Best estate cars 2019 UK: we reveal the top family wagons on sale

Published: 04 September 2019

► Best posh estate to buy
► Two Germans, one Swede and a Brit
► Which is the best to own?

Here, they are estate cars, while most of the English-speaking world calls them station wagons. However, we like the German word Kombinationskraftwagen (‘Kombis’ for short), which sums up these very useful cars perfectly. Estates, after all, have an unrivalled combination of abilities. They’re the multi-taskers of motordom – a Swiss-army knife for family life. 

Perhaps it’s no surprise that Germans are among the biggest fans of Kombis. Around two thirds of BMW 3- and 5-series sold in their home market are Tourings. In the UK, it’s more like a quarter. And while the role of the traditional estate has been diminished, first by MPVs and latterly SUVs, a comeback could be on the cards. 

Further estate car reading

• Living with a Jaguar XF Sportbrake
• BMW 5-series Touring review
• Volvo V90 D5 R-Design long-term test
• Audi A6 Avant review

Not that estate cars ever went away, but the inexorable rise of the SUV has started to slow, which is good news for those of us who enjoy driving. Basic physics favour the lower, leaner estate over the faux-sporty SUV, after all, with reduced fuel costs and a more socially-acceptable image as added bonuses. Unless your commute includes the Khyber Pass, an estate simply makes more sense.

We’ll round up the best estates currently on sale and explain why you should consider each one. Read on for buying tips and a summary of each model, or click the links below for our full reviews. If you can’t find a car that fits your needs here, you probably need several cars...

  1. Audi A6 Avant

  2. Volvo V90 

  3. BMW 5-series Touring

  4. Jaguar XF Sportbrake 

  5. Skoda Superb Estate 

  6. BMW 3-series Touring 

  7. Peugeot 508 SW 

  8. Mercedes-Benz E-class estate

  9. Ford Focus Estate

Best estate cars 2019: a buying guide

Firstly, think about how much space you require. That swoopy shooting brake might look the part, but a low roof and tapering tailgate will limit space for passengers and luggage. When it comes to carrying stuff, boxier is better. Boot capacity is quoted in litres and the figures here are measured up to the parcel shelf with the rear seats in place. Most manufacturers also publish a maximum figure, for loading to the roof with seats folded flat.

The next decision concerns fuel type. For a supermini-sized estate, a petrol engine is usually most cost-effective, but don’t dismiss diesel for C-segment (Focus/Golf) cars and above. Apart from the fuel economy advantage, the extra torque of a diesel helps when hauling heavy loads. Electric motors aren’t short on torque either, of course, and the number of hybrid estate cars is growing. However, many hybrids – let alone fully electric cars – aren’t well suited to towing.    

If you’re still erring towards an SUV, consider that many estates are available with four-wheel drive. Further blurring the boundaries, some manufacturers offer dedicated ‘off-road’ models that combine rugged styling and added ground clearance. Examples include the Audi A4 and A6 Allroad, Mercedes-Benz E-Class All-Terrain and Volvo V90 Cross Country. You may have to resort to an SUV or MPV if you have a large family, though; seven-seat estate cars are few and far-between.  

Best estate cars 2019

Audi A6 Avant 


The death of Volkswagen Group patriarch Ferdinand Piech is a timely reminder of how far Audi has come: from mid-market also-ran to premium powerhaus. With that in mind, the excellence of the latest A6 Avant was never in doubt. Indeed, it may be the best estate here. What is surprising, though, is that – blunderbuss RS6 aside – the choicest Avant isn’t the most powerful or expensive. We’d opt for the entry-level 2.0-litre 40 TDI.

The 201bhp unit is one of the most refined four-cylinder diesels available, flattered by a smooth seven-speed dual-clutch ’box. The Audi majors on easygoing comfort rather than superfluous schportiness, so avoid the 20-inch alloys at all costs: they ruin the ride. A touchscreen-tastic interior won’t suit all tastes, but it’s more intuitive than you might expect. Handsome, refined and loaded with driver-assistance tech, the A6 Avant has the aura of a junior A8 – not forgetting a competitive 565-litre boot.

