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Used test: Audi A6 Avant vs Mercedes E-Class Estate vs Volvo V90
These used estates are all luxurious, hugely practical and available for around half what they cost new, but which is the best buy?...
Audi A6 Avant 2.0 TDI 190 Black Edition S tronic
List price when new £41,600
Price today £21,669*
Available from 2011-2018
Sleek looks hide a frugal diesel engine, a big boot and a large, luxurious interior.
Mercedes E-Class E22o d AMG Line
List price when new £40,430
Price today £21,414*
Available from 2016-present
The current E Class has lots of technology and a highly efficient diesel engine, but does that make it a winner here?
Volvo V90 D4 Inscription
List price when new £37,555
Price today £18,757*
Available from 2016-present
Volvo’s big estate has comfort, style and luxury taking priority over sportiness and outright practicality.
*Price today is based on a 2016 model with average mileage and full service history according to the What Car? Valuation service, correct at time of writing
Vast estates are great. They tell the rest of the world that your finances are in fine order and give you plenty of space to store your clobber, plus they give you a handy place to put the dog on a long trip. No, we're not talking the estates you find in period dramas; these premium used estates are of the four-wheeled kind and each one represents a significant saving over a new one – a saving that would pay to fix the roof of even the crumbliest of country piles.
First up is the Mercedes E-Class Estate – one of the snazziest load-luggers of them all. In range-topping AMG Line trim it looks sporty, but most examples were sold with an efficient 2.0-litre diesel engine that promises low running costs.
Our next contender comes from the brand that's arguably the most famous for estate cars: Volvo. The V90, has some sharp angles to give it an aggressive look, making it a far cry from boxy Swedish wagons of old. We've lined up the more sensible of the two diesel engines you could have bought new back in 2016.
Rounding things off is the Audi A6 Avant. It’s the oldest design of the group and was the priciest of the three when new. Today, it is still the most expensive, but does it have enough underlying merit to warrant the extra cost? Read on to find out.
Performance, ride, handling, refinement
You might think straight-line performance isn’t overly important in a big family estate, but a punchy engine helps immensely when you’ve got 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 still 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, by allowing a taller top gear – the E-Class is the quietest on the move. While shifts can thump a little in Sport+ mode, they're silky smooth if you stick to the Comfort setting.
The eight-speed gearbox in the V90 changes gear quickly, but 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 engine of our trio. The E-Class’s isn't far behind, but 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 and 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.
From past experience, the sports suspension fitted as standard to Black Edition A6s gives you a more planted and stable feel in corners at the expense of ride comfort – particularly on these 20in alloy wheels. However, our Avant had the optional air suspension fitted that has multiple modes to help mitigate the effects of bumpy roads, particularly when set in its softest Comfort mode. Mind you, even when set to Dynamic mode, 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, and it's 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.
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