List price £36,590
Target Price £33,105
The A4 is our favourite executive car in saloon form. Is it as good as an estate, though?
BMW 3 Series Touring 320d M Sport auto
List price £36,340
Target Price £31,951
It's been around since 2012, but a refresh last year has added appeal to this accomplished campaigner
Mercedes C-Class Estate C 220 d Sport auto
List price £35,620
Target Price £31,684
Trails its rivals on power but beats both for standard kit. It's the cheapest before discounts, too
Tempted by a premium SUV, but wish they were a little more economical to run, more fun to drive and cheaper to tax? Well, if you’re prepared to sacrifice that raised seating position, you can have all of these things by choosing a traditional estate car instead.
Contrary to what you might expect, most estates can swallow as much luggage as their SUV equivalents, so there’s little to lose and much to gain in buying one.
Which should you choose, though? We’ve gathered together three of the best mid-sized premium wagons on the market to battle it out for class honours: the Audi A4 Avant, the BMW 3 Series Touring and the Mercedes C-Class Estate. All are in sporty looking trims to add some style, yet have tax-friendly diesel engines that skilfully balance performance and fuel economy
What are they like to drive?
The 3 Series and the A4 both have 2.0-litre engines, but are slightly more powerful than the 2.1-litre C-Class. However, the C-Class was marginally the quickest to reach 60mph, closely followed by the 3 Series, with the A4 lagging behind.
In the damp conditions of our test, the front-wheel-drive A4 struggled to accelerate smoothly off the line and scrambled for traction, while the others – both driven by their rear wheels – were able to get away smartly. You’d rarely need to accelerate so hard from standstill in everyday driving, though, and the A4 was on-pace with the others once rolling, helped by its quick shifting automatic gearbox.
In more leisurely urban driving all three cars change gear smoothly, and the A4 upshifts early to improve fuel economy; even if you sink your right foot its engine never sounds harsh or stressed.
Meanwhile, the C-Class's engine chugs away at idle and becomes slightly coarse with rising revs, and the 3 Series’s sounds clattery when you’re accelerating. With its noisy engine and noticeable tyre roar, the BMW is also the least peaceful companion on the motorway. By contrast, the Audi and Mercedes both hush up nicely as longdistance haulers.
The A4 feels the most stable when cruising, too, but its steering is the least responsive when turning in to tight B-road bends. On a dry surface the A4 grips well and can carry plenty of speed through corners. The C-Class sways about a bit more through tight twists, but handles tidily enough. Its variable steering (standard on this version) is disappointing, though; it feels unnatural and offers little feedback when you’re driving quickly.
It’s the 3 Series that triumphs for handling, with decent steering feel, impressive body control for a car of its size and a far greater feeling of driver involvement.
Given its agility, you might expect the 3 Series to deliver a harsh ride, but despite its stiffened M Sport suspension it handles sharper bumps quite well. The softly sprung C-Class is the most comfortable of the three at low speeds, but it never quite settles down at high speed.
Meanwhile, our test A4 was fitted with adaptive comfort suspension (£600), an option we’ve praised on the A4 saloon. It still delivers the most comfortable motorway ride of the trio, but our car’s optional 19in alloys didn’t help the ride on pockmarked town roads. We’d recommend sticking with the standard 18in rims.
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