Jaguar XF Sportbrake (2019): towed on skis, driven on snow, tested beyond limits

Jaguar XF Sportbrake
Photo credit: Luke Edwards (Image credit: Luke Edwards)

In 2017, the new Jaguar XF Sportbrake was launched with a stunt that involved skier Graham Bell being towed along behind the car to set a Guinness World Record speed of 117mph. Then it was our turn. 

We were invited to experience the test behind the updated 2019 Sportbrake XF before taking the car out on the icy roads of the French mountains. Our fingers survived enough to type this, but did the legs fair so well? And how did the car hold up driving on snow so deep usually only skidoos dare brave it?

While there were a few variants on the car, the models we spent time with all had all wheel drive as well as a 2.0 litre diesel or petrol engine. That meant up to 300PS of pure power intelligently pushed through the four wheels to make sure the car clung to the snow and ice.

The R-Sport trim meant bigger wheels and a body kit on top of the standard offerings, which is why it looks so good in the photos. There were also spiked tyres for the snow and ice road tyres for the rest of the time. So how did the car handle the snow?

You can ski uphill

So, it turns out, you can ski uphill. After setting up a towing system that didn't look a like different to that found on a wakeboarding boat, the car was rolled out onto the La Plagne ski slopes early in the morning before the lifts opened for the day. Yup, that meant it was cold; -17C cold. Also, we haven't skied in years and were about to be pulled along at around 50mph on icy, hard snow. 

While we were nervous, the car was seemingly unperturbed by the situation. Despite pointing uphill, despite towing and despite being driven fast, the Sportbrake pulled away as if on the road.

After taking up the slack of the line we were holding on and sitting in, the towing began. The car was throwing up lots of snow so we had to move to the side to see ahead. We held on until the marker flags before letting go only to see the driver carry on halfway up the mountain for a photoshoot. The car was at such an angle it almost looked impossible that it wasn't sliding down. 

We were already impressed and we hadn't even been behind the wheel yet. But it's one thing to handle snow with spiked tyres and quite another on the icy roads with less capable rubber holding on.

Handling and performing as a Jaguar should

The roads we took the Jaguar XF Sportbrake on were challenging to say the least. The mountain climbs were long, winding and steep with sheer drops and lots of the u-turn shaped corners. So the car was under a lot of pressure with harsh braking, floored acceleration and sharp turning. 

Being a Jaguar, it took all that in its stride while inspiring a certain level of confidence that leaves you feeling like you can push it just a little bit further on each turn. You almost feel emasculated as if the car is saying, "Hey, it's not me slowing down, I can handle it, you're the one wimping out".

While that might say more about this driver's psyche than the car itself, it does reveal that Jaguar hasn't held back when cramming in the performance abilities that the brand is known for. We pushed it until we could smell the transmission burning and it kept begging for more.

Features like all wheel drive, Dynamic Stability Control, electric power-assisted steering, rear self-leveling air suspension and torque vectoring all made for a performance that not only felt expansive but also slightly safe.

On one particular corner, for example, the ego won out and the car was pushed beyond what was safe. Thankfully it corrected the power distribution to stay on the road. A small skid and heart beat skip later and we were pressing onward and upward, with slightly less need to test the car's limits or our own.

Can you be too comfy inside a car?

Heated seats, heated steering wheel, acoustic layer windows, heat insulation glass, ambient interior lighting and two-zone climate control all make for a very luxurious experience, even when it's -17C and snowing outside. The problem is you then don't want to get out into the cold at your destination. But that's not always such an issue since you're well catered for in the car too. 

There's the Touch Pro infotainment system with 10-inch touchscreen to keep you entertained. That means InControl Apps so you can listen to Spotify if the DAB radio, USB or Bluetooth connected devices get old. And it was all pumping out of a 125W sound system making for an immersive drive – not that you could hear the ice tyres as much as expected inside that cabin.

All that said, the navigation still kind of fails. While we got where we needed to go there were a few glitches that are typical of in-car sat navs. Now that we have phones to compare them too they just seem to be lacking still. 

Smart driving systems work on ice too

Thankfully the XF Sportbrake is crammed with smart driving systems so that when you get off a winding road where you've been tiring yourself and the car, you can relax along the motorways while the car does the majority of the work for you. Features like Lane Departure Warning and Emergency Autonomous Braking help to set you at ease as you waft along.

The cruise control with a speed limiter combined with the traffic speed recognition cameras mean you don't really need to worry about speed limits anywhere – making this great for exploring new areas and even new countries. The car won't steer itself but there are other useful autonomous features. The self parking smarts helps here as this is a long car and when paralleling parking in a city, the help is most welcome. 

Jaguar XF Sportbrake (2019) verdict

This car is built for those who want all the space and functionality of an estate car but without sacrificing the fun of driving it. The smaller engine options are available for those that want pure efficiency and the larger engines cater for those that don't want to be short on power when a clear road offers fun to be had. There are plenty of options in between the two. Luxury comfort inside comes as standard but for that extra sporty look on the outside and leather seats inside the R-Sport trim is a decent option.

The Jaguar XF Sportbrake (2019) R-Sport starts at around £40,495 (about $53,000, AU$74,000) on the road.

Luke Edwards

Luke is a freelance writer and editor with over two decades of experience covering tech, science and health. Among many others he writes across Future titles covering health tech, software and apps, VPNs, TV, audio, smart home, antivirus, broadband, smartphones, cars and plenty more. He also likes to climb mountains, swim outside and contort his body into silly positions while breathing as calmly as possible.