Modern Crossovers/SUVs vs. Station Wagons – Busting Some Myths and Validating Others

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We compare two of the very best wagons and crossover/SUVs, break down the facts, and offer some observations.

Wagons were all but extinct in America, and if not for a handful of companies like Subaru, Mercedes Benz, Volvo, and Jaguar keeping them alive would have become a distant memory. There are very few people who are in the middle on the topic of station wagons. There are passionate fans, and many write for automotive publications, and there are folks who just scratch their heads and think, “why not a crossover or SUV?” We have had the chance to test what we consider to be two of the best examples of these two segments in the same season, from the same parent company, in vehicles having about the same price tag. Both the Jaguar XF Sportbrake and the Land Rover Discovery we tested were top trims and were almost identically equipped. We’ve compiled some facts and some observations we have on the topic. There is certainly no loser in this matchup. Just two winners with two distinct personalities. First the Facts.

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Jaguar XF Sportbrake S AWD Wagon vs. Land Rover Discover XSE – Tale of the Tape

You might be surprised by the dimensions of the three-row, full-size Land Rover Discovery crossover/SUV vs. the Jaguar XF Sportbrake wagon. The Jaguar is 195 inches long and the “huge” SUV is 195.7 inches long. The Discovery crossover/SUV is 87.4 inches wide and the Jaguar wagon is 82 inches wide. They both occupy almost identical real estate in a parking space or a garage.

The Jaguar seats five in supreme comfort. The Discovery crossover/SUV also seats five in supreme comfort. Or it can seat seven if you deploy the third-row seats. That sure comes in handy when a family goes on vacation and wants to take granny and grandad along to dinner (they get the middle). It also works great when heading to and from a soccer or lacrosse practice and the neighbor’s kids need a ride.

The Jaguar Sportbrake S AWD wagon has 31.7 cubic feet of cargo area behind its back seat. Of course, the crossover/SUV’s added seats steal valuable cargo space, right? Nope. The Discovery crossover/SUV has 43.5 cubic feet of cargo behind its second row when the third row is stowed. Drop all the seats in and the Jaguar Wagon has a total of  69.7 cubic feet of cargo area and the Land Rover Crossover/SUV has 88.3 cubic feet of cargo volume when the rear two rows are folded. Not only does the equal-length and slightly wider crossover/SUV have more overall cargo volume, when all of the seven seats are deployed there is still a 9.1 cubic foot storage area available behind the third row. How big is that? Big enough for three airport carry-on bags or a load of groceries.

Although both are made mainly from aluminum, the Jaguar Sportbrake weighs in at 4,045 pounds (As a point of reference, a Toyota Camry weighs about 3,300 pounds). The Land Rover Discovery is taller and a bit wider, so of course it’s heavier than the Jaguar. But would you have guessed it is only 15% heavier at 4,751 lbs?

Drivetrains, Infotainment, Amenities

Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) is one company building three “brands” of vehicles. That they share a lot of suppliers and parts is not a secret, and certainly not a demerit in any way. The interiors are very similar and outstanding. The infotainment systems are identical to our trained eyes and fingers. The engines of both are 3.0-liter supercharged V6s. They are tuned slightly differently, so the Jaguar has 380 hp and the Land Rover 360 hp. Both use an eight-speed automatic. Both vehicles’ drivetrains feel powerful and smooth.

Price Comparison, Mfg Location – Jaguar XF Sportbrake S AWD Wagon vs. Land Rover Discover XSE

Though very similar, our Discovery HSE trim actually had a few things the Jaguar didn’t. For example, massaging front seats. Given that the crossover/SUV is taller, and more vehicle, one would expect it would be much more expensive. Yet, the Jaguar had an MSRP of $ 84,245 and the Discovery an MSRP of $70,104.  This is not an anomaly of some type. We tested a 2017 Land Rover Discovery with the optional diesel engine last year and its sticker price was $66,945. Both vehicles are built in the U.K.

