If the automotive world was free of prejudice and immune to marketing guff, the estate car would be king.
Estate cars manage to deliver all of the versatility of an SUV while keeping the dynamic sharpness of their saloon equivalents in order to satisfy the cliché of being 'all the car you'll ever need'.
They're also hugely diverse. Not only are there plenty of options when it comes to size, but the elasticity of these machines also means our kitchen-sink-carrying cohort here includes everything from sleek shooting brakes to square-rigged options that match maximum volume with a competitive price.
You can also decide whether you want your estate to deliver cosseting comfort, fuel-sipping efficiency or supercar-chasing performance and handling, because there's a model to suit every taste and budget. Some even manage to make a fine fist of combining all these traits.
So here’s our pick of the best estate cars.
1. BMW 5 Series Touring
Pros: Stylish cabin, strong power reserves, slick infotainment
Cons: Brittle ride comfort, lacks BMW's stand-out handling
While there is a new edition of the 5 Series Touring on sale now, we're yet to test it. But the last generation car is still a machine that covers all bases, and remains hard to beat.
Elegantly styled, engaging to drive, just about large enough for most needs and packed with enough neat features to suggest the brand has thought hard about how it will be used, the multi-talented German wins this space race.
If you want one, you’ll have to be quick about it. The new 5 Series saloon is out, and although the estate hasn’t been revealed yet, it’s sure not to be far off. And if the saloon is anything to go by, the new 5 Series Touring will be bigger and more unwieldy, and fussier to use.
At 560 litres, boot capacity on this generation of 5 Series Touring is about average (it shrinks to 430 litres in the plug-in hybrids), but the load area is well shaped and the brand’s trademark opening rear glass makes it easier to load smaller items in a tight spot.
Fold the handy 40/20/40-split rear bench and there’s up to 1700 litres to play with. What’s more, air suspension is standard for the rear axle, helping deliver both self-levelling for heavy loads and, combined with optional adaptive dampers, enhanced comfort.
Yet BMW’s ‘ultimate driving machine’ shtick doesn’t come unstuck in the estate transformation, the 5 Series hiding its bulk and mass well with meaty steering, impressive agility and the option of expressive handling if you’re in the mood. The engine line-up has been pared back in recent years, with just four-cylinder diesel and petrol options, plus the lusty six-cylinder 540i.
There’s also a 530e plug-in hybrid for business users looking for a tax break. And while there’s no M5 option, semi-official tuning arm Alpina does offer a subtle yet superheated conversion in the form of the Alpina B5 Touring, provided you’ve enough cash to fill a 5 Series Touring's boot.
2. Dacia Jogger
Pros: Class-leading value for money, useable third row of seats, frugal engines
Cons: Lacks some safety systems, passenger space isn’t as generous for adults
Is it an estate? Is it an MPV? Is it an SUV? It does have seven seats and a mildly raised ride height, but we reckon it’s an estate - and a really good one too.
Given the rampant rise in the cost of living that we’ve experienced in the past few years, the Jogger is particularly welcome. It offers all the space and utility you need, including a genuinely usable third row of seats, for significantly less money than most standard hatchbacks.
And it’s not as if Jogger drivers have to give up a lot of creature comforts. Yes, the plastics are hard and there is no expensive-feeling leather on the seats, but Dacia has grown very adept at brightening up its interiors with a strip of fabric here, and a bit of faux knurled aluminium there, without breaking the bank.
Go for one of the still very reasonably priced higher trims and you get heated seats, cruise control and navigation, as well as an infotainment system that works more logically than a lot of fancier systems.
The 1.0-litre engine is no powerhouse, but thanks to the snappy six-speed manual, it gets out of its own way well enough. If you must have an automatic transmission, the Dacia Jogger Hybrid is the one to go for and returns very impressive economy.
It rides well on its soft suspension but has enough inherent balance to still be enjoyable on a twisty road. Some might scoff at the one-star NCAP rating, but the Jogger protects still its occupants perfectly well in a crash.
However, NCAP marked it down for the absence of some active safety systems. Those can be less of a help than a hindrance on some cars, so it’s not the biggest loss.
The Jogger offers lots of space for relatively little money in what is quite a cheery and pleasant package. It’s the opposite of a luxury car, but it’s hard not to like.
