Jaguar XF Sportbrake
The Jaguar XF Sportbrake is an executive-segment estate that looks to offer a refreshing alternative to the usual choices in this segment, station wagon versions of the BMW 5 Series, the Mercedes E-Class and the Audi A6. In this improved form, diesel variants have become mildly electrified, there are sharper looks and the cabin's had a decent upgrade. In addition, as before, this Sportbrake variant offers a 1,700-litre load space and can tow up to two tonnes, plus there's the option of AWD.
As you'd expect, mechanically, the Sportbrake offers up much the same recipe as you'd find in its saloon counterpart, though in this case, there's the addition of self-levelling rear suspension to ensure an effortless ride, even when towing loads that can be as heavy as 2,000kg. The XF range hinges around a 2.0-litre diesel four-cylinder engine and while that doesn't sound too exciting, it's where the big sales are. It now comes in a single 204PS D200 state of tune, offers customers the option of rear wheel drive or AWD and features the brand's latest MHEV mild hybrid engine tech, which can assist the engine under acceleration. As a result, a rear-driven model gets to 60mph in 7.3s - or 7.5s in AWD form. The conventional petrol options continue much as before, 250 or 300PS versions of Jaguar's usual 2.0-litre Ingenium unit in the P250 (RWD) and P300 (AWD) variants. Both feature the engine technologies including a twin scroll turbocharger and Continuous Variable Valve Lift (CVVL), for a strong combination of refined performance and efficiency. The P250 makes 60mph in 6.7s, which the P300 AWD variant mamnages the same sprint in 5.9s. All engines are paired with Jaguar's eight-speed automatic gearbox, which can be controlled using the steering wheel shift paddles for added driver engagement.
Across the XF range, driving dynamics suit a relaxed but purposeful style. The chassis delivers near perfect 50:50 weight distribution and huge strides have been made to perfect refinement. Ride is another class-leading XF quality. This Jaguar shares its suspension set-up with the smaller XE model, which means struts with double wishbones at the front and an 'integral link' independent set-up at the rear. The steering uses the same electric power-assisted set-up as the Jaguar F-Type and XE, while active dampers are on the options list.
Jaguar is off to a good start on the Sportbrake as the XF is widely acknowledged as one of the cleanest pieces of styling in its class. The rear glasshouse is artfully integrated into the car's existing chassis hard points, with a genuinely sleek roofline which arches over the rear quarter-lights. The window line tapers gracefully as the flanks meet the rear glass area with its continuous wrap-around curve. The one-piece tailgate incorporates a rear spoiler with integrated high-level stop light and a chrome blade finisher. The rear of the XF Sportbrake also sports full LED tail lights. Visual changes to this revised model include sleeker super-slim all-LED quad headlights with 'Double J' Daytime Running Light signatures. There's also a wider front grille and revised bumpers with larger and lower air intakes at the front. Plus the side fender vents now feature the iconic Leaper emblem.
There are changes inside too, with a 'sportier' centre console that sweeps up to a new centrally-mounted 11.4-inch curved-glass HD touchscreen for the new 'Pivi Pro' infotainment system, which has standard 'Apple CarPlay'/'Android Auto' smartphone-mirroring and the latest embedded dual-sim technology with over-the-air updates. The seats have been re-designed with wider cushioning and a Jaguar Leaper embossed on the headrests. And the door casings have been revised too. Through the wheel, the driver now views a new 12.3-inch HD Interactive Driver Display that replaces the conventional dials.
The XF Sportbrake's load space features 1,700-litres of cargo capacity when all the seats are folded down. You also get under floor stowage and of course a 60:40 split rear seat. Cabin Air Ionisation gives you and your family clean air and an optional super-sized panoramic roof floods the interior with light.
And in summary? Well the Jaguar XF has always been an easy car to recommend if you wanted a saloon. But an increasing number of executive sector buyers don't. They'd like the status of the aspirational badge, but also want an element of practicality that'll get the goods in at IKEA, give the Labrador some breathing space and more easily suit the annual skiing trip to Chamonix. Hence the need for this XF Sportbrake in Jaguar showrooms.