Drive Comparison – Jaguar XF Sportbrake S AWD Wagon vs. Land Rover Discover XSE

Before we knew we would be doing this comparison, we published a review here of the 2018 Land Rover Discovery HSE. In the “performance” section we wrote, “Our Discovery HSE Luxury was quick off the line and powerful in all situations. With 360 hp on tap from the Supercharged six-cylinder engine, the Discovery feels fast for such a large vehicle. Handling is excellent on-road and the Discovery is quiet over bad sections.” Now that we have that baseline, we can comment on how the Jaguar Sportbrake S AWD compares.

First off, the Jaguar wagon is faster. It feels faster and the folks at JLR say the Jaguar will run from 0-60 MPH in 5.3 seconds. The Discovery crossover/SUV is also no slouch on paper. Land Rover says it will make the same run in 6.9 seconds. For such long, wide vehicles, these are pretty quick times.

Handling of both vehicles is class-leading. The Discovery is much better than one might assume looking at it. If you are not familiar with Land Rover and Range Rover’s modern line of crossovers, prepare to be amazed. These large crossovers feel very different from a Toyota Sequoia or Chevy Tahoe in the corners. By the way, the reason we keep saying “crossover” is that Land Rovers and Range Rovers are no longer built on frames, but are unit-body like almost all modern cars (and station wagons). The Jaguar Sportbrake S AWD handles just like the XF sedan, which is to say fantastically. Steering is sharp, there is little body lean in corners and you feel like you are in something very special.

Ride quality and comfort are very subjective. However, these two are night and day different due in part to their wheels and in part to their missions. The Land Rover rides on modern tires and tall wheels, but the sidewalls are much more substantial than the Jag’s. The Land Rover is a vehicle that can go off-road and its air suspension can raise or lower the vehicle for ground clearance. Over broken up New England roads we found the Land Rover to be comfortable. It’s stiffer than most full-size crossovers and SUVs are, but it sucks up bumps and potholes very well. The Jaguar Sportbrake S AWD we tested had 35-series, 20-inch tires with almost zero sidewall. The ride is stiff, and potholes can cause serious bangs with rough feelings and loud noises. The stiff ride is also felt on the highway. The Jaguar feels a little tight and high-strung. The Land Rover feels composed. As we said above, ride quality is subjective. If you like a very stiff ride, the Jaguar may be just your cup of tea.

Fuel Economy- Jaguar Wagon vs. Land Rover Crossover/SUV

The Jaguar Sportbrake S AWD has an EPA-estimated fuel economy of 21 MPG Combined / 18 City / 25 Highway. The Land Rover Discover HSE (with the same gasoline engine and same transmission) is rated at 18 MPG Combined / 16 City / 21 Highway. The lower wagon does better, but what does it amount to in terms of dollars per year? The EPA says that a vehicle rated at 18 MPG combined, using today’s relatively high premium fuel prices, will cost the owner an average of $2,900 per year over 15K miles. A vehicle rated at 21 MPG will cost an owner $2,100 per year. Will the owner of a large vehicle costing over $70,000 really care about an $8.00 difference per week in gasoline?

Ergonomics & Visibility

The benefits of a crossover often don’t appear on a spec sheet. The Land Rover is easier to get into and out of in every seating position. The Jaguar’s B pillar is next to the driver and front passenger. Egress, in particular, requires a bit of bending and twisting. Once inside, the view is better in the Land Rover in all situations. At intersections, one can see over cars or snowbanks to the sides, or through the glass of other crossovers and pickups. The Jaguar is so low the view to the sides is often of the door panel of the trucks and crossovers that seem to dominate today’s traffic. Once underway, the Land Rover’s larger glass area provides a better view of the traffic and the scenery.

Summary – Jaguar Wagon vs. Land Rover Crossover/SUV

Two myths we feel we can say we truly busted is that “Wagons offer the same space as crossover/SUVs.” Given a very similar footprint, they simply do not. Another is that “Wagons offer crossover/SUV advantages at a lower price.” At least in the case of this premium manufacturer, who we feel has pricing that is in line with what is offered, that is not the case. The crossover/SUV is less expensive when comparably equipped.

Three myths we can say are validated are that “Wagons use less gasoline than do crossovers,” “Wagons have better performance,” and “Crossovers are more user-friendly.” Shape and weight matter in these areas and physics can’t be cheated. Which would be your choice between these two fantastic vehicles? Tell us in the comments wherever you find this story posted.

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John Goreham

John Goreham