Best estate cars to buy 2021
A good estate car delivers practicality, space and low running costs - here are the 10 best estates on sale in the UK today
The estate car was once the must-have option for families seeking extra carrying capacity from their new vehicle. Today, competition from MPVs and, particularly SUVs, means that estates are less of a default choice, but you overlook them at your peril. With such a large variety on sale today, there’s likely to be an estate car suitable for almost everyone, whether they prioritise maximum carrying capacity, style, towing ability, performance or some combination of them all.
The bread and butter of any great estate is a large, usable boot with a wide tailgate that opens high to avoid bumping your head. The best estates will also have a flat load area, with minimal intrusion from the wheelarches and seats which fold flat with ease.
Cars which offer innovative storage solutions along the sides and under the floor of the boot are winners in our book. While ski hatches, load rails and boot dividers go a long way to turning a good estate car into a great one.
While estates may lack the ultimate versatility of an MPV and the high driving position of an SUV, they tend to serve up a more appealing driving experience than either, while matching or bettering them on the load capacity front. It means that, for us, the appeal of the estate car remains strong. Below you’ll find what we believe are the best estate cars on the market today...
Best estate cars to buy 2021
- Skoda Octavia Estate
- 3 Series Touring
- Mercedes E-Class Estate
- BMW 5 Series Touring
- Toyota Corolla Touring Sports
- Skoda Superb Estate
- Audi A6 Avant
- Volvo V90 Recharge
- Ford Focus Estate
- Peugeot 508 SW
The Skoda Octavia Estate has pushed the boundaries, as it's bigger and better than its predecessor. It was first crowned best estate at the 2013 Auto Express New Car Awards, and again in 2019 following a refresh in 2017. It's a great all-rounder, offering brilliant flexibility for families and for anyone who prioritises space, comfort and reliability.
The Octavia Estate has always been one of the most spacious cars in its class, and now Skoda claims the new model boasts a 640-litre boot rising to 1,700 litres with the rear bench folded.
The new estate looks far more sophisticated and is able to hold its head high among its premium rivals. The interior is also impressive, with some materials which could easily belong to an Audi.
It's economical, too, with a range of efficient petrol and diesel engines, while plug-in hybrid tech is also available.
It doesn't lack for equipment either, with Bluetooth, DAB radio and engine stop/start coming as standard, as well as a double-sided boot floor, a rubbish bin and an ice scraper hidden in the fuel filler cap, while the most recent update added a torch in the boot and umbrellas in the doors. All this can be yours for around the same money as a VW Golf hatch, too.
3 Series Touring
The Touring version of the iconic BMW 3 Series is one of the most handsome estate cars on sale, but still offers great practicality with up to 1,500 litres of load space available when the rear seats are folded.
Although some rivals have the Touring beaten on load capacity, none of them can deliver the driving experience that BMW has created from its rear-drive set-up. The xDrive versions also benefit from all-wheel-drive, which could be enough to persuade customers away from yet another SUV purchase.
Interior quality is typically high, with the Touring looking and feeling indistinguishable from the saloon model. There's the clearly laid-out dashboard, incorporating plenty of quality trim with great fit and finish, while the intuitive iDrive infotainment controller is a real highlight.
BMW continues to offer petrol and diesel variants of the Touring, but there's also the option of a plug-in hybrid powertrain. The 330e version is available in any of the standard BMW trim levels, which means there's entry-level SE, followed by Sport and the more aggressive looking M Sport cars. For those that want even more visual impact and driving fun, BMW provides the M Sport Pro Edition which includes 19-inch alloys, unique paintwork, adaptive M suspension and an M Sport differential - helping to improve handling and traction out of corners.
Mercedes E-Class Estate
The giant of the estate market is the Mercedes E-Class Estate, although the latest model isn't quite as big as its predecessor. It's down from 695 litres to 640 litres, while the back seats fold to make 1,820 litres of space. Again, down from 1,950 litres in the old car.
But, boot size isn’t everything, and the rest of the car carries great appeal. It looks great, for starters, while it also has a huge towing capacity. All models get self-levelling rear suspension and a powered tailgate, too.