On paper, this car's Teutonic rivals might seem more impressive. But it's easy to be impressed by something without necessarily liking it very much. An XF might not have the last enth of efficiency you'd find in a rival A6 or 5 Series. But for an increasing number of business buyers, it's the car they'd rather have on their driveways. Especially, I'd suggest, if it comes as a Sportback.Click here to find out more about our Jaguar XF Sportbrake range
Mercedes-Benz E-Class Estate
The Mercedes E-Class Estate has always been a very classy way to carry rather a lot. These days though, it's cleverer and more efficient than ever. A focus on downsized engines will be a big draw, there's a frugal base diesel, a plug-in hybrid and fire-breathing Mercedes-AMG models add some excitement. Overall, the whole range just feels slicker and more desirable than ever. It's all very impressive, particularly as you can carry up to 1,820-litres.
On the move, you quickly find that Mercedes has achieved an excellent balance between comfort, refinement and agility with this E-Class Estate. It's as happy easing through town as it is covering great highway distances - but then you'd expect that. More surprising is how at home it feels on twistier roads, particularly if you've got a model fitted with the impressive 'AIR BODY CONTROL' pneumatic suspension that can be fine-tuned with the 'DYNAMIC SELECT' driving modes controller. More technology is provided by the optional 'DRIVE PILOT' system that when activated, allows the car to pretty much drive itself, working with the adaptive cruise control and active steering systems to keep the E-Class rolling in its chosen lane at any chosen speed up to 130mph.
Electrification is the theme with this revised tenth generation model, with plug-in hybrid technology now available right across the range on the diesel engines as well as the petrol ones, plus as before, there's a choice of rear-driven or 4MATIC AWD drivetrain options. All models come with 9G-Tronic 9-speed auto transmission.
The volume unit is the 2.0-litre four cylinder petrol powerplant that features on the base E200 variant, an engine which now features an improved 48-volt mild hybrid system now integrated into the casing of the nine-speed automatic gearbox. This lightly electrified set-up can produce up to 20bhp and 180Nm of extra torque to reduce the load on the petrol engine. Completely new to the E-Class Estate line-up is the six cylinder petrol unit of the new E450 (borrowed from the CLS 450). In the diesel range, things kick off with the 194hp 2.0-litre E220d with 400Nm of torque. At the top of the diesel line-up is the six cylinder E400d 4MATIC, which produces 340hp and 700Nm.
If you want a sporting E-Class Estate with a potent petrol powerplant, there's also a revised version of the 3.0-litre biturbo mild hybrid six cylinder engine used in the potent Mercedes-AMG E 53 4MATIC+ variant, which benefits from slightly more electrified assistance, though the total output (435hp) is the same as before. Beyond that, there's the 4.0-litre V8 E 63 4MATIC+ S model which offers 612hp.
Even on mainstream E-Class Estate models, handling should be sharper than you might expect, thanks to various 'Direct Control' suspension systems with selective damping. There's also the option of an 'Air Body Control multi-chamber air suspension' set-up offering the kind of pillowy ride that will remind you of the larger Mercedes S-Class saloon. A 'Dynamic Select' switch in the cockpit enables the driver to select from four 'Air Body Control' modes: 'Comfort', 'ECO', 'Sport' and 'Sport+'. The additional 'Individual' option allows drivers to configure their vehicle to suit their own preferences.
As facelift restyles go, this is quite a significant one. The front end features softer, re-shaped headlamps with full-LED beams and the grille's been revised too, as has the front bumper. Despite this model's sleek looks, with a capacity of 670 to 1820-litres, the E-Class Estate's load compartment is one of the biggest in the segment. As standard, the rear bench seat has new cargo-related functionality: it is possible to position the backrest at an approximately 10-degree steeper angle. This creates an additional 30 litres of cargo volume while continuing to enable full use to be made of five seats. In addition, the rear seat backrest folds down in a 40:20:40 split as standard, opening up plenty of potential configurations between transport capacity and seats. To release the backrests, there are electric switches located in the load compartment and to the right and left next to the backrests.
The developers paid particular attention to practical dimensions and innovative management of the load space: for instance, the new E-Class Estate is one of the few car models that can accommodate a Europallet. With a minimum load compartment width between the wheel arches of 1100 millimetres, it was possible to retain the preceding model's very good measurement. If you want to carry extra people, there's the option of a rear-facing folding bench seat for children that makes this car into a full seven-seater. The proven combined cargo cover and net is back, offering both security from prying eyes and safety. The EASY-PACK tailgate provided as part of the standard equipment can be opened and closed very easily at the touch of a button for comfortable loading and unloading. Operation is electromechanical. We'd also want the optional EASY-PACK load-securing kit which allows the load compartment to be used in a versatile and safe manner.
And in summary? Well before this tenth generation E-Class Estate appeared, the Mercedes of executive station wagons was perceived as a practical but slightly over-sensible choice in this sector. These days though, it's a much smarter choice - in more ways than one.
