Just about every week in the comments of your favorite automotive news sites, you can find enthusiasts championing the wagon. It’s easy to see why, wagons offer enhanced utility over a sedan in a tantalizing form factor while often retaining great handling. Some wagons go even further by pairing that practical wagon with brute force. The Jaguar XF S Sportbrake was one of those wagons. It gave drivers that sexy form factor and an aluminum 3.0-liter V6 making 380 HP. This dream machine raced to 60 mph in 5 seconds, but fewer than 250 ever found a home here in America.
Last time on Holy Grails, the Autopian’s Daydreaming Designer, the Bishop, reminded us of a rare oddity in the timeline of BMW history. The 7 Series has for decades represented the flagship of BMW’s sedans. Historically, the 7 Series has received the latest in BMW’s technology and for some time, some serious firepower. Many enthusiasts can point out the glorious V12-powered 750i or the later 760Li, however, BMW sold another 7 Series worth consideration. The E32 BMW 735i of the late 1980s was the last time you could get your BMW flagship sedan with a manual transmission. These cars offered luxury for the car enthusiast, but so few people bought them that it’s estimated that just hundreds were bought.
Today’s grail follows a similar idea.
There are some cars that enthusiasts consider to be the best of their kind. In theory, a luxurious sedan with a manual transmission is enthusiast fodder. I mean, who wouldn’t want a highway cruiser with an engaging transmission? It’s also not hard to find someone singing the praises of the wagon, especially if that wagon is fast or has a manual transmission. The idea of owning a wagon with a diesel engine, a manual transmission, and painted brown is a meme in the car world.
Back in 2018, Jaguar offered American buyers a gorgeous proposition. This is the 2018 Jaguar XF S Sportbrake. This wagon didn’t come with a manual transmission, but you did the kind of looks that makes you bite your lip paired with sports car-like performance.
A New Era For Jaguar
To tell the XF’s story, we must flip our calendars back to the mid-2000s. Jaguar had spent years selling cars with retro designs that nodded to the Coventry automaker’s past of the 1950s and 1960s. However, as Car and Driver noted in January 2007, Jaguar’s sales were falling, cash was bleeding out, and its then owner, Ford, was considering selling the brand. Something had to change. In 2007, Director of Design Ian Callum worked with Head of Advanced Design Julian Thomson to create the C-XF concept car.
This concept car, which was really a preview for the XF, took Jaguar’s styling in a new direction. The brand wouldn’t trade on classic designs. Instead, Jaguar would now sell vehicles with serious sex appeal. Car and Driver went as far as to call the C-XF “the biggest change for Jaguar in 30 years.” Indeed, this car wasn’t just a replacement for the S-Type, but the beginning of a new era for Jaguar.
The production XF hit the road in September 2007. In Jaguar’s press release, the company realized just how important the XF was to its success. At the end of the first paragraph of the XF’s release, Jaguar said: “This is the beginning of a new era for Jaguar.” Later in the release, Jaguar said that the XF is the first of a new sedan design language for the brand and that it has a coupe-style roofline.
The concept called for the production car to be built with an aluminum spaceframe. However, Jaguar was short on cash, so the XF was designed using the Ford DEW98 platform that underpinned its S-Type predecessor. Despite that, reviews suggest that the XF was a strong handler with a solid driving experience, a relaxing ride, and compelling looks.
Earlier, I noted that Ford owned Jaguar and Land Rover. Well, Blue Oval sold both brands to Tata Motors of India. In 2008, Tata established Jaguar Land Rover.
In 2015, Jaguar released the sequel to the XF. The second generation car evolved the XF’s already good looks but now, the XF finally rides on the aluminum platform it was supposed to from the very start. These second generation cars ride on the Jaguar Land Rover D7a platform. Here’s what Jaguar has to say about the platform, which started life as the Premium Lightweight Architecture:
The aluminum-intensive architecture will be modular and scalable, providing a high degree of flexibility and making it possible to produce a wider bandwidth of models and derivatives than ever before. It is lightweight, extremely stiff and incorporates innovative technologies which reflect Jaguar’s commitment to sustainability, such as a new high-strength alloy made from almost 100% recycled raw material.
The architecture is being carefully developed to fully incorporate all the vehicle attributes established by Jaguar engineers, while its flexibility and scope will deliver an individual character for each one. Jaguar design and engineering teams collaborated closely on its development from the outset to ensure versatility of design combined with fully competitive interior packaging.
The flexibility that this architecture will provide, means Jaguar designers and engineers can apply the philosophy “anything we can imagine, we can create,” to deliver a new portfolio of products less restricted by technical or manufacturing constraints.
The new XF made its debut at the 2015 New York International Auto Show and Jaguar’s heavy use of aluminum was a noted feature. Look underneath the XF and you’ll find bonded and riveted aluminum castings, extrusions, and stampings. Even the body, save for the doors, trunk lid, and rear floorpan are aluminum. Those other parts were left steel to help with weight distribution. As an end result, the new XF is 75 percent aluminum and 28 percent stiffer than the outgoing XF.