The interior offers plenty of room for five, plus there are cubbyholes and cup-holders dotted around the cabin. Seven airbags and ESP ensure driver and passengers are well protected. Optional safety kit includes night vision and lane departure warning.
Of course, all this comes at a price: the E-Class is competitive with rivals like the BMW 5 Series Touring, but options soon increase the cost. To limit their bills, buyers are advised to go for one of the diesels or plug-in hybrid models to keep fuel consumption down.
BMW 5 Series Touring
If you want an estate car to impress in the company car park, go for the BMW 5 Series Touring. It’s available in SE and M Sport trims and with a wide range of strong petrol and diesel engines, all fitted with BMW's great eight-speed automatic gearbox.
Lower-spec four-cylinder diesel models bring great fuel economy – the 520d claims 55.4mpg economy and 134g/km emissions. However, Yet it still provides plenty of performance even when the Touring is loaded up.
Offering even greater efficiency is BMW's plug-in hybrid powertrain which, in 530e SE form, delivers up to 35.4miles of all-electric running and an average fuel consumption figure of 188.3mpg - as long as you keep the battery charged up.
The boot size is no match for its arch-rival, the Mercedes E-Class, but it still impresses, with the 570-litre space expanding to 1,700 litres with the back seats folded. And the BMW is set apart by useful features like the separate-opening tailgate glass, load dividing nets and self-levelling suspension.
Further forward, there’s plenty of space for passengers, although the transmission tunnel can get in the way for those in the middle rear seat. All occupants are likely to complain about the overly firm ride, too, unless you specify the optional adaptive dampers. But the 5 Series Touring is a very safe car, with ESP and a pop-up bonnet to protect pedestrians, has excellent towing capability and comes with good-value fixed-price servicing.
Toyota Corolla Touring Sports
The Corolla Touring is a supremely practical family estate, while also offering great handling, comfort and running costs.
The petrol-hybrid system works well, providing good fuel economy and low emissions which means more affordable company car tax bills. Reliability is also key for a positive ownership experience, and Toyota has always been renowned for producing dependable cars - in fact the manufacturer finished in 6th position, out of 30 brands, in our Driver Power customer satisfaction survey.
The Corolla Touring is pretty good to drive, too, with a smooth ride and an effortless ability to tackle potholes and harsher bumps in the road. However, its CVT gearbox is best suited to a more relaxed driving style, as it can be rather noisy when accelerating hard.
Toyota’s Safety Sense package includes a host of active safety kit and helped the Corolla achieve a full five-star Euro NCAP rating, which should give owners peace of mind when on the road.
Skoda Superb Estate
The Skoda Superb Estate is a great choice of car. Gone is the dowdy design of the previous model, replaced with sharp creases and a lower, wider body - yet the car is cheaper than all of its main rivals.
There's a wide engine choice, starting with a 1.5-litre TSI petrol, although we'd recommend either the 2.0 TDI diesel engine with 148bhp, or the 1.4-litre iV plug-in hybrid model delivering 215bhp.
As with the last car, the main selling point of the Skoda Superb Estate is its unrivalled practicality. The boot has grown from the previous model and now provides a cavernous 660-litre load area, or 1,950 litres with the seats down. That's on a level with cars like the Mercedes E-Class Estate.
For rear passengers, luxury is the order of the day - the Skoda Superb provides more rear legroom than every car across the VW Group, bar the long-wheelbase Audi A8. It's wider than the previous car too, making it a better choice for carrying three abreast.
If there's any criticism, it's that the interior design is a bit plain - and of course, the sheer size of the Superb Estate can make it tricky to park.
Audi A6 Avant
The Audi A6 Avant is a masterclass in fine packaging, offering a luxurious cabin and the latest technology, all wrapped up in a sleek and sophisticated exterior.
The A6 Avant has been designed to cover long distances in a quiet and sophisticated manner, and probably isn't the first choice for buyers in search of keen dynamics. For that, the BMW 5 Series Touring should remain the prefered choice, although the gap is narrower than before.
The 2.0-litre 40 TDI version is a terrific all-rounder, while the 3.0-litre V6 50 TDI is the choice for crossing continents. Overall, there’s much to like and not a lot to dislike about the A6 Avant, which is why we think it’s the most complete Audi estate ever built. Still want that SUV?
