Both the Ford Mondeo Estate and Volkswagen Passat Estate have recently been redesigned from the ground up, leading to a renewed fight for the number one spot in the estate market.
Volvo, however, is pushing its V60 back into the fray with a less expensive, better equipped version of its long-standing model. Let's find out which is the best choice.
Ford Mondeo Estate 1.6 TDCi 115 Zetec
Spacious, well-priced and with decent kit, the Mondeo could be the happy medium here.
Volkswagen Passat Estate 1.6 TDI 120 S
Positioned as more premium than the Mondeo, the VW has the edge for cabin finish but is short of kit.
Volvo V60 2.0 D4 Business Edition
The clean, high-power D4 engine is great; this new trim could finally make the V60 good value, too.
Ten years ago anyone after a big family car bought an estate. Now, with a bewildering choice of MPVs and SUVs, does the traditional family wagon still make sense?
Ford thinks so, which is why the new Mondeo Estate follows much the same formula as its predecessors. There’s nothing very clever inside but there is an enormous amount of space, including a boot that’ll swallow a phenomenal amount.
Officially, at least, the latest VW Passat is even roomier. Then again, it’s more expensive than the Ford despite coming with fewer luxuries.
Volvo’s V60 has always been let down by its high price, but the new Business Edition makes financial sense given its generous kit.
All of these estates are popular with company car drivers, so we’ve chosen the most efficient versions. In the Mondeo and Passat that means a low-powered 1.6-litre diesel engine, whereas the Volvo has a punchier 2.0-litre diesel.
What are they like to drive?
The performance gap between the 2.0-litre, 178bhp V60 and the lower-powered 1.6 diesel engines
in the Ford and VW is even bigger than you might expect. The Volvo is in another league, accelerating from 30-70mph in 7.7sec. That’s 3.1sec faster than the VW and 3.9sec quicker than the Ford. The V60 is the stronger performer in all situations.
The Passat is more responsive than the longer-geared Mondeo at low revs and ultimately that bit nippier, but you’ll have to work the engines in both cars hard if you want to get anywhere in a hurry. Still, all three cars accelerate progressively, making them easy to drive smoothly.
You might find yourself changing gear fairly regularly in the Passat, though; the relatively big gap between third and fourth means neither gear feels right for long – especially at suburban speeds.
The Mondeo might be the slowest but it sets the benchmark for handling; it feels surprisingly agile and responsive for such a large car, despite its overly light steering. The standard 16-inch alloys and energy-saving tyres don’t provide a huge amount of grip, though, and you can’t upgrade to larger wheels.
The Passat isn’t far off the Ford’s dynamic prowess when fitted with the optional adaptive dampers. In Normal mode the VW corners neutrally and grips strongly, while its precise steering provides enough feedback, too. The Volvo is left trailing, mostly thanks to its inconsistent steering which feels light and vague at times, and overly keen to self-centre at others.
It’s the Mondeo again that leads the way for comfort. It deftly smooths out bumps around town, and – as with all these cars – keeps the ride supple yet neatly controlled on the motorway. The Passat, meanwhile, transmits more road imperfections to your backside but is still more comfortable than the Volvo, which feels brittle over sharp-edged intrusions.
Refinement is the Mondeo’s strongest suit, though. It has the quietest engine, keeps road and wind noise to a minimum on the motorway and even has the slickest gearshift. Meanwhile, the Passat has the noisiest engine and kicks up the most road roar at a steady 70mph. You feel more engine vibration through the V60’s steering wheel and pedals than in the others, and it also has the least precise gearshift of the trio.
What are they like inside?
Only seriously lanky folk will complain about the space in the front of any of these estates, although the new Passat ultimately has the most head- and legroom, and the Volvo the least.
Move to the rear seats and it’s a similar story. There’s enough room in all three for a couple of six-footers to sit comfortably for long distances, but the VW is the roomiest and the V60 the most cramped. Carrying three adults in the back of any of these estates is a squeeze for all concerned.
At the business end the Passat continues to dominate. Its 650-litre load bay edges the Mondeo’s by being slightly taller and also wider at its broadest point, whereas the Volvo boot is by far the pokiest. None of these cars has a lip at the entrance to the boot to negotiate but the Mondeo’s boot is closest to the ground, so you don’t need to lift heavy items as far to get them in.