Now, as a sedan, the XF is already an attractive vehicle. Under the hood, depending on the year, you could find a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline four making 247 HP, a 2.0-liter turbodiesel four making 180 HP, or a supercharged 3.0-liter V6 making 340 HP or 380 HP depending on trim level. I was most surprised by the diesel, especially in an era when diesel lost steam thanks to Dieselgate.
Despite a diesel engine appearing in the lineup, the grail of the XF is arguably the long roof. Introduced in 2018, the Jaguar XF S Sportbrake took the top version of the XF and gave it a longer roof. Combine that with its aluminum 3.0-liter V6 making 380 HP and 332 lb-ft torque plus all-wheel-drive, and you have the recipe for a fun enthusiast car. These even race on to 60 mph in 5 seconds. This car was nominated by David R:
I think my recently purchased car is a Holy Grail.
2018 Jaguar XF S Sportbrake (wagon) with a 380hp supercharged V6 and an adaptive suspension. It feels like a sports sedan first with some luxury thrown in.
Less than 250 were sold in the US from 2018-2020 and less than 100 had the supercharged V6/“S” package. The rest were four cylinders.
It has a smooth, quick shifting 8 speed automatic.
The neat thing about this Holy Grail candidate is you can still buy one used with remaining factory warranty (5yr/60k miles).
This wagon is sportier than a Volvo V90 or a Mercedes E class wagon. Back seat legroom is also better. I’m 6’2” and my older son is taller than I am. My younger son is also tall. Finding a car or wagon we can all ride in is challenging.
The roof is mostly glass. while it doesn’t open, it actually adds headroom vs most moon and sunroofs that subtract headroom. And it lets in plenty of light making the XF Sportbrake feel more open and airy.
Super comfortable seats too.
I hate that only about 98 other people also own what’s probably the best all around blend of sportiness, family hauling and luxury every made.
Sure enough, when I went digging into this, I discovered that few people bought these. According to Road & Track, fewer than 250 XF Sportbrakes found a home between 2018 and 2020. Yep, these trundled along for only three model years. In the Jaguar XF Sportbrake’s first year, it was available only in top S spec, but in 2019, it was available with a 2.0-liter turbo four, in this guise making 296 HP and 295 lb-ft torque. According to sales data, just 99 Jaguar XF S Sportbrakes were sold in 2018. It’s unclear how many were sold after, but at least some of that fewer than 250 examples were turbo fours.
That makes the Jaguar XF Sportbrake a rare find here in America. Sadly, this is another case of a wagon dying because there weren’t enough enthusiasts to buy them. Though, one reason that could have been the case is that in 2018, the starting price of the Jaguar ZF S Sportbrake was $71,445. Going down to the four-cylinder didn’t save much money, either, as that wagon set you back at least $64,575. You also didn’t get a manual transmission either, but an eight-speed automatic.
A Secret Sleeper
As for how it drove? Kristen Lee, formerly of Jalopnik, loved the linear power delivery and noise that the blown V6 brought to the table. She went as far as to call it “the best-kept sleeper wagon secret you can buy,” noting in her review:
After I left it in a parking lot and made my way toward a restaurant, I looked back at it again. It gleamed in the pale winter sun, its coat of silver paint blending it in perfectly with the sea of other gray, black, white and beige cars that surrounded it.
I’m not saying it’s not a handsome car, because it is. It’s just missing all the sharp angles and flared lines that the traditionally “aggressive” and “sporty” cars wear. It is heroically understated, to the point where even I had trouble picking it out right away upon returning, which means that a cop probably would, too.
No one but you would know that there’s a mad supercharged engine beneath the hood, howling for blood. You could come off the highway and stop serenely, wait for a crowd of school children to cross the street, and not one of them would know that you’d just spent the last 20 minutes blowing past lesser cars like they weren’t even moving. There’s a kind of self-indulgent thrill to harboring a secret like that.
In addition to the power, XF Sportbrakes could be had with front collision alert, touchscreen infotainment, a suede headliner, a massive glass roof, two-tone leather, ambient lighting, and more. The interior looks lovely, though it should be noted that the shifter is of the dial variety. Reviews also suggest that the XF doesn’t have an interior quite on the level of a Mercedes-Benz despite having a price like one. But with looks this good, I think it deserves a pass.
The other good news is that despite the rarity, these cars can be found for sale. I ran a simple nationwide search on CarFax and found at least four XF S Sportbrakes for sale. All of them were priced in the low to mid-$40,000 range. Indeed, as our David R indicates, you might even find one that still has a warranty. That’s a rarity for this series. Usually, the featured cars are so old that many banks wouldn’t even give you a loan on them.