Read our Audi A6 Avant review

Browse Audi A6 cars for sale

Volvo V90 


Forget the antique dealer clichés, Volvo’s bread-and-butter is now SUVs rather than set-square estates. Yet there’s still room in the range for an old-school wagon, albeit with its edges chamfered off. The V90 is a close relative of the flagship XC90, borrowing its engines, safety systems and Scandi-cool interior. Indeed, that cabin is its most compelling USP, with flawless quality and seats more cosseting than a La-Z-Boy recliner, plus heaters that could melt a Swedish winter. 

The V90 rolls more than most (cue joke about the Latin meaning of ‘Volvo’) and its steering is precise but short on feedback. Consider the optional air suspension, which offers a Dynamic mode, for a more focused feel. The 2.0 diesel engines are hushed and responsive, while the 401bhp T8 hybrid offers a startling turn of speed – along with a tax-dodging 46g/km CO2. The price for that sleeker styling is class-average luggage space of 560 litres: tight enough to scuff your Louis XIV dresser.

Read our Volvo V90 review 

Browse Volvo V90 cars for sale

 

BMW 5-series Touring 

Seriously, why buy an X5 when the fat-bottomed 5er does almost everything better? There’s even an xDrive option if you need all-wheel traction. The Touring looks understated by current BMW standards (no Hannibal Lecter grille… yet), although it errs towards underwhelming unless you select M Sport spec. Its interior also lacks the wow-factor of the A6 or E-Class, yet there’s no shortage of tech. Highlights include remote-control parking and semi-autonomous driving up to 130mph. Perfect for warp-speed Autobahn commutes.

The 520d diesel remains the default choice, serving up 187bhp, 0-62mph in 7.8sec and 65.7mpg. We’d stretch to the 261bhp 530d, though: it feels far more potent (457lb ft plays 295lb ft) and is only 5mpg less efficient. Alternatively, wait for the Touring version of the excellent 530e hybrid, due soon. Whichever Five you go for, expect lucid steering and confident body-control, countered by a rather fussy ride. A 570-litre boot trumps most rivals and the two-piece tailgate is genuinely useful.

Read our BMW 5-series Touring review 

Browse BMW 5-series cars for sale

 

Jaguar XF Sportbrake 

Former Jaguar design boss Ian Callum had a particular affection for the XF Sportbrake, and we can see why. It’s curvaceous yet capacious, muscular without being brash: the distillation of Jaguar’s classic Grace, Pace and Space ad slogan. Yes, it looks a tad dated next to the i-Pace, but what doesn’t? And this, frankly, is a better fit for most buyers, combining cultivated road manners with a classy cabin and 565-litre boot. A £2,400 premium over the saloon seems steep, mind.

Rotating air vents and a pop-up gear selector only provide momentary distraction from an interior that, in terms of quality, feels a step behind the competition. Jaguar’s InControl Touch Pro media system is glitchy and occasionally bewildering, too. Then you prod the start button and all is forgiven. The mid-range 237bhp diesel – with eight-speed auto and four-wheel drive as standard – is our pick of the range. Composed, comfortable and genuinely engaging, it vies with the smaller BMW 3-series as the driver’s choice here. 

Read our Jaguar XF Sportbrake review 

Browse Jaguar XF cars for sale

 

Skoda Superb Estate 

Now into its third iteration, the Superb succeeded where the Volkswagen Phaeton failed: pushing its brand upmarket into previously uncharted territory. Nonetheless, for all its BMW-baiting opulence, value for money remains core to the Skoda’s appeal. Its gigantic 660-litre boot is the largest of any estate and rear legroom is limo-like. Prices that uncut the equivalent Passat by around £3,000 mean it’s Czech-mate.

Well, on paper at least. The Skoda may feel pleasingly premium inside and have a broad range of engines – from 148bhp to 268bhp – but it’s not a car you’d glance back at after plipping the remote, nor indeed savour on a favourite B-road. Wafty suspension and fingertip-light steering show its priorities lie elsewhere: chauffeuring passengers to the airport or kids to school. Still, the Superb has much to recommend it.