All three cars have rear seats that split and fold flat (60:40 in the case of the Mondeo and 40:20:40 in the Passat and V60), but again the Passat impresses most. That’s because you can drop its rear seats by pulling levers on the sides of its boot, whereas the same process in the Volvo and Ford requires you to pull a lever or push a button next to the rear head restraints.
These cars all provide the driver with an equally good view of the road ahead. The Mondeo and Passat’s slender rear pillars and relatively large rear screens make them fairly easy to see out the back of, too. The Volvo’s sloping roof and chunkier rear pillars get in the way.
It’s easy to get comfortable in all of these estates thanks to a wide range of seat and wheel adjustment, although taller drivers may wish the Volvo’s seat went lower.
Both the Passat and V60 have generally high-quality, plush-feeling interiors. If anything, the VW’s feels classier than the Volvo’s; both are superior to the Ford’s.
What will they cost?
These are the most efficient diesel versions in their ranges, so they’ll be popular with company car drivers. That’s especially true in the Mondeo’s case. It has the lowest list price of the trio and the joint lowest CO2 emissions, so it’ll cost you the least in benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax.
Assuming you’re a 40% rate taxpayer, the V60 will push up your monthly tax by a small amount, while the Passat – the least efficient of our trio – will set you a little extra again each month. That might not seem like much of an issue, but over three years you’ll pay several hundred more in tax to run the VW over the Ford.
It’s a different story if you’re buying privately. Assuming you sell after three years, the Volvo will be the most expensive – mainly because it’s pricier to buy than its two rivals after discounts, although it is the second most economical of the trio in real-world driving. The Passat will cost you the least to own thanks to its strong resale values and low insurance premiums.
All three cars come with 16-inch alloys, electric windows (front and rear) and some form of air-conditioning. However, while the sophisticated climate control systems in the Mondeo and V60 can automatically maintain a set cabin temperature, the Passat’s system simply blows warm or cool air on demand. It’s also disappointing that VW charges extra for cruise control and front foglights; both of these
items feature as standard on the Ford and Volvo.
Euro NCAP awarded its maximum five-star rating to all three of these models, with the Mondeo and the Passat scoring almost identical marks for adult and pedestrian safety, and the VW faring best in the child safety test. The V60 was tested under an older regime so its results aren’t comparable, but its scores are impressive compared with other rivals tested back in 2012. It’s also the only one of the trio that gets automatic emergency braking as standard, although this valuable feature is optional on the Mondeo and the Passat.
The Ford mondeo is not a flawless car. It’s certainly no firecracker in terms of its performance, and it's a shame about the fiddly infotainment system and the fact that the overall cabin finish isn’t classier. Yet, even with these foibles, the Ford is the best big family estate here.
As a company car it’s impressively cheap for both fleet user and provider, and while private buyers should be aware of low resale values, big discounts and attractive finance offers up front will still sway it for many potential owners. On top of that, sprightly handling, a pliant ride and comfortable, supportive seats make it perfect for high-mileage drivers.
The Passat Estate is a brilliant family car, too, but it’s hamstrung by the combined whammy of
a high purchase price and poor equipment levels, which will bother anyone running the car regardless of how they’re paying for it. Opting for SE trim makes it look more expensive at first glance, but the greater amount of kit on this trim actually make it a better value buy – albeit still hard to justify next to the keen pricing of the big Ford.
The Volvo comes out looking remarkably tempting. Its potent performance is a real joy after the fairly sluggish pace of the Ford and VW, and the cabin has a proper sense of quality about it. Together they only make its low company car tax costs all the more impressive. A small boot, a slightly jittery ride and a high price let it down – but if you can live with these things, it’s one for your shortlist.
Ford Mondeo Estate 1.6 TDCi 115 Econetic Zetec
For Ride and handling balance; low company car costs; masses of space Against** Comparably poor resale values; perceived cabin quality
Verdict The best all-rounder given its costs, space and dynamics
Volkswagen Passat Estate 1.6 TDI 120 S
For Cabin quality and space; relaxing to drive Against** So-so refinement; pricey given mean kit levels
Verdict Practical family car, but SE trim is a better buy
Volvo V60 2.0 D4 Business Edition
For Emissions and performance; cabin finish; reliability Against** Not so practical; fiddly dash; vague steering
Verdict A great company car, not such a great estate
Ford Mondeo Estate
VW Passat Estate