Used test: BMW 5 Series Touring vs Mercedes E-Class Estate vs Volvo V90

Posh used estate cars are as practical as SUVs yet have much more affordable running costs, but which load-lugger from BMW, Mercedes or Volvo is the best?...

BMW 5 Series Touring vs Mercedes E-Class Estate vs Volvo V90

The Contenders

BMW 5 Series Touring 520d M Sport

List price when new £41,385
Price today £22,178*
Available from 2017-present

The BMW 5 Series saloon is a previous Car of the Year winner, so we have high hopes for this estate.

Mercedes E-Class Estate E220d AMG Line

List price when new £41,215
Price today £20,904*
Available from 2016-present

Serious badge credibility with a proven ability as a load-lugger; it should be tough to beat.

Volvo V90 D4 R-Design

List price when new £38,365
Price today £19,777*
Available from 2016-present

The V90 isn’t the biggest estate in the world, but in sporty R-Design trim it certainly looks good value

*Price today is based on a 2017 model with average mileage and full service history in excellent condition and bought from a dealer according to the What Car? Valuation tool, correct at time of writing

“Two's company, three's a crowd,” or so the saying goes. But when it comes to spending your hard-earned cash on something as lavish as a luxury estate car, frankly, the more choice the better.

New BMW 5 Series Touring vs Mercedes E-Class Estate vs Volvo V90

So, we’ve assembled three used estates that represent the crème de la crème of the breed, starting with the BMW 5 Series Touring. Blue-chip badge, timeless style and the promise of a superior driving experience, it’s sure to be a contender, not least because it’s based on the multi-talented BMW 5 Series saloon, our 2017 Car of the Year.

It faces fierce competition from the Mercedes-Benz E-Class Estate though. This formidable rival has, throughout its iterations, provided the drivers of Middle England with a surplus of grace, space and pace, and this current model is no different.

New BMW 5 Series Touring vs Mercedes E-Class Estate vs Volvo V90

And how could this luxury estate trio be complete without that supposed antique dealers' favourite, a Volvo? Of course, there’s nothing old-hat about this Volvo V90 – it’s the very embodiment of contemporary Swedish design, and it even undercuts its German rivals on price.

What are they like to drive?

It’s unusual to see estates driven like the proverbial bat out of hell, and that’s just as well because none of these cars can go like one. Brisk progress, though, is amply supplied by their 2.0-litre diesel engines, with the E-Class being the nippiest whichever way you slice it – in a straight 0-62mph dash or when kicking down through the gears on the move. With the 5 Series only fractions behind, though, followed closely by the V90, the crux is that all three engines have the guts to easily haul a packed car or do battle in the fast lane.

New BMW 5 Series Touring vs Mercedes E-Class Estate vs Volvo V90

Both the 5 Series and the V90 come with an eight-speed automatic gearbox, the E-Class trumping them with a nine-speed ’box. All three change smoothly and generally find the right gear for the circumstance, although the 5 Series’ is the most intelligent and the V90’s can be a little hesitant when pulling away.

Having that extra gear means that the E-Class’s engine spins the slowest at 70mph, although you can barely hear a peep from any of the engines at a steady cruise. The 5 Series is distinctly the quietest car overall, mind; its engine remains muted even when being thrashed, and neither wind nor road noise are bothersome at speed. The E-Class makes the most road noise and its engine is the grumbliest under acceleration. Meanwhile, the V90’s engine is the most clattery at idle, plus its door mirrors whip up the most wind noise.

New BMW 5 Series Touring vs Mercedes E-Class Estate vs Volvo V90

The air of calmness the 5 Series exudes also extends to its ride, particularly if you can find one with the optional adaptive dampers and set them to Comfort mode. Do so and the 5 Series sails over pimpled roads and soothes you across speed bumps in a wholly sublime fashion. A deep, jagged-edged pothole taken at speed is the only thing that will ruffle your feathers, but still less than it would if encountered in either rival.

Like the 5 Series, the E-Class’s ride is significantly improved by adaptive all-round air suspension. On the standard front steel springs and rear air suspension of the car tested here, though, it shakes and shimmies in a manner that’s mildly grating, although it never becomes genuinely uncomfortable.

New BMW 5 Series Touring vs Mercedes E-Class Estate vs Volvo V90

It’s a similar story with the V90. From previous tests, we know that it, too, doesn’t ride perfectly on its standard passive springs and dampers. But our car for this test is fitted with the optional all-round adaptive dampers and rear air springs: a setup that gives a suppleness on motorways that’s almost a match for the 5 Series. The V90 is the most controlled over dips and crests, too – an advantage that benefits its handling at the same time.

The V90 leans the least in corners, changes direction with the greatest enthusiasm and has the most grip. Its firm brake pedal is the most reassuring, too. Its steering is mildly disappointing, though: it doesn’t weight up consistently enough, nor does it feed back much information about what the front tyres are up to. You can alter how heavy the steering is via a drive mode menu that's accessible through the central touchscreen.

New BMW 5 Series Touring vs Mercedes E-Class Estate vs Volvo V90

The Mercedes-Benz E-Class Estate steers more sweetly than the Volvo V90 and grips almost as keenly, but it sways about more in tight corners and takes longer to recompose itself. To a degree, this is something the 5 Series is also guilty of, making both German cars feel less planted at the rear than the Swede. It’s also fair to say that the BMW 5 Series Touring isn’t quite as pin-sharp to drive as the 5 Series saloon, having less front-end grip and steering that’s slightly vague off-centre. It’s the most easily affected by crosswinds on the motorway, too.

Next: What are they like inside? >>

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