SUVs have become scarily popular over the last decade. Every manufacturer that takes itself seriously in the industry has adopted at least one Sports Utility Vehicle into its range and with Ferrari even about to take the plunge through its 'FUV', it's time that us petrolheads came to terms with the fact that they're here to stay.
With a winner always comes a loser, and the estate car has certainly borne the brunt of the SUV's successes, becoming a relatively rare sight on European roads. But one manufacturer that is keeping the shape going is Jaguar which recently launched variants of its XF Sportbrake series in Portugal. And a couple of days behind the wheel of the new estate confirmed to me that we need to keep the sportbrake/shooting brake/estate species alive.
Aesthetically, they're in a different league
You can go two ways with estate design - you can get a bit lazy with the roofline and let it slump slightly into a descending curve, or you can go full Volvo and square it off.
Both design options bring an elegance through the elongation of the roofline that hasn't yet been even brushed upon in the SUV sector. The dimensions of the hulking beasts simply cannot match the silky smooth profile that an estate brings to the table. And seeing the XF Sportbrake set against row upon row of Portuguese vineyard, it might just be that the elongation makes the estate the simplest yet prettiest shape that a car can take.
Exciting driving is vastly based on C.O.G., so the SUV has few answers
Getting technical and talking dynamics, the centre of gravity of a car is a bit of a big deal. For a car to have any form of dynamic ability, the centre of gravity has to be as low as possible, keeping the mass of the vehicle in a manageable and predictable position. Once you raise a car up to qualify it as 'sport utility', you naturally lose composure on the road.
Launching into the twisting turns of Portugal's vineyard roads, the Jag is wonderfully fleet of foot, darting its nose eagerly into each apex thanks to super reactive steering. With the all-wheel drive XF Sportbrake, the additional weight of the differential gubbins is definitely felt but stick with the rear-wheel drive option and - like in most estates - the rear of the car feels light and nimble, rotating easily in tandem with the sharp turn-in.
With the suspension (self-levelling) keeping weight transfer to a hunkered minimum and enough space with the back seats down (they fold completely flat) for eight fully grown German Shepherds, the Sportbrake has both composure, chuckability and practicality all safely in the bag.
Wagons bring with them a certain coolness factor
The BMW E60 M5 Touring, Audi RS2 Avant and Mercedes-Benz CLA Sportbrake are just a few examples of cars that have become infinitely cool thanks to being penned as estates.
Jaguar themselves have a history of this too - even the X-Type was a bit pretty once morphed into an estate and the brutish first generation XFR-S Sportbrake is one of the most handsome cars of Jag's Tata era. This trend has been continued with the new XF, especially when adorned with the grills, trinkets and colour schemes that come with the R Sport package. The Jag brings with it an aggression that I personally feel is missing from the German equivalents, with BMW, Mercedes and Audi shying away from anything too extreme.
Being different can be what car ownership is all about
There's a reason why people bought the Astra GTE over the Golf GTI, the MR2 over the MX-5 and the XE over a boggo 3-Series - they're all a breath of fresh air from the choices that can often have people implementing a herd mentality. For this reason, I personally can't wait to get my Mondeo ST200 on the road so that I can turn up to my local car meet in something that is slightly more 'out there'.
Sure, you can follow the masses and come out of your nearest showroom with a sensible, safe and economical SUV, or you could stick your middle finger up to modern culture and go all-in with an estate car.
Do you go with the girl that your Mum would like or the slightly wild, excitable one who has always triggered a sense of curiosity within you? The SUV/Mum option isn't necessarily a bad one but in terms of sheer fun and a sense of individuality, the sportbrake sits like an Emma Stone in a world of Kardashians, Grandes and Lovatos.
Name one car that would be better off in SUV rather than estate form
Many SUVs these days are based off of a saloon or hatchback and are simply lifted and shaped to comply with the genre. This can often make them seem a bit disproportioned and cumbersome in design. Sportbrakes on the other hand can be drafted into nearly any district of the automotive world and seem at home.
We've all seen renders of silly things like McLaren P1, Nissan GT-R and Dodge Viper Wagons, but at the end of day, they all seem to weirdly work. The Ferrari 250 'Breadvan' and Aston Martin DB5 Radford Editions also show that once the roof is elongated, you're sure to create a thoroughly desirable product. Kia seems to be giving it a go with their new Cee'd, and even that looks bloody brilliant.
Jag themselves are delving into SUV production with the E-Pace and F-Pace, so it's heartwarming to see that the Sportbrake still has a place in their line-up.
Who wants to see an Aston Martin DBX 'crossover' when someone could quickly draw and render a Rapide Shooting Brake? In fact, Zagato has already given us an Aston estate with its Vanquish Shooting Brake, and just look at the damn thing.
We're big fans of estates at DriveTribe and we're very glad to see Jaguar flying the flag for the platform in the face of SUV-enforced adversity. There may be a time when stunners like the XF Sportbrake are consigned to a heritage fleet rather than fronting Jaguar showrooms, but for now, we should give a respectful nod to every specimen we see on the road, knowing that - deep down - the owner has fought against the ever-populating giants of the car world.