Read our Dacia Jogger review
3. Jaguar XF Sportbrake
Pros: Good value for premium feel, class-leading handling, supple ride
Cons: No plug-in option, small back seats, expensive optional extras
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, diesel-powered D200 XF Sportbrake can now be had for a little over £40,000, which makes it cracking value - especially when the Mercedes E-Class is pushing into the £60ks.
WLTP emissions tests have robbed Jaguar's only estate of its multi-cylinder engines, sadly: Jaguar never got around to dropping any of its straight-six Ingenium motors into the car, and it 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, and one that changes direction beautifully thanks to the weight and response of Jaguar's trademark steering.
The top-billing XF P300 model pairs the same 296bhp 2.0-litre petrol engine from the Jaguar 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.
If you're looking for those traditional Jaguar values of space, pace and grace, then the Sportbrake has them by the bootful.
Read our Jaguar XF Sportbrake review
4. BMW 3 Series Touring
Pros: Excellent driving dynamics, world class blend of performance and economy, handy glass tailgate
Cons: Beginning to look expensive, transmission isn’t as dexterous as it could be
The smaller sibling of the 5 Series, the 3 Series Touring, packs many of its larger stablemate’s strengths into a more compact package.
However, even if you can’t stretch to the fast and furious flagship, you’ll be pleased to discover that plenty of its magic is sprinkled over the rest of the range. Few estate cars at any price are as good to drive, the 3 Series wagon’s mix of agility, driver engagement and right-sized exterior making it feel at home on any twisting stretch of Tarmac.
And while it rides a little firmer than some, the sense of solidity and excellent refinement mean it's also relaxing when you just want to mooch. The 3 Series also features a lavishly appointed and finished interior, while the boot will swallow 500 litres (410 litres for the 330e plug-in hybrid) with the rear bench in place.
There’s also that handy lifting glass tailgate, numerous storage cubbies and shopping bag hooks.
A facelift in 2022 mostly concerned the interior, where the 3 Series gained a massive curved screen, but lost a lot of its physical controls. We’re no great fans of BMW’s latest iDrive operating system, but at least the presence of the signature rotary controller makes up for a lot
The 3 Series also had its engine line-up slashed in the UK. The regular range now consists of a 2.0-litre petrol, a 2.0-litre diesel and a 2.0-litre plug-in hybrid. However, you can still have a straight six with either petrol or diesel power in the form of the M340i and M340d.
These are also joined by the magnificent 503bhp BMW M3 Touring, which has all the saloon’s incredible pace and poise but with an extra dose of practicality as well.
Read our BMW 3 Series Touring review
Save money with new 3 Series Touring deals from What Car?
5. Citroën C5 X
Pros: Supple and soft suspension, well-built interior, economical powertrains
Cons: Frustrating brake feel, occasionally jerky automatic gearbox, secondary ride ultimately disappointed
Citroën has rediscovered its knack for doing things differently, and the C5 X is arguably the most tangible proof of this.
Combining the style of a coupé with the stance of an SUV and the versatility of an estate (according to Citroën), the flamboyant French machine forges its own path to practicality. It’s an estate car, Jim, but not as we know it.
What’s clear from the outside is that comfort is the order of the day with the Citroën, even if it’s not quite as accomplished in this area as some of its double-chevron ancestors.
The soft suspension can get unsettled but otherwise it delivers a supple and easy-going gait, while the squidgy seats are surprisingly supportive. Light steering and a fair amount of body movement mean it's best at a gentle canter, but consistent grip and accurate steering ensure it’s hardly a chore to drive.
Despite its rakish exterior, the C5 X features a spacious interior that looks good and is well-built. There’s a large boot as well, which will swallow a very useful 540 litres of luggage with the rear seats in use, although this drops to 485 litres in the C5 X hybrid.
Speaking of which, the plug-in model delivers some decent savings for business users and is the most relaxing choice these days. The C5 X launched with the option of an unhybridised 1.6-litre petrol engine, whose quiet running and adequate torque suited the car well.
However, that was removed from sale after only a few months, leaving the 1.2-litre triple as the only C5 X without a plug. It’s a decent enough engine and is capable of excellent economy, but it can struggle with this big car, not helped by the somewhat petulant automatic gearbox.
