Currently reading: Top 10 best estate cars 2021
Our list of the very best load-lugging wagons you can buy today, with something to suit all budgets
Autocar
News
8 mins read
9 August 2021

The wonderful thing about estate cars is the sheer breadth of the class. This is simply a consequence of the fact that, whichever type of car the public wants, there will always be a portion who want it with added practicality.

At the extremities of this world lie such oddities as the stretched-out Mini Traveller of 1960 and the V12-engined Ferrari GTC4 Lusso shooting brake, but even the more humdrum middle ground is overflowing with variety. That's because while the following 10 cars share a common utilitarian cause, they deliver it in different ways.

Look past the big boot and some strive for opulence. Others deploy every trick in the book to make their owners' lives easier. And a couple have quietly prioritised dynamism. A handful, we might add, manage to do it all, albeit at a price. So which are the best options if you're an Autocar reader who wants only one car to do it all?

Best estate cars on sale in 2021

1. BMW 5 Series Touring

BMW's mid-sized stalwart is our preferred mid-sized premium saloon and it's arguable that ballooning the rear bodywork only increases its vast all-round appeal. The first reason for this is that air suspension is standard fit at the rear axle, and combined with the optional adaptive dampers, this makes for first-class ride quality.

The second reason is that BMW's strong range of diesel and petrol engines allows you to prioritise economy with four cylinders; to ensure progress is always deliciously effortless with a straight six under the bonnet; or to opt for a tax-efficient plug-in hybrid. That the G30-generation car isn't quite as incisive as its forebear also matters less for the Touring version, whose 1700-litre load bay with the rear seats down is right in the mix.

BMW doesn’t offer an M5 Touring currently, nor even an M Performance M550i- or M540d Touring option, so the quickest regular '5-er' is the six-cylinder petrol 328bhp 540i xDrive. But if you’ve got spicier appetites for your do-it-all, propeller-badged premium load-lugger, just keep reading.

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2. Skoda Superb Estate

Read our full road test of the Skoda Superb and you'll learn that this is a car "on its way to becoming one of the very best family cars in the world". It's not difficult to see why, either. In estate form, Skoda's chiselled flagship model boasts a cavernous 1950 litres of carrying capacity with the rear seats folded flat: more than even a Mercedes E-Class Estate.

There's also now a petrol-electric version – the Superb iV Estate – that pairs the 1.4-litre TSI engine with an electric motor. If you can make the electric range of around 25 miles work in your routine, the fuel (and tax) saving is just another reason to consider the big Skoda.

Meanwhile, finding noteworthy fault in the cabin ergonomics, materials quality or rolling refinement is also a fool's errand when you consider the range starts at so much less than you'll pay for the usual premium contenders. For extra versatility, Skoda offers a folding front passenger seat with its own ISOFIX childseat anchorages, as well as a variable-height boot floor and the usual nets and trays if you want them. Its only missed trick is forgetting to put a 40:20:40-split back seat on the equipment list.

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3. Alpina B3 Touring

Arguably the most compelling everday proposition on this list is also the most expensive. Indeed, paying more than £60,000 for a 3 Series – especially one without an M badge on its bootlid – might seem foolish; but Alpina's deft retuning of the standard model's suspension and engine results here in a blend of handling, performance and comfort so compelling that it earned the latest car a five-star road test recommendation in 2020.

These rarely seen Q-cars are among our road testers' favourites, and Alpina's lavish interiors – which optionally use the same leather as Rolls-Royce – are another reason to consider these 190mph family wagons. 

The new, G20-generation B3 Touring has peak output figures of 462bhp and 516lb ft, making it jump clear of its diesel-powered opposite number the D3 S by more than a hundred horses. This is a four-wheel drive fast wagon with great cruising manners; the balance and involvement of a rear-driven saloon; proper exclusivity appeal; and all the family living space you could really want.

4. Ford Focus Estate

The least expensive car here punches well above its weight both in driver appeal and in practicality, not least because, at almost 4.7m long, its footprint is significantly greater than before. As a result, boot capacity raises from 375 litres in the hatch to 608, increasing to 1653 with the seats folded flat.

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For long-haul family-car duties, we'd spec our Focus Estate with Ford's adaptive dampers, which help massage a ride quality that otherwise strays into the realm of coarseness. However, you might also consider the ST version, which is available both in diesel and petrol form and with up to 276bhp in the latter. 

Save money with new Focus deals from What Car?

5. Mercedes E-Class Estate

Does the E-Class – also available in coupé and saloon bodystyles – get any more convincing than this? We think not, because if the role of a big Benz is to convey the whole family in enviable comfort, the estate is where you should spend your money. On this list, only the cavernous Skoda can compete with the Mercedes' outright carrying capacity.

So cultured is the ride quality and effortless the driving controls that piloting the E-Class Estate is almost as relaxing as sitting in the passenger seat. Those who want entertainment when the road starts to twist will be better served elsewhere - but that doesn’t mean you can’t have one with huge power (E63 S), or with diesel-electric plug-in power (E300de) if you want.

