Audi A6 Avant 3.0 TDI 204 SE Multitronic
List price when new £38,085
Price today £17,000
Available from 2011-present
The A6 offers space and glamour, and its V6 engine brings some serious go
BMW 520d Touring SE Auto
List price when new £34,080
Price today £16,000
Available from 2010-2017
Impeccable image, affordable running costs and versatility: the 5 Series Touring has it all
Jaguar XF Sportbrake 2.2D 200 Luxury
List price when new £36,440
Price today £17,000
Available from 2012-2015
The XF is great to drive, in Sportbrake form has an appeal all of its own
Price today is based on a 2012 model with average mileage and full service history, correct at time of writing
Got £17,000 or thereabouts to spend on a new or nearly-new family estate? Chances are you’re probably thinking Ford Focus, Volkswagen Golf, or maybe a Vauxhall Astra. And why wouldn’t you? All are decent cars with plenty to recommend them, for sure.
But let’s face it – as good as they are, none of those options are quite as special as rolling around in your very own Jaguar, BMW or Audi, are they? And for the same sort of money, you could be doing just that. True, the trade-off is that you have to have a car that’s a couple of years older – but when you look at how much more car you get for your cash, that rather pales into insignificance.
We’re not talking cheapo, bottom-of-the-range models here, either. The Audi A6 Avant on test here, for example, comes with a 3.0-litre V6 diesel engine that provides a very handy amount of power and torque – ideal for hauling any amount of stuff you care to load up the tail end with.
Neither is the Jaguar XF’s 2.2-litre engine shy. Despite being two cylinders down on the Audi, its power figure is virtually the same, and it comes with a glitzy, plush interior that makes you feel far more special than any mainstream family car can. It’s also one of the most stylish estate cars around.
The BMW 520d Touring isn’t quite as rakish, but it’s still one of the most impressive used estate cars out there, with a fantastically efficient engine that means it won’t cost the earth to run. Nor will it cost the earth to buy, either; prices are very reasonable, and with a huge variety to choose from, finding a good one is a doddle.
What are they like to drive?
The Jaguar is a little firm at low speeds, but when you pick up the pace it glides along, dialling out lumps and bumps in a slick, fluid fashion.
The steering is equally impressive because it is both sharp and accurate, while superb body control means you can hustle the car through corners with real conviction.
If only the gearbox was as convincing; it shifts more like a sporty twin-clutch ’box than a creamy automatic, and top gear is very much set up for cruising which means the Jag frequently feels the need to kick down when you demand acceleration on the motorway. And the resulting mechanical clatter from the engine means the Jaguar isn’t especially quiet, despite shutting out wind and road noise better than its rivals.
In the BMW, you get an engine that’s smoother, quieter and happier to rev, while gearshifts are almost seamless. If you can, it’s worth finding a 5 Series equipped with BMW’s Variable Damper Control system. It’s very rare on the used market, but if you can find a car that’s so-equipped, it eliminates the inherent sogginess of the 5 Series, and gives it taut handling as well as a smooth and comfortable ride at all speeds. Without the system, you only get the latter, as the soft suspension setup causes the BMW to feel rather ponderous.
The Audi is more like the Jaguar, erring on the firm side in town, but settling down nicely on the motorway. As the only car here with front-wheel drive and a big, six-cylinder engine, it has more weight hanging over the front wheels, but you’d never guess it in town, there the steering is very light and easy. Only on fast, twisty roads does the Audi start to feel a bit nose-heavy.
The Audi’s engine is strong and smooth, but its slushy automatic gearbox feels like it hinders performance. The Audi frustrates at the lights, too; although its stop-start system switches off the engine quickly enough, it takes too long to fire it back up again. The gearbox then takes a further second to engage which all feels too long when there’s a queue behind you.
The Jaguar and BMW are the total opposite. Their engines fire up quickly and they start to creep immediately; you need to keep a foot on the brake to stop them from lurching forward.
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