguars and Land Rovers be as low-polluting?

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