The Jaguar XF Sportbrake is the latest addition to our long-term test fleet.
The Jaguar XF has been on sale since 2007 and has done much to modernise the company's image, but only now is it getting an estate version to take on the Audi A6 Avant, BMW 5 Series Touring and Mercedes E-Class Estate.
The thing is, now that it's here, the XF Sportbrake does seem to make sense, albeit as more of a rival for the BMW than the Merc. That's because Jaguar's engineers have focused as much on style as they have on practicality. The Sportbrake simply doesn't try to get near the cavernous loadbay of the E-Class wagon; instead, it offers a huge increase in space over the regular XF hatchback (1675 litres with the seats down, instead of 963 litres), and still manages to look swish enough to be 'all the car you've ever promised yourself'.
We didn't want to play around much with this formula when it came to our own XF Sportbrake.
First, we chose the more powerful of the Jaguar's 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbodiesels. With 197bhp and 332lb ft, it has more than enough power and torque to cope with the kind of heavier load you tend to throw into the back of an estate. Nor, it's worth pointing out, do you pay much of a penalty in CO2 emissions over the more modest 161bhp version; even on larger wheels, the 197bhp models emit only 139g/km.
We consciously wanted to keep the colour scheme (inside and out) away from 'old man car' look, which ruled out British Racing Green paint or tasteful sideboard wood veneers. Instead we opted for Stratus Grey, plus black leather seats (Warm Charcoal, in Jaguar speak) and the combination of knurled aluminium and piano black trim on the fascia.
Our Sport trim brought a choice of 18-inch alloys, and we opted for the jet engine fan blade look of the style called Lyra.
Sport spec is reasonably generous, with items such as rear parking sensors, a powered tailgate, privacy glass, automatic bi-xenon headlights and automatic headlamp washers as standard.
So, colours and wheels aside, we tried to behave ourselves on the options list. We went for folding heated side mirrors (430), a front parking aid that also brings a reversing camera (500), the Winter Comfort Pack (basically, heated front seats and a heated windscreen for 570) and a mild upgrade to the sound system. You can go silly in that respect right up to an 825W Meridian 12-speaker set-up but we went for the firm's 380W option at 590.
The final bill was 40,180, which looks reasonable enough, until you realise that you can have a BMW 525d Touring SE Auto (minus options) for a bit less.
The XF Sportbrake is no cut-price bargain, then; it'll need to earn its keep long after the shine of having a Jag on the driveway has dimmed.
To put the Jaguar's practicality to the test, therefore, we've handed the keys over to Mark Pearson. He and his family have a year to see how an XF wagon copes with having their everyday life hurled in its general direction.
Mark's early impressions are favourable. He's a big fan of the car's looks, particularly in that smart shade of dark silver and reckons that while its ride is firm on 18-inch wheels, it's still more comfortable than many of its rivals would be. The software in the eight-speed automatic transmission is more of a concern; it's a little too easily confused around town, so Mark is hoping that it becomes more comfortable when he finally gets it onto some open roads.
In fact, the XF Sportbrake's abilities as a long-distance carry-all cruiser are probably going to be the judgement point that defines the car. Mark's already got some suitable trips lined up to get those crucial early miles on the clock.
Jaguar XF Sportbrake 2.2D 200 Sport logbook
List price: 37,440
Target Price: 33,752
Extras: Stratus Grey Metallic paint 650; Meridian 380W Premium Sound System 590; Winter Comfort Pack (heated front seats, heated windscreen) 570, front parking aid with rear-view camera 500; Mirror Pack (heated and folding side mirrors, plus auto-dimming rear-view mirror) 430
True MPG: 42.7mpg
Official fuel economy: 54.0mpg
CO2/tax liability: 135g/km/21%
Contract hire: 539
Cost per mile: 78p
Insurance group: 33
Typical quote: 865