The best estate cars offer more than just a big boot. The load bay 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.
Class-leading estates will also have a spacious, comfortable and well-equipped cabin and an affordable purchase price. Here's our guide to the best estate cars you can buy, and the one you are best off avoiding.
Volkswagen Golf Estate
The Golf is our favourite load-carrier because not only does it do all the estate tricks buyers expect these days, but it also does the stuff that makes your day to day motoring life more enjoyable.
Boot space is suitably vast, and there's also an adjustable boot floor, bag hooks and underfloor storage, plus spring-loaded rear seats that fold almost flat with the pull of a lever in the boot. You can even store the load bay cover in a dedicated area beneath the boot floor.
There's plenty of space for four generously sized occupants, and five can fit if you're prepared to get cosy.
Fit and finish are typically Volkswagen, so it all feels like it's been assembled with plenty of care. There's loads of kit too, with DAB, Bluetooth and air-con all standard.
It isn't the cheapest thing to buy, but all the engines are pretty light on fuel, and resale values are strong, which should keep down running costs.
Our pick: 1.6 TDI Bluemotion Technology SE
The best of the rest
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 brilliant economy – make it awinner as a business proposition.
Our favourite version is the 520d SE. It is considerably more economical to run than its direct competition.
Our pick: 520d SE
Kia Ceed Sportswagon
A bargain – that's what the Ceed Sportswagon represents. It has a decently sized boot, it's available for a reasonable price, and it's cheap to run. Estate car motoring doesn't get much better than this.
Our favoured 1.4 CRDi 90 engine is available only in base-level 1 spec, but this still comes with air-conditioning, a multifunction steering wheel, Bluetooth and six airbags.
The Ceed Sportswagon is certainly a comfortable car, but there's also too much wind and road noise, and the steering is vague and slow.
Nonetheless, the Ceed will be a cheap car to run and comes with the reassurance of a seven-year warranty.
Our pick: 1.4 CRDi 89 1 ISG
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.
Our pick: 1.4 TSI SE
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.
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.
Our pick: E350 Bluetec AMG Sport
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.
Our pick: 320d ES
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).
Our recommended version is the 1.7 CRDi 115 Bluedrive Active.
Our pick: 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.
Our pick: Skoda Superb 2.0 TDI SE
The one to avoid
Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer
The Insignia is actually a little disappointing in the area an estate car need to excel - the boot. That's because it's quite shallow and is also narrow.
Make sure you bend down properly when putting stuff into the boot, too, because it's all too easy to bang your head on the tailgate. The wide bumper also forces you to stretch to put stuff into the boot.
There's decent space in the cabin for four people though, and the rear seats are easy to fold.
As attractive and classy as the dashboard may look, it's actually pretty tricky to use because of the sheer number of buttons.
We'd go for the 2.0 CDTi 140 version, but be aware that it's pretty noisy when you rev it. The Insignia Sports Tourer is at its best on the motorway, where it will cruise for mile after mile in comfort. It's less at home off the motorway, because in town or on twisty roads it feels cumbersome and wallowy.
Our pick: 2.0 CDTi 140 Design