As people scramble to buy ever bigger and chunkier SUVs in the apparent aim of gaining practicality, few seem to be considering the humble estate car. Estate cars are the ultimate family companions, with plenty of space for the kids and the dog, and huge square load areas for all their associated luggage.
While everyone else is clamouring for SUVs, canny buyers can choose from a range of the best used estate cars, which represent good value family motoring, and arguably better practicality. This review will go through some of the options available on the market currently, to help you choose the best used estate car for your needs.
Where else should we start a list of the best used estate cars, than with a Volvo? Volvos once had a reputation for being "boxy but good," and yet most are now somewhat curvaceous in comparison to their forefathers. The V60 achieves a perfect balance of athleticism, luxury and practicality, with its svelte lines disguising the Volvo estate's trademark huge load area, with plenty of boot space and a square load area for carrying large items.
The V60 has a range of petrol, diesel and plug-in hybrid engines to choose from, and in line with Volvo's other major strong point, it majors on safety with a five star Euro NCAP crash test rating, and an impressive 96% score for adult occupant safety.
For an intoxicating blend of sporting prowess and a premium driving experience, look for a V60 in R-Design trim, which comes with supportive sports seats, large alloy wheels and an attractive body kit. The Volvo is the perfect choice for buyers who want a practical and luxurious used estate car, but also want a credible alternative to a German car.
The V90 is Volvo's flagship estate car, and is truly one of the best used estate cars on the road. It particularly appeals to discerning buyers who want to step away from German cars, and who enjoy a little class and elegance. The Volvo V90 is a high quality estate car inside and out, and exudes luxury.
As a big estate car, and a Volvo estate no less, you would expect a huge load space. The V90 does not disappoint in this regard, with a large tailgate which opens to reveal a massive boot with plenty of available space. Somehow Volvo has pulled off the fine balance between practicality and good design; the V90 feels light years away from Volvo's square box estates from the 1980s and 1990s. There is ample space for a family of five to sit in comfort and luxury.
The Volvo V90 enjoys a choice of powerful 2.0 litre turbocharged petrol and diesel engines, and the Recharge plug-in hybrid version will just be starting to filter through on to the used market, giving a great balance of power and fuel economy and very reasonable running costs. The ride is softer and more relaxed than in your average BMW, with a little more emphasis on comfort than handling. The V90 still retains its composure on twisty roads though, which is one of the reasons it is rather popular as a police car.
The Seat Leon estate is based on the same platform as the Volkswagen Golf and they share a number of components. However, this Spanish star feels sportier and more characterful than its German sibling, with sharp details and an athletic stance which combine to give it a modern and attractive profile.
The estate version has a large boot space and the rear seats fold to offer even more load carrying ability. There is more than enough space for the family in the Leon's comfortable cabin. The interior will be familiar to regular buyers of VW Group cars, with a useful touchscreen, the option for a digital cockpit and plenty of standard equipment.
The FR version adds some sporty details for those who want to inject a little more fun into this practical car, including sports seats and an FR bodykit. For those who want to breathe even more fire into their driving experience, Seat has broken its performance Cupra brand into a standalone arm, and you can now buy a Cupra Leon estate with all its accompanying excitement.
The 3 Series Touring is the epitome of a premium estate car and is never far from the top of the shopping list. It enjoys practical estate car features including a split tailgate with the rear window opening independently, for loading small items without having to open the whole boot lid. The load area is reasonable, but the BMW's athletic styling does impact on the boot space a little, with a sloping roofline ensuring it doesn't look too boxy.
As you would expect, the 3 Series benefits from a very well built interior, and all the switchgear and controls have a premium feel. The infotainment system is one of the best on the market, and the iDrive controller makes it easy to navigate.
The BMW 3 Series has an excellent choice of powerful and enjoyable petrol and diesel engines, as well as the hybrid 330e. The coveted M Sport models look sportier and are more popular on the used market, but expect stiffer suspension and a firmer ride. There is lots of choice in the used car market, so take the time to choose a 3 Series Touring with plenty of options, to make it worth your while.
Superb by name, superb by nature. If you are looking for an attractive yet cavernous family estate car, look no further than the Skoda Superb. The Superb is the Czech manufacturer's flagship estate, and you will immediately notice the huge boot, making this one of the sector's leading estate cars for practicality. This is a genuinely big car, so there is ample space for the family to sit in comfort, as well as a massive luggage space which will swallow a surprising amount.
The Superb has a long and wide wheelbase giving it excellent ride comfort, even with the larger wheels and firmer suspension seen on the Sportline trim. It also comes very well equipped as standard, with features including LED headlights and a colour touchscreen infotainment system across the range.
The Superb benefits from its parent VW Group's flexible range of engines, with an excellent choice of reliable petrol, diesel and hybrid options depending on your needs. The Superb will keep up with traffic and offer excellent refinement. If you need a large family estate, this is simple one of the best cars you could choose.