Read our Citroen C5 X review
6. Mercedes-Benz E-Class Estate
Pros: Massive 615-litre boot, lots of interior technology, E300e plug-in hybrid has class-leading electric range
Cons: No four-wheel steering or air suspension in the UK, expensive, plug-in hybrid battery eats into boot space
Does the E-Class get any more convincing than in estate form? 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.
With the seats in place, there’s a healthy 615 litres, while dropping the 40/20/40-split folding rear bench liberates a cavernous, and flat-floored, 1830 litres of capacity (although as with others here, the plug-in hybrid’s version is smaller, at 460-1675 litres, due to the need to house a large battery).
The load area is also well shaped and there’s a low load lip and a powered tailgate, all of which make it easier to carry awkward items.
For the latest E-Class – codenamed W214, or S214 for the estate – there are a few changes. The first is that Mercedes has gone all-in on screens and tech. Higher trims get what Mercedes calls the ‘Superscreen’, which fuses a large central screen and a smaller screen for the passenger in a large expanse of black.
It mostly works quite well, and you don’t have to have it. Interior materials generally feel high quality too. Most new E-Classes in the UK come on sport suspension. We’ve yet to drive the estate in the UK, but we expect the ride to be okay rather than pillowy.
The plug-in hybrid E300e is likely to be the comfiest, as it comes on softer suspension. All estates have rear air suspension, but that’s more for self-levelling than comfort.
From launch in the UK, there are only three powertrains on offer, all using a 2.0-litre four-cylinder: there’s an E200 mild-hybrid petrol, an E200d mild-hybrid diesel and an E300e plug-in hybrid.
There are six-cylinder and four-wheel-drive versions in Germany, but it’s unclear if any of those will make it to the UK. For now, we’ve only tried the E220d, which proved very refined and very frugal.
Read our Mercedes E-Class review
7. Ford Focus Estate
Pros: Agile, playful chassis, Improved ergonomics, driveline enjoyable to engage with
Cons: Merely acceptable motorway economy, plain and cheap-feeling interior
For decades, Ford’s mid-size car – first the Escort and then the Focus – was the default family car, with estate versions available for those who needed more space.
With the rise of SUVs, the Focus has been marginalised a bit, to the extent that there won’t be a new generation once the current one’s run ends in 2025.
We still like it quite a lot, however. It doesn’t offer the premiumish experience or plug-in hybrid drivetrains of some rivals such as the Peugeot 308 SW, but if you like driving and being in control, it ticks quite few boxes.
The regular Focus is always powered by a mild-hybrid 1.0-litre three-cylinder these days – either with 123bhp and a six-speed manual or 153bhp and a seven-speed dual-clutch auto.
Both are pretty good, but we’d stick with the cheaper manual. It’s no hot hatch, but it does offer a very natural, satisfying driving experience, and there’s very little to annoy you. And when we ran a 153bhp automatic as a long-term test car, it returned 58mpg on average, which is pretty impressive for a mild-hybrid petrol.
The most recent facelift has introduced a massive multimedia screen. It sadly usurped the physical climate controls but, truth be told, it still works pretty well.
The Focus Estate is practical too, without being massive on the outside. Boot capacity stands at 608 litres, increasing to 1653 with the seats folded flat. It’s not just big: there are also practical features such as a luggage cover that’s easy to remove and reinstall.
If you do want that hot hatch experience, the estate is available as a 276bhp Focus ST as well.
Read our Ford Focus Estate review
8. Toyota Corolla Touring Sports
Pros: Excellent economy, surprisingly capable handling, nice ride
Cons: Gearbox’s manual mode is a token gesture, some disappointing cabin fittings, poor infotainment
There was a time not that long ago when the Toyota Corolla was a byword for humdrum transport. Durable and dependable, it was also dynamically flat and devoid of charm.
However, that’s all changed with the current 12th-generation version, which features all the nameplate’s' traditional strengths, but mixes in some style and a big dollop of driver appeal. Go for the Touring Sports and you get a healthy injection of practicality too.
