Car hunter: Fast estates

22 Nov, 2012 11:00am Chris Ebbs

Our reader has £7,000 to spend on a sporty, fun estate car. Here are our three best buys...

Dear Chris,
Due to the imminent arrival of a second child, I need a bigger car. I’d like an estate, but can you suggest something sporty for £7,000?
Paul Salisbury, E-mail

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The best buys:

The stylish choice: Alfa Romeo 159 Sportwagon

Alfa Romeo 159 Sportwagon

For: Sleek looks, strong diesel engines
Against: Poor reliability, small boot

The Alfa Romeo 159 Sportwagon stands out in a market of rather bland-looking cars, thanks to its sleek, attractive styling. The interior also benefits from a touch of Italian class and design, plus the diesel engines are strong and the handling is also very good.

Shop around and there are plenty of cars on sale for your budget. You can get a 57-reg 1.9 JTDM Lusso with 41,000 miles on the clock for £6,995.

As with all Alfas, the 159 isn’t trouble-free. Even though it’s an estate, load space is rather disappointing, at 405 litres. The boot lip is quite high and the opening is a little awkward, too. But the major issue is reliability. The 159’s reputation for breaking down seems to be justified, and there are plenty of owners complaining online about poor build quality over the car’s lifetime.

The practical buy: Skoda Octavia vRS

Skoda Octavia vRS

For: Large boot, decent performance
Against: Dull styling, badge appeal

The standard Skoda Octavia Estate won’t fit the bill for you here, but the vRS version has stronger performance and sportier styling. As well as a subtle rear spoiler and more aggressive bumper, the car gets a 200bhp 2.0-litre engine that promises 0-62mph in only 7.5 seconds.

Unlike the Alfa, though, it hasn’t compromised its estate roots for aesthetic appeal. The large boot offers 580 litres of luggage space with the rear seats in place, and there are plenty of practical touches elsewhere.

Despite the upgraded design details, the Skoda looks a bit dull compared to the 159, while the pre-facelift models are starting to appear a little dated. There’s a wide range of cars to choose from on your budget. For £6,990, you can pick up a 2007 2.0 T FSI petrol model that’s done 82,000 miles.

The classy option: Audi S4 Avant

Audi S4 Avant

For: Performance, premium looks
Against: Running costs, boring shape

Like the Octavia vRS, the Audi S4 Avant adds enough extra spice to the standard car to meet your requirements here. Trouble is, it doesn’t really look different enough, either – ignore the alloy wheels and S badges, and it could slip into the normal line-up unnoticed.

This doesn’t mean it’s not worth considering. We found an 03-plate 4.2-litre petrol car with 85,000 miles within your budget at £6,650. That 344bhp engine will take the S4 from 0-62mph in just 5.9 seconds. But this level of power comes with steep running costs – you’ll be lucky to return 23mpg fuel economy.

Space shouldn’t be a problem, however. The S4 Avant can’t quite match the Skoda for practicality, but outdoes the Alfa. It provides a useful 442 litres, and this can be expanded to 1,354 litres by folding the seats down.