Fast and smooth - a complete pleasure
Flashy features and comfortable driving position
Some concerns, including disappointing Euro NCAP crash test score
Build quality could feel more solid but Sportbrake should prove mechanically sound
Only four passengers will feel comfy and the boot is shallow
Most things are included in the price
Like its saloon sibling, the XF Sportback is both sophisticated and fun to drive. The sharp, accurate steering and superb body control means you can dash round corners with confidence if that's your thing, while at low speeds the steering is light, so parking is easier than you might think for a large estate car - it's also helped by the car's relatively flat rear end. The suspension feels a bit firm at low speeds so the car can be jittery on rough surfaces, but up the pace and it wafts effortlessly over lumps and bumps. The more efficient engines are the two 2.2 diesels, but the two 3.0-litre diesels are better suited to the car's sporty character; the lower-powered version is the one to go for. Unfortunately, all the engines transmit some form of noise into the cabin, which is a shame as road and wind noise are neglible.
The Sportbrake's cabin has real wow factor, with features that would look at home in James Bond's car, such as a gear-selector dial that automatically rises from the centre console. However, some of the fit and finish feels a bit cheap. It's easy to find a good driving position but the touch-screen infotainment system is fiddly and rear visibility isn't great. There's plenty of space for four adult occupants but a centre rear passenger will have to straddle a huge lump in the footwell that houses a key mechanical part. The boot is square but it's not especially deep, so larger dogs will be unimpressed. All Sportbrakes are extremely well equipped including Xenon headlights and push-button ignition, as well as wood, leather and climate control. Most also come with a rear hatch that opens and closes at the touch of a button, and a touch-screen sat-nav with voice controls. There is Isofix on the two outer rear seats, both with top-tether points - but note that there's no switch to disable the front passenger airbag so you can't put a rear-facing child seat here.
The XF saloon beat all its rivals in the 2012 JD Power customer satisfaction survey and finished second overall so the Sportbrake should prove equally sound. The XF has plenty of electronic systems to help you avoid an accident; if a crash does happen, there are airbags to cover the rear windows and the bonnet will spring up to help protect any pedestrians. However, it's not possible to deactivate the front passenger airbag for a rear-facing child seat positioned up front, and the Sportbrake's saloon sibling achieved a disappointing score in crash tests by Euro NCAP, with just four out of the maximum five stars, including 79% for adult safety and just 73% for children. There's no shortage of security kit, however.
The Sportbrake is well priced and resale values are quite strong. However, other premium estates have better fuel economy and CO2 emissions, which also makes them a better choice if you're choosing a company car. It's also not the most practical car of its type, and it could do considerably better on the safety front.