Thanks to the brand’s TNGA (Toyota Next Generation Architecture), the Corolla is blessed with a fine ride and handling balance that makes it a genuine pleasure to steer down your favourite road as well as affording it genuine comfort and refinement.
These days the Corolla is always a petrol-electric hybrid, but you have the choice of a 1.8- or a 2.0-litre. The former got a sizeable power bump to 138bhp in 2023, making its performance adequate rather than sluggish.
The 2.0 got a smaller upgrade to 193bhp, making it pleasantly nippy. Neither are performance machines because the CVT gearbox will still give you soaring revs if you really put your foot down, but both get out of their own way, and will return good economy.
In that respect, the 1.8 can be incredibly frugal on congested roads, but the 2.0-litre might be the better option if you do a lot of motorway miles.
The interior isn’t quite up to premium standards and the infotainment is fairly lacklustre, but there’s decent space and it’s robustly built. Likewise, the boot lacks some of the clever features of rivals, but it’s roomy enough and benefits from a low-loading lip and a decent shape.
It is worth noting that the 1.8 has a slightly bigger boot because its 12V battery can go under the bonnet, whereas the 2.0-litre’s has to live in the boot – 696 litres plays 581. So there you have it: a Corolla with space, style, substance and sparkle.
Read our Toyota Corolla Touring Sports review
9. Audi A6 Avant
Pros: Plush and premium cabin, strong touring economy, effortless long-distance cruiser
Cons: Limited engine range, boot space isn't class-leading, tight rear seats
Audi’s large estate can match neither the newness of the E-Class nor the driving enjoyment of the 5 Series, but it still has a lot going for it.
It’s available with four-cylinder petrol, diesel and plug-in hybrid powertrains, and rather than chase BMW for driving dynamics, it majors on mechanical refinement and cabin isolation.
It has an attractive, roomy, expensive-feeling cabin that looks good and is a pleasure to while away the hours within. And although we’ve criticised the multimedia for its clumsy attempt at tactile feedback, the interface works quickly and logically, and there’s a separate screen for the climate controls, making easier to use than some modern systems.
The A6 Avant scores plenty of practical estate points. The 565-litre boot is accessed via a suitably wide aperture and there’s no awkward sill over which heavy items will need to be lifted, which is handy, although the angle of the bootline may prevent taller items from being loaded easily.
The 40:20:40-split folding rear seats collapse to liberate an additional 1115 litres of space for a total capacity of 1680 litres.
And if you want to go fast, there’s always the Audi RS6. The S6 is a slightly odd duck with its diesel V6, but the RS6’s thundering V8 is a real event and does without the complication of hybrid systems, which are likely to afflict the upcoming M5 and E63.
Dynamically, it’s one of the best fast Audis ever, too. It isn’t lairy like a BMW M car, but there’s enough poise, combined with some rear bias and a well-tuned four-wheel steering system to keep you entertained.
Read our Audi A6 Avant review
10. Genesis G70 Shooting Brake
Pros: Distinctive exterior, appealing cabin, good everyday versatility
Cons: Noiser than the saloon, gearbox struggles at higher speeds, four-pot engines fall flat
If you need proof that premium brand newcomer Genesis is serious about a European assault, look no further than the G70 Shooting Brake.
While its imposing SUVs and state-of-the-art EVs grab headlines and sales, the load-lugging version of its compact exec saloon is the only model designed purely for sale in Europe, rather than for a global audience.
As its name suggests, this is more of a lifestyle estate than a true hard-working load lugger, but the 465-litre boot capacity is hardly shabby and can be extended to 1535 litres. The rear seats are a little cramped by class standards, but otherwise the Genesis is roomy and well equipped and feels like an upmarket product.
Plenty of effort has been lavished on the suspension in order to cater for European tastes, and overall the hard work has paid off. Not only is it firmer and more controlled than its saloon sibling, but the G70 also steers accurately and feels balanced and biddable when pushing on.
If there’s a fly in the ointment, it’s the engines. The four-cylinder diesel and petrol options aren’t short of poke, but they can match neither the fuel economy we expect of modern four-cylinders nor the cultured sound and delivery of the six-cylinder units found in some of the competition.
Still, as a distinct and different choice, the Genesis is worth a look.
Read our Genesis G70 Shooting Brake review