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6. Jaguar XF Sportbrake

Jaguar did much for the rational appeal of its slightly long-in-the-tooth larger executive option, the XF, early in 2021 when it widely overhauled the interior, cut the engine range and slashed a four-figure sum off the list price. A rear-driven, turbo petrol powered XF Sportbrake can now be had for less than £38,000. A ‘D200’ four-cylinder diesel isn’t much pricier, and can be had with four-wheel drive if you prefer.

WLTP emissions tests have robbed Jaguar's only estate of its multi-cylinder engines, sadly: Jaguar hasn’t yet got around to dropping any of its straight-six Ingenium motors into the car, and isn’t likely to in the future. But whichever engine sits in the Sportbrake's nose, you're getting arguably the best-handling chassis in this class here, and one that changes direction beautifully thanks to the weight and response of Jaguar's trademark steering.

The top-billing petrol model pairs the same 296bhp 2.0-litre petrol engine from the F-Type with all-wheel drive and is a superbly competent all-weather family car, now finally with a cabin and infotainment system worthy of a premium executive operator.

​Save money with new XF Sportbrake deals from What Car?

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7. Volkswagen Arteon Shooting Brake

As regulars of the estate car niche will know, there are estate cars and estate cars: and a shooting brake can be a very special estate car indeed. Volkswagen bolstered the showroom fortunes of its ailing flagship four-door coupe, the Arteon, by adding a shooting brake version as part of the last facelift - and it’s turned what used to be quite a good-looking car into something really quite alluring.

The Arteon was a surprisingly roomy car already, and an extended roofline improves accessibility to the car’s load bay as well as increasing its volume. This is a car that’s fit for two rows of adult passengers and plenty of luggage, and that also has a quietly plush and upmarket, although not an overbearingly luxurious cabin.

Four-cylinder engines of both the petrol and diesel variety, producing between 148- and 197bhp, are available, as well as a 215bhp ‘eHybrid’ PHEV that can be had from a whisker over £40,000 and that might appeal to fleet drivers. Meanwhile the range-topping, 316bhp Arteon R, with its all-paw Golf R powertrain, might well tempt a few keener drivers looking for a handsome and distinctive but alternative performance wagon.

Save money with new Arteon deals from What Car?

8. Audi A6 Avant

Audi might have diversified its range to include superminis and a mid-engined supercar, but a four-wheel-drive mid-sized executive estate, preferably powered by an effortlessly smooth-spinning diesel V6, exemplifies what the brand is about.

And although a BMW 5 Series will better reward its driver every day of the week, in terms of mechanical refinement, technological sophistication and percieved cabin quality, the Audi pips its compatriot. Along with luggage capacity to spare, this car delivers the authentic Audi experience.

Audi’s engine range for the car reads like a restaurant menu, offering convention four-cylinder petrols and diesels; six-cylinder petrols and diesels; two distinct petrol-electric plug-in hybrids; and then two further performance wagons in the S6 and RS6. Whatever you have, be sure to choose air suspension if you can.

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9. Volvo V90

Just five miles in a V90 is enough to show you firmly where Volvo's priorities lay when designing this car. The high waistline and steeply raked dashboard cocoon passengers within a materially rich cabin, and the V90 feels supremely robust and secure, given the luxury on offer. The ride quality makes good on that promise of insulation from the outside world, and although the suspension can feel a little brittle at low speeds, it's right up there with the best as a motorway cruiser.

Few cars gobble up colossal mileage in such style and comfort, but the V90 ultimately trails the class leaders because of its loose body control, a slight imprecision in the driving controls and relatively coarse four-cylinder engines. Where the latter are concerned, the choice is between four-cylinder petrols or a similar diesel - or there’s the T6 Recharge petrol-electric plug-in hybrid, which is one of our favourite of Volvo’s electrified powertrains.

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10. Peugeot 508 SW

With its higher roofline, the 508 Station Wagon immediately outscores its saloon sibling because rear head room isn't so restricted. Granted, this estate is not as spacious some rivals, or as good to drive, but it rides well enough at speed, steers with pleasing accuracy and is arguably the prettiest estate car in any segment.

Those who haven't set foot inside a Peugeot for some time will also be pleasantly surprised not only by the fit and finish of the interior but also by the imagination on display.

Economical – although not particularly expressive – engines are another reason to give the 508 SW at the very least your consideration. The range-topping 508 PSE performance hybrid, meanwhile, raises the 508’s dynamic standard by no little margin; it’s pricey, but if you like the idea of an extra-versatile family car that can keep you interested on a country road, and impress you with its urban economy, it deserves your attention.

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ianp55 9 August 2021

Bit of a joke list isn't it surely the point of an estate car is useable space? putting the BMW 5 series at the top of the list seems ridiculous then adding the Alpina version of the 3 series is rubbing salt in the wounds. Why pay more for less with the VW Arteon Shooting Brake? the Passat Estate offers so much useable space than it's over priced stablemate

JamieM1991 9 August 2021

@fellwalker before you have a heart attack the article states 608 litres of space for the Ford Focus, 375l is for the hatch.

jameshobiecat 26 February 2021

Good luck specing your focus estate with adaptive dampers to improve the ride, they are only available on the hatch. Otherwise a focus ST estate seems to be all the car I’d want, perhaps with some slightly more refined styling.