The Skoda Octavia estate is the next size down the range from the Superb estate, and like the Seat Leon ST it is also based on the same platform as the Volkswagen Golf estate. However, the Octavia has always been very good at being the biggest car in its class, with its longer wheelbase allowing for plenty of cabin space and a generous boot as well. The Octavia was always the cheapest estate car in its sector, and is great value as either a brand new car or a used example; few cars have ever got close to the Skoda Octavia's combination of value for money, quality and reliability.
The driving experience is relaxed and forgiving, with plenty of refinement. Some of its rivals handle a little more sharply than the Octavia estate in real world driving conditions, but you will find the Octavia endlessly comfortable, with lots of room inside for all the family. As with the Superb estate, the Octavia benefits from some of the VW Group's best engines, with a range of economical and powerful petrol and diesel engines to choose from.
The Skoda represents excellent value and comes well equipped as standard. It offers a pleasurable driving experience, and keen drivers will be looking to get behind the wheel of the iconic Octavia vRS estate, which adds sports car performance and style, without detracting from the practicality.
If you're looking for the perfect balance of prestige and practicality, the Audi A6 Avant will be right up your street. The A6 Avant is a big car without doubt, but it has been designed to be stylish rather than boxy, and the sharply raked boot lid does cut into the available space a little. However, unless you regularly carry grand pianos around, this shouldn't cause much inconvenience.
The A6 is a big luxury cruiser, with impeccable road manners and a range of powerful petrol and diesel engines which enable it to waft along with minimal drama (unless you like the drama, in which case you should look for a high-performance S6 or RS6, which are both phenomenal cars). If the S6 and RS6 are a little extreme but you still like the sporty style, the S-Line imitates them to some degree with its big wheels, sports seats and aggressive bodykit.
A driver and four passengers can sit in comfort and luxury inside the spacious cabin, with ample legroom and headroom for everyone, even taller people. The interior is beautifully designed and made with high quality materials to offer a premium feel as you would expect of an Audi. Touchscreens operate the infotainment and climate control systems, and if you're lucky you might find a used example with the digital dashboard too, which is excellent. Take your time to find a used model with plenty of options on it, because it will be more desirable in the long run and you may as well enjoy a few extra toys!
We have already covered the Skoda Octavia estate and Seat Leon estate, which are both close relatives of the Volkswagen Golf estate, so let's now look at the real McCoy. The Golf estate is comparatively rarer than the others, and indeed much scarcer than the Golf hatchback, so you may find it more of a challenge to find used examples of this more practical version. The styling is a little more restrained than the Leon, but most buyers choose the Golf estate for its classy and conservative image.
The Golf looks very similar to the larger Passat estate from the rear, and in fact its load area is almost as big as its sibling's. It has a large tailgate which opens to reveal a huge area with a flat boot floor, and the back seats fold to make it even more cavernous. The rest of the cabin is pleasant, with comfortable seats and good quality materials used throughout. Volkswagen is good at delivering thoughtfully designed and solid interiors, and this is where the Golf excels.
The ride quality is good, especially on the smaller 17" alloy wheels, and the Golf's choice of tried and tested VW Group petrol and diesel engines are perfectly suited to this size of estate car, with plenty of pulling power and refinement, even with the whole family and their luggage on board.
If for some reason the Golf isn't quite big enough for your needs, then the Volkswagen Passat estate is an easy step to take up into the next size of family estate cars. The Passat has been with us in one form or another since 1973, and it continues to be one of the best used estate cars on the market to this day.
As with the Golf, the Passat is understated and conservative in its design, and focused on flexibility and practicality. Volkswagen has resisted the urge to chop the back of the car about in the name of style, and while the Passat looks rather square and boxy as a result, this helps maximise the available load space. The boot space is truly impressive, and with the rear seats folded down the Passat offers a cavernous load area which is almost akin to that of a small van.
The Passat is noticeably bigger than the Golf inside the cabin in terms of passenger space, with plenty of legroom and elbowroom for the driver and passengers. This is not a small car by any stretch of the imagination. The ride quality is good, with a fairly soft set up ensuring the ride is pliable, if perhaps a little wallowy over rougher surfaces. Once again there are plenty of excellent engine choices available, including a fantastic 268bhp 2.0 TSI for the petrolheads among us.
Last, but by no means least, is the beautiful Jaguar XF Sportbrake. Jaguar was keen for the XF not to be considered a traditional estate car, hence the name "Sportbrake" hinting at the shooting brake design it was looking to achieve. The XF Sportbrake is a thing of beauty, and exudes a combination of elegance and aggression from its strong lines, large grille and almost feline headlights with the LED "J" Signature. The looks are coupled with a selection of strong diesel and petrol engines which help you get the most out of the driving experience.
The XF received a facelift in recent years which included a significant upgrade to the interior quality and standard equipment, so if your budget can stretch to a newer version, you will be the proud owner of one of the best used estate cars in the premium bracket. The cabin is beautifully trimmed and packed with tech, and the small steering wheel is very pleasant to hold. The seats hug you in place and the cabin is designed to make you feel part of the car and involved in the driving experience.
The attractively curved rear end disguises what is actually a very usable and spacious load area, which becomes even more so with the rear seats folded down. The boot floor is perfectly flat and there is no load lip to speak of, but you may wish to take care when loading rougher items over the chrome lip just inside the boot.