The best estate cars offer more than just a big boot. The loadbay has to be a practical shape and offer easy access, while the rear seats must be easy to fold down flat. Furthermore, because they'll be used for business and family duties, the top estate cars will need to be efficient to run, too.
Class-leading estates will also have a spacious, comfortable and well-equipped cabin and an affordable purchase price. Here's our guide to 10 of the best estate cars you can buy.
Ford Mondeo Estate
The Ford Mondeo Estate delivers just about everything you could want from a family estate: it's big, safe, comfortable and great to drive. You could get lost in the boot which, combined with the split-fold rear seats, should be enough to make you think twice about buying an MPV.
Refinement is good and it has accomplished dynamics. The diesel engines are strong and frugal.
We'd recommend the 2.0 TDCI 140 Zetec. The engine has plenty of torque and suits the Mondeo. It's smooth, too, and manages more than 50mpg on the official cycle. Zetec trim is the best compromise on price versus equipment.
The Ford Mondeo delivers just about everything you could want from a family estate
BMW 5 Series Touring
The BMW 5 Series Touring shows BMW at the top of its game. It's great to drive, has loads of space and is full of Efficient Dynamics technology, so is the must-have executive estate car.
There's plenty of space for everyone inside. A substantial 560 litres of boot space with the rear seats in place (and 1670 when they’re folded down) provides oodles of cargo space, while the standard self-levelling suspension helps cope with heftier loads.
The Touring is not cheap to buy, but it's hugely desirable and that's reflected in its outstanding resale values. These – along with the Efficient Dynamics systems that help deliver class-leading economy – make it a clear winner as a business proposition.
Our favourite version is the 520d SE. It is considerably more economical to run than its direct competition.
Skoda Octavia Estate
It doesn't pull off any fancy tricks, but the Skoda Octavia Estate is a sturdy estate with bags of room. As a no-nonsense workhorse, it fits the estate brief perfectly. Best of all – it comes at bargain prices.
The boot offers a huge 580 litres of space, which extends to 1620 litres with the rear seats folded down. The loadbay is a useful shape, although the floor is bisected by a two-inch-high step in S and SE-spec cars.
The Skoda Octavia is the only estate on our list where we recommend petrol power. Our favourite version is the 1.4 TSI SE. This engine might sound too small, but it's good enough to power the car, and it comes with alloys, remote central locking, electric rear windows and a CD-changer.
Volkswagen Passat Estate
The Volkswagen Passat Estate is one of the best cars in its class and scores highly in just about every area. It is stylish, spacious, desirable and relaxing to drive. Resale values are strong and most versions are well equipped.
While it can't match a Ford Mondeo Estate for interior space, it’s still huge. There’s lots of leg-, shoulder- and headroom for four, although the hefty central tunnel does make life a little uncomfortable for a middle rear passenger. The boot is well shaped and can cope with lots of family clutter, but folding down the rear seats is a faff – you have to remove the headrests and pull up the seat bases first.
Our favourite version is the 2.0 TDI 140 SE Bluemotion Tech. The engine is strong and frugal and you get lots of standard kit.
Mercedes E-Class Estate
Next on our list is Merc at its best. The Mercedes E-Class Estate is a hugely practical executive wagon that's also classy and comfortable.
The Merc E-Class Estate is hugely practical, classy and comfortable
It has the biggest boot in its class, and access is easy because the tailgate and luggage cover are electrically operated. If you need even more space, the rear seats can be folded down flat from the cabin or by tugging handles in the boot. There's plenty of head- and legroom for everyone.
The car has a range of potent engines and lots of safety kit, too, but our favourite version is the E350 CDI Blue Efficiency Avantgarde. The fuel economy and high list price might be seen as drawbacks by some buyers, but we think it's worth the extra it costs to buy and run.
BMW 3 Series Touring
While the BMW 3 Series Touring is not the biggest estate car, it is one of the best. It drives every bit as well as the saloon, with sharp handling, informative steering and a strong range of engines.
There's plenty of room for four passengers in the cabin, but the Audi A4 Avant and Mercedes C-Class Estate both offer more boot space. However, you do get convenient features such as underfloor storage, lashing points and a rear screen that opens separately.
We recommend the 320d ES version. The engine suits the 3 Series perfectly, with a blend of smooth performance and low running costs, while this ES model has alloys, four electric windows, and air-conditioning.
Ford Focus Estate
Next up is the Ford Focus Estate, which is the sweetest-handling small estate car. It's well equipped, competitively priced and as practical as most rivals.
The rear seats fold down completely flat, too. The Ford Focus Estate isn’t as roomy for passengers as a VW Golf estate, but there's still plenty of space in the back for three small children or two large adults.
We'd opt for the 1.6 TDCi 115 Zetec model. It has fantastic official figures for emissions and fuel economy and comes with sports seats, a leather-trimmed steering wheel, alloy wheels and a Quickclear heated windscreen.
Hyundai i40 Tourer
The Hyundai i40 Tourer is a handsome and classy estate that's competitively priced. It’s available with some very efficient diesel engines, the cabin is classy and all versions come well equipped.
The i40's boot has a 553-litre capacity, making it one of the biggest in the family estate class. However, it's quite narrow between the wheelarches and the rear seats don’t fold down completely flat. Put the seats back up and there’s room for four adults in the cabin (or five at a push).
The i40's 553-litre capacity boot, makes it one of the biggest in the family estate class
Our recommended version is the 1.7 CRDi 115 Bluedrive Active.
Skoda Superb Estate
Number nine on our list is the Skoda Superb Estate. It provides a huge amount space, but not at a huge price. The cabin is classy and the driving experience is relaxed.
There are a range of hooks and lashing points in the boot for that extra practicality, and you can specify a sliding floor that extends over the rear bumper. It's a pity that the back seats aren't more intelligent, because you get a stepped load area when you fold them down. As in the hatchback version, passenger space is enormous.
We'd recommend the 2.0 TDI SE version. Running costs are low, and it's by far the smoothest and quietest of the diesel engines, while SE trim provides parking sensors – handy in a massive car such as the Superb.
Audi A4 Avant.
Last, but not least in the list of our best estate cars is the Audi A4 Avant.
It has a massive boot, handles securely and comes with a wide range of powerful engines. Thanks to reasonable list prices and strong resale values, the ownership costs are competitive, too.
With the rear seats in place, the well-shaped boot is larger than a Mercedes C-Class Estate's. However, the seats don’t fold down completely flat and the Mercedes offers more space with the seats folded.
Our favourite is the 2.0 TDIe 136 SE . It is arguably the most attractive A4 for business users, thanks to its good package of price and equipment, topped off with low CO2 emissions.
By Iain Reid
Our reviews are based on hard data and thorough testing in the real world.
Up to the minute news from around the globe