What we were looking for
As well as the traditional spacious load bay, the best estates on the forecourts now offer impressive flexibility, a fine drive and affordable running costs.
Ford Mondeo 2.0 TDCi Zetec
List price £19,845
Target Price £18,275
Our short-list of contenders on the previous page all provide similar amounts of room, and there are plenty of other plus points each of the models has over its rivals to win over buyers.
So our victor has to be usable, enjoyable to drive, comfortable, cost-effective and well-built. The Ford Mondeo has it all, knocking the Vauxhall Vectra from the top spot it has occupied for the last two years.
Forget what stereotypes the Mondeo name might conjure in your mind - this is a breathtaking car.
To win through the most varied price band is testimony to its abilities, but the ease with which it has here shows just how good a job Ford has done.
It ticks the load-lugging box straight away, with the well-shaped 554-litre boot quickly and easily expanding to a huge 1685 litres with the split-folding rear seats stowed away.
The Mondeo also manages to be big without looking like a hearse - we think it's one of the most stylish-looking estate cars in years.
It's not just your suitcases that are pampered by the Mondeo's astounding amount of space, either. The cabin is vast and offers loads of head-, shoulder- and legroom for all.
Great family cruiser
The driving position is great, thanks to the seat and steering wheel adjustment on offer, and the driving experience is also brilliant. You'll struggle to find any family estate that's better for cruising.
If you take to the back roads you'll find that, despite its added size and weight over the saloon and hatch versions, the Mondeo estate is just as good to drive. There's excellent feel through the steering wheel and astounding ability along twisty roads.
The tremendous 138bhp 2.0-litre diesel is perfect for the estate, providing plenty of overtaking oomph even when you've loaded up. It's also smooth, quiet and economical, while the six-speed manual gearbox provides slick gear changes.
Every model in the range is well-equipped with stability control, electric front windows and mirrors, remote central locking and air-conditioning, but the Mondeo deserves a few more treats.
That's why we've gone for the Zetec trim, with its alloy wheels, climate control, rear electric windows and powered front seats.
The Ford already looks like a bargain at its list price, but when you consider the discounts which are readily available, it makes the Mondeo irresistible.
Skoda Octavia 1.6 FSI Classic
List price £12,965
Target Price £12,097
BMW 525d SE Auto Touring
List price £34,595
Target Price £32,170