The Jaguar XF Sportbrake isn’t just a fancy, scintillating wagon, but really one of a dying breed. As crossovers and pickup trucks continue their world domination, cars like these are becoming extinct. One day, we’ll look back at cars like these as an interesting point in car culture and automotive history.
Do you know of or own a car worthy of being called a ‘holy grail’? Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or drop it down in the comments!
(Images: Jaguar, unless otherwise noted)
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We sadly never got these in Canada, and short of a huge swing in exchange rates, I’m not sure I could justify the premium over a comparable F-Pace, which drives plenty well (although it’s saddled with a stupidly small rear window).
As a Sportbrake owner I can honestly say, my unicorn is awesome!!!!
I love jags and currently have an X300 XJ6 and XJR6. I had no idea the sportbrake was available with the supercharged engine! Now I must chase this unicorn.
I really wanted one of these for my next vehicle, but by the time I’m ready to buy (next year) the most achievable will be the 2018 model year (there are very few of the later 2 years available for sale), and I’m not sure I want to drop that kind of money on a 6 year old rare Jaguar that’s bound to start having serious reliability issues. I’ll just get something boring and new and reliable instead. Sigh.
I have a 2023 Mercedes E450 wagon (the “All Terrain” here in the US, the only way you can get it) and the specs are nearly the same – AWD, 362 HP, 369 lb-ft, adaptive air suspension that goes from Eco (with highway coasting) to Comfort to Sport, Sport+ and Off-Road/Off-Road+ (it even has an inclinometer!) and a smooth 9-speed tranny. And you can still buy one new. Slower 0-60 (5.8 seconds) but otherwise pretty comparable. Salesman told me they don’t make a lot of them (I think he said 700 or so last year).
In the UK these also came with a 3.0L V6 Diesel producing 300hp but 516lb/ft of torque and still got to 60mph in around 6s.
Still no manual unfortunately with this engine although I think the 160hp diesel could be had with a manual.
I love wagons, but to me the XF era isn’t really jag. They look like commodity mobiles, especially the OG XF. Fussy headlights in just the wrong way, no personality. Nothing about them says “I’m a jag!” at a glance. At best they say “I’m a somewhat expensive vehicle.”
Jags are supposed to be special. They’ll probably never recapture the perfection of the original XJS V12, but they need to do better than this. IMO.
I like the fact that these look more classic than the competing, origami-styled German competitors.
The XJS shooting brakes are among my favorite cars ever!
I have only seen one of these in the wild, and only realized I got far too excited about that event when I noticed the strange looks I was getting from those around me. I have a soft spot for Jags, though I know better than to own one, but the XF S Sportbrake is one that would cause me to reconsider that ownership stance.
In 2018 I distinctly remember these being available new for $20k or more below sticker.
I didn’t and don’t have any particular affection for Jaguar or for wagons, but I considered buying one at the time because the value seemed pretty good. I was in the process of buying my truck at the time though and I also couldn’t completely justify replacing a Chevy SS with the Jag.
This is a great choice for the Grail series. I had no idea they were so rare, but that explains why I didn’t find one nearby when I was looking for one to have a closer look at. Plenty of XFs, no wagons.
WHAT? The sunroof doesn’t open? THAT’S why they didn’t sell, and also because they don’t have the hood ornament on them 😛
That’s OK, the X-Type wagon has that shit
I’m discovering that newer automotive styling can cause weird resonance in cars when the sunroof is open. My Malibu has a weird, mesh shield that pops-up to counter this. It’s not terribly atractive, and blocks my view out the open roof. I’d much rather have the glass roof and grab any fresh air from the side windows or vents.
I’m not a wagon guy in the least (buying a vehicle with 4 doors was a stretch for me), but this is one cool car.
I like Kristen’s point about the car’s (and Jag at its best) lines, as they just seem so Jaguar to me – sophisticated yet sporting, an elegant weapon from a more civilized time, to quote a famous Brit.
Sticking with Wagons, i’d like to suggest my favorite modern Saab: The Saab 9-3 Turbo X SportCombi. Basically the Hot 9-3, but also AWD, wagon-fied, and available with a manual. Only 45 were made so it makes it one of the rarest “Normal” modern cars out there. I love them deeply.
Love these. The wagon version is somewhat more common back in the UK, I saw a few on the roads when I was there a few weeks ago. The supercharged S option is still pretty rare though as most are 4 cylinders / diesels.
Shame Jaguar never fitted the 5.0 supercharged V8 in one of these!!
Like the Gen 1 XF RS Sportbrake… https://collectingcars.com/for-sale/2015-jaguar-xfr-s-sportbrake
This car hits all the feels for me. I have owned awd long roofs for 30 years (Subies, Audis and most recently, MB 4Matic). The Jag XF/S is sexy, fast and rare. May have to check that one in Denver out!
I work at a JLR dealer in parts and one of our local customers has one of these. I worked here for almost a year before I saw it. It looks great. It sounds great too.