Volvo V90 Recharge
Volvo has a long history of building spacious family estate cars. Models like the 240 and 850 delivered function more than form, but they have been trusted by families over the years to deliver safe, secure driving manners.
But the V90 adds a new level of quality to the mix, too. It uses the same platform as the XC90, and its styling is similar, too, although the low-slung estate is arguably more stylish. Either way, a 560-litre boot is nice and large, with a 1,526-litre capacity with the back seats folded.
Still, there aren't many more spacious family estates on the market. Safety is a major plus point with the V90, too, with plenty of autonomous tech added to the mix. There are petrol, diesel and plug-in hybrid versions available.
Ford Focus Estate
The Ford Focus Estate model is here to remind us that the original family-friendly format still has a lot to offer. More handsome and stylish than before, with flowing lines that are far from boxy, the Focus Estate combines practical load-lugging ability with a fun-to-drive factor you’ll struggle to find in a top-heavy compact SUV or MPV.
With solid build quality, efficient mild-hybrid engines and gearbox options plus trim levels to suit every pocket, it’s only the fickle finger of fashion that stands between the Focus Estate and soaring sales.
Entry-level Zetec models feature a good level of standard equipment, including a 8.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, air conditioning, cruise control with a speed limiter, a heated front screen and LED daytime running lights.
With the rear seats in use you get a massive 728-litres of load area, which compares well to just 443 litres in the hatch. Fold the rear seats down and you’re rewarded with a flat 1,620 litres of load space.
Peugeot 508 SW
The Peugeot 508 SW ticks both the driving and practicality boxes, although still offers plenty of style and flair for all the family.
It isn’t the biggest estate car on the market, but the latest Peugeot 508 SW is still a fantastically usable family model. It’s a safe and predictable car to drive, yet a strong equipment list and low running costs count in this model’s favour. Peugeot has also added a plug-in hybrid option to the range, bringing lower emissions and improved fuel economy.
The 508 isn’t as sharp to drive as a BMW 3 Series Touring, but its predictable, neutral balance means it’s easy and relaxing to pilot. It’s quiet at a cruise, with the fantastic eight-speed auto and entry-level diesel proving an excellent combination on the motorway.
Estate car buying advice
Here are some of the key questions you should ask yourself when choosing an estate car to help you get the best model for your needs...
How much luggage space do you need? Don’t assume all estates are born equal. Luggage capacity ranges from the relatively small MINI Clubman with 360 litres, to the colossal Skoda Superb with 660 litres – naturally these change significantly with the seats folded.
How much towing capacity do you need? Towing capacity can vary greatly from estate to estate as well. The Audi A6 Allroad and Volvo V90 Cross Country are amongst the best performing estates with a maximum braked towing capacity of around 2,500kg. Should you require less grunt, the Mercedes E-Class, BMW 3 Series Touring and Jaguar XF Sportbrake all offer decent towing capabilities.
How often will you be using the car? If you are covering a lot of miles you may well want to consider a diesel or even a hybrid – the latter also comes with tax incentives helpful for company car drivers. While a traditional petrol will still prove an excellent option for those who drive less.
How many seats do you need? If it’s any more than five you are going to need to look elsewhere, as the days of the seven-seat estate are no more.
Will you require off-road capabilities? Many manufacturers offer estates with extra black body cladding, a raised ride height and four wheel drive. Such models include the Skoda Octavia Scout and the Volvo V90 Cross Country.
What about optional extras? Due to the fact estate cars appeal to both private and business users, they quite often have extensive options lists. Parking sensors and blind spot monitoring systems are incredibly useful, while cruise control, heated and cooled seats, and automatic tailgates all help make life a little easier.
Other estate car options
Despite not failing to make our top then, there are many other strong estates on the market. Premium models such as the Audi A4 Avant and Jaguar XF Sportbrake combine luxury and load carrying ability, while in the middle of the cost spectrum are the the Vauxhall Astra ST, SEAT Leon Estate, VW Golf Estate, plus larger cars like the Ford Mondeo Estate and Mazda 6 Tourer.
Click the links above to find out which is the right choice for you.