Today, it feels like a car that's pricey but which offers a compelling value proposition. It drives with genuine polish, yet is capable of stepping from cruiser to carouser without breaking a sweat. Operating the car is relatively easy and you rarely feel as if this Mercedes is imposing its will on you, unlike certain rivals we could mention. The abiding impression is that this is a very carefully considered vehicle, developed by a company steeped in a proud engineering tradition. If you want to carry properly hefty loads in a car of this kind yet want to do so with more than a modicum of style, this is one to place right up there with its premium rivals. Better by design.Click here to find out more about our Mercedes-Benz E-Class Estate range
BMW 5 Series Touring
Big estate cars have come a long way from their utilitarian roots and this improved version of the seventh generation BMW 5 Series Touring is a good example of just how far. Air suspension at the rear offers composure with a big load onboard and you'll be able to fit plenty in one in thanks to a 570-litre capacity. Thanks to mild hybrid tech, the engine range is now even more efficient and the smartened styling, though formulaic, has definite elegance. It may even be sharper than the saloon's.
Thanks to a reduction in weight of about 100kg, this 7th generation 5 Series Touring proved to be a little sharper to drive than its immediate predecessor and still feels a little more agile than its direct Audi and Mercedes rivals. Especially if you add in options like 4-wheel steering and adaptive damping. The kind of full air suspension set-up you can have on a rival Mercedes E-Class is still lacking, though there's an air suspended rear axle on this Touring estate variant. You'll want to know about engines, which continue to work via an 8-speed ZF auto gearbox. All the mainstream four cylinder and six cylinder powerplants now get the Munich maker's latest 48V mild hybrid technology. Most 5 series buyers still want a diesel - there are three options again available. Things kick off with the four-cylinder 188hp 520d, which sits below a couple of six cylinder variants, the 281hp 530d and the 335hp 540d xDrive. The 520d and 530d can be had with either standard rear wheel drive or extra cost xDrive 4WD.
BMW expects petrol power to enjoy a greater take-up with this facelifted model. The mainstream part of the range uses a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo unit, things kicking off with a 181hp 520i. Above the 520i, xDrive 4WD is either optional or mandatory. That 2.0-litre four-cylinder unit features in more powerful 248hp form in the 530i. And in the plug-in hybrid 530e, which offers up to 288hp. If you think a 5 Series really needs a six cylinder engine and you want petrol power, the conventional option is the 329hp 540i. A 248hp version of the 540i's same 3.0-litre petrol 'six' is paired to a 107hp electric motor in a new more powerful plug-in hybrid derivative, the 545e xDrive.
This Touring model is styled the way you would expect it to look. So from the B-pillar forwards, the front is identical to the saloon, but at the rear end, there are enlarged LED tail-lights and there's quite a sleek roofline. This updated '5' adopts a wider single-frame front grille flanked by beadier LED headlights. Boot capacity is 570-litres, which is 40-litres larger than the saloon. The rival Mercedes E-Class betters that though, with its 640-litre capacity. BMW says the boot can expand to 1,700-litres with the rear seats down. Those seats, which fold in a 40:20:40 split, can be released remotely from the boot and have electrically folding backrests. All models get an electric tailgate, while the unique opening rear window is retained from the previous model.
Inside, the changes made to this improved model are hard to spot and mostly concern updates to the centre stack. There's a re-designed lower climate display, revised trim materials and gloss black centre console details. More significant is the adoption of the 7th generation version of BMW's iDrive infotainment system, which offers buyers a standard 10.3-inch centre-dash touchscreen, with the option to upgrade to larger 12.3-inch monitor on request. There's also a digital display for the instrument binnacle, but you still can't get it to show a full-dash screen map, as is possible with rivals. There is room for up to three adults on the rear seats, which are also designed to allow room for up to three child seats.
And in summary? Well why would you choose the estate version of an executive car over the saloon? A few years back, you'd have wanted the additional boot space and would have been willing to make some compromises to get it. Today, cars like this much improved BMW 5 Series Touring combine the technology and driving experience of the saloon version with real additional versatility and sharp looks that many will actually find preferable. Whichever way you look at it, the latest 5-Series 5-door has an array of capabilities that few cars of any description can match.
True, it's a pity that to really create 'the ultimate driving machine', you've to spend so much on the options list. But even in standard guise, this is a hugely accomplished car, if one requiring familiarity and plenty of mileage over varying roads before its true qualities really begin to shine through.Click here to find out more about our BMW 5 Series Touring range