Audi A6 Avant 2.0 TDI Ultra 190 Black Edition S tronic
List price £41,600
Target Price £37,816
Sleek looks hide a frugal diesel engine, a big boot and a large, luxurious interior.
Mercedes-Benz E-Class Estate E 220 d AMG Line
List price £40,430
Target Price £38,442
The latest E-Class has lots of new technology and new engines. Do these changes make it a winner?
Volvo V90 D4 Inscription
List price £37,555
Target Price £34,784
Volvo’s new big estate has comfort and luxury taking priority over sportiness.
The SUV is now the default choice for those requiring lots of space for people, bulky loads or a mixture of the two. That wasn’t always the case; the estate car fulfilled that purpose perfectly well for decades, so is it about time it made a comeback?
To find out, we’ve lined up three of the biggest estates on the market. First up is the new Mercedes E-Class in range-topping AMG Line trim. It might look sporty, but it has a new diesel engine that promises low running costs.
Our next contender comes from a brand arguably most famous for its estate cars: Volvo. The new V90 is a far cry from its boxy wagons of old, and we’ve opted for the more sensible of two diesel engines on offer to keep the price down.
Rounding things off is the oldest car of the group, the Audi A6 Avant. It’s also the priciest car here, but big discounts are available if you’re prepared to haggle.
What are they like to drive?
You might think straight-line performance isn’t overly important in a family estate, but a punchy engine helps immensely when you’ve a bootful of baggage. All three of our contenders have 2.0-litre diesel engines, but the E-Class is the quickest accelerating from a standstill and when you ask for a burst of speed on the move.
Following in a close second place is the V90, proving only marginally slower than the E-Class in most of our acceleration tests. Bringing up the rear is the A6, although you wouldn’t call it sluggish; in fact, all three cars are more than strong enough for the job they need to do.
It isn’t just what’s under the bonnet that gives the E-Class the performance edge; it’s the gearbox, too. With nine speeds, it can keep the engine on the boil more of the time. The ’box helps refinement, too – the E-Class is the quietest on the move. While shifts can thump a little in Sport+ mode, they are silky smooth if you stick to the Comfort setting.
The eight-speed gearbox in the V90 changes gear quickly, but it can be disappointingly jerky at times. As for the A6, it shifts between its seven gears with virtually no fuss. It also has the smoothest, quietest engine of our trio. The E-Class’s is nearly as smooth and quiet, although the V90’s engine is rather gruff by comparison.
Despite having the firmest ride, the E-Class remains comfortable. Its suspension has good damping that gives the most consistent ride with no nasty jolts over scarred surfaces. The rear suspension can be noisy going over bumps, though.
The A6 and V90 are much softer, so they float over larger road imperfections. Unfortunately, potholes and expansion joints trip them up (especially the V90), transmitting a thump through the suspension and into your seat.
In the bends, the V90’s soft springs allow lots of body lean and you’re very aware of its mass when you ask for a sudden change of direction. The A6 is better with its air suspension (£2000) set to Dynamic mode, but it can’t match the E-Class’s agility. The latter corners the most eagerly, yet feels safe and secure when pushed hard.
The E-Class’s steering is the quickest acting, but it is well weighted. The V90’s also has a good level of heft, something that can’t be said for the A6. Its steering is far too light unless you’re in Dynamic mode. As for braking, the E-Class posted the shortest stopping distances, followed by the V90 and the A6.
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