Read our Skoda Superb review

Browse Skoda Superb cars for sale

 

BMW 3-series Touring 

Strange to think the 3-series Touring started life as an after-hours project, built by a BMW engineer using Volkswagen Passat rear glass, a hacksaw and plenty of ingenuity. Today, one in four UK 3-series buyers goes large, and the Touring name has a gravitas the faddish Gran Turismo and Gran Coupe can’t match. Nothing about this latest G21 version is likely to change that; it plays to the Touring’s traditional strengths of everyday usability and rousing driver appeal.

The engine line-up stretches from 318d to M340i (still no prospect of an M3 Touring, sadly), while the 500-litre boot offers an opening rear window and unique pop-up grip rails. The tech-fest cabin is giant leap in quality, although the plethora of ways to activate everything – iDrive clickwheel, touchpad, gesture control or simply yelling ‘Hey BMW!’ – can confuse. Fortunately, the controls that really matter – steering, gearshift, brakes – still feel satisfyingly analogue. We drove the 261bhp 330d and came away quite besotted. 

Read our BMW 3-series Touring review

Browse BMW 3-series cars for sale

 

Peugeot 508 SW 

Remember the old Peugeot 508? Nope, neither do we. Thankfully, this svelte second attempt is less amnesiac, more aphrodisiac. Sharp-suited and equally alluring in Fastback (saloon) or SW (estate) guises, it looks refreshingly, idiosyncratically French. That ‘otherness’ continues inside, with surprise-and-delight details such as the aluminium ‘piano keys’ on the dashboard. Peugeot’s i-Cockpit, with its diddy steering wheel, divides opinion, but most drivers adapt easily. Rear-seat space is ample and the boot holds 512 litres.

On the road, the 508’s darty steering feels aloof and over-assisted. There’s also no GTI version, nor any prospect of one. Nonetheless, punchy engines – 129bhp diesel to 221bhp petrol – and a pliant chassis mean it’s far from unpleasant. Time will tell, but perceived quality matches German competitors, at prices that are usefully lower. There’s also plenty of premium kit available, including night vision head-up display and fully automated parking.

Read our Peugeot 508 SW review 

Browse Peugeot 508 cars for sale

 

Mercedes-Benz E-class Estate 

It’s not often you see 603bhp and 640 litres sharing the same spec sheet. The former is the firepower of the Mercedes-AMG E63 S, the latter its load capacity. For heaving an Ikea Billy bookcase around the Nürburgring, accept no substitute. For those without a near-six-figure budget, however, the regular E-class Estate is still a superb family holdall. Its hermetically-sealed, ambient-lit interior is a haven from the outside world, while the twin 12.3-inch displays (optional, natch) serve up widescreen infotainment.  

Unless its gearknob is embossed with ‘Affalterbach’, the E doesn’t feel remotely sporty; both the 5 Series and XF are more satisfying to steer. That being the case, we’d stick with the 191bhp E220d diesel, which is hushed, butter-smooth and capable of a real-world 50mpg. There’s a timeless quality to the E-class that only the best Mercedes share. In today’s chop-and-change PCP culture, it’s the kind of car we can imagine keeping forever. 

Read our Mercedes-Benz E-class Estate review 

Browse Mercedes-Benz E-Class cars for sale 

 

Ford Focus Estate 

The best Focus since the ground-breaking 1998 original makes still more sense in estate format. While lowlier versions of the hatch get a penny-pinching twist-beam axle, all Focus Estates have independent rear suspension. The result is a well-judged blend of agility and stability, aided by feelsome steering, progressive brakes and a snappy shift. Ford really understands this stuff. There’s also a feisty ST wagon, available with 276bhp petrol or 187bhp diesel engines, for livelier load-lugging.

With 608 litres out-back, the Focus has more space than many cars from the class above. The rear seats lie flat and can be folded remotely via levers in the boot. Fit and finish isn’t up to Volkswagen standard, but the dashboard controls and media system are straightforward to use. We sampled the 118bhp 1.5 TDCi diesel, which manages 74.3mpg without feeling lethargic. Sensible doesn’t have to mean boring.

Read our Ford Focus Estate review

Browse Ford Focus cars for sale

We’ll be updating this page regularly, so keep checking back for our latest thoughts on the best estate cars. 

Further buying advice from CAR:

By Tim Pitt

Long-time CAR reader turned contributor, with love for all things fast and German

Comments