The Jaguar Land Rover Automotive Plc XF Sportbrake vehicle is displayed during AutoMobility LA ahead of the Los Angeles Auto Show in Los Angeles, California, U.S. Photographer: Troy Harvey/Bloomberg
INTERNATIONAL - Minus the rash of million-dollar hypercars cropping up from Geneva to Los Angeles, station wagons are the most exciting segment in cars right now.

Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz has started producing an excellent AMG version of its E Class wagon. Geely Holding Group’s Volvo Cars has developed its V90 Cross Country into a boxy, chic grocery-getter. And Volkswagen AG’s Porsche AG has engineered its Panamera into a Sport Turismo that will bulldoze basically anything on the highway. 

But when it comes to buying a luxury wagon, you won’t find a better value than the 2018 Jaguar XF S Sportbrake.  

Performance

It’s been 10 years since what is now Jaguar Land Rover offered a wagon, a streak broken in 2018 with the XF S Sportbrake. The Tata Motors Ltd. brand launched this car to fill a gap in its portfolio and insert itself into a segment dominated by well-established rivals from Europe. Here, we are talking about luxury wagons—not the Subaru Outback, for instance, an excellent, far cheaper bang-for-the-buck wagon with boy-racer overtones. The upper-class Jaguar has the prestige of an 83-year British heritage, long a status symbol for the horse-and-hound set.

I drove an XF S Sportbrake during the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance last weekend, and again along Georgia back roads and two-lane highways on a sunny day afterward. I loved how graceful it looks—not as edgy as the Panamera, but more interesting than the staid wagons from Audi AG and Mercedes. And I always love seeing that roaring-cat Jaguar lattice grille, whether it’s on an F-Type or an XF.

With a top speed of 121 miles per hour and a 60mph sprint time of 5.3 seconds, the XF S Sportbrake isn’t remotely the fastest wagon out there—that title belongs to the $107,000 Mercedes E 63 AMG Wagon (3.4 seconds, not too shabby for a small family tank). The Sportbrake’s eight-speed automatic and rear-biased, all-wheel-drive train aren’t the crispest in the group, either. You have to push it a bit to cruise, bob, and weave at 95mph; the steering and braking are definitely sharper in the $110,000 Panamera 4S Sport Turismo.

(It should be noted that both these cars are the highest-tuned wagons their respective brands make, while this XF S Sportbrake is a base model—the only one available at the moment.)

But listen: While the car does not win in any of those categories, in each, it falls squarely in the upper reaches of the segment. And it should be said that with 380 horsepower on the supercharged V6 engine, the XF S Sportbrake packs more of a punch than both the Volvo and the standard Mercedes E Class wagon; it will hold its own at 100mph just as well as any in the pack.

Considering the fact that the $70,450 XF S Sportbrake costs as little as $40,000 less than its competition—in some cases, when compared to the souped-up versions I drove of these other cars, it’s almost $80,000 less—the numbers start to look pretty good.

What we have here is a clear case of high-level performance aligning with pricing, design, and utility.    

Interior

Speaking of utility, I should mention the car’s interior, because the reason many people buy station wagons is to gain functionality and space. Versatility is the essence of a wagon.

The XF S Sportbrake is so broadly useful, in fact, that I’m not sure spending an additional $20,000 or $30,000 would get you much more. It has 32 cubic feet of storage behind the rear seats, enough to pack a small refrigerator, and can carry more than 220 pounds on the roof, on par with the rest of the segment. It has ample cup holders and USB outlets, lots of legroom and headroom, and a massive, panoramic sunroof (the biggest of the lot).

The interior trimmings, while minimal, feel higher-end than those in a McLaren I recently drove; the entertainment system is the easiest I’ve experienced in months. The navigation and Bluetooth components—two bugaboos I typically run up against in higher-priced cars because they’re overdone—synced instantaneously, even when navigating odd, swampy roads and multiple iPhones from a string of different drivers.

On road trips, or during mundane work commutes, such little things can escalate a slightly harried drive to one that’s downright unpleasant. Niggling grievances mount, like a seed stuck in your tooth or the burr in the saddle that sets off the bronco. I didn’t experience any of this in the XF S Sportbrake.

While it may not quite reach the level of hypercar allure, or even be the flashiest wagon on the market, the XF S Sportbrake is almost as sexy to drive—and possibly sexier, depending on your audience. More important, it’s useful and well thought-out. I expect to see many of these on the road in the coming months. Don’t be the last to check one out.

- BLOOMBERG