Buying a car Top 10 Estate Car buying tips

  • What to look for when buying an estate car
  • Why estates still make sense against MPV and 4x4 rivals
  • How to keep costs to a minimum

Reports of the death of estate cars are premature, it seems. Despite predictions that the increasing popularity of MPVs and 4x4s would oust estate cars from showrooms, they remain a very popular choice. Families, business users and anyone needing extra luggage space will understand the appeal of an estate car. But beware: they're not all super-practical. Some estates are much more 'lifestyle' than 'loadspace'.

Our top 10 tips for buying an estate car will help you decide which model best suits your needs.

Find out which estate cars are Which? Best Buys

Volvo V50 Sportwagon

Volvo V50: style over substance?

1. Lifestyle v loadspace

Once upon a time, the whole raison d'etre behind estate cars was their unbeatable load capacity. Times have changed. The era of the 'lifestyle' estate (or 'sportwagon') is upon us, where style is as important as - or even more important than - boot space. 

There are plenty of examples of estate cars whose boot (measured up to the luggage cover) is actually smaller than the saloons they're based on. Take the Volvo V50, for instance: at 340 litres, its boot is far smaller than the S40 saloon (which has 430 litres). The main advantage of estate cars is, of course, your ability to load the boot up much higher, fold the rear seats down more effectively, and gain easier access to the boot. 

Which? makes independent measurements of boot space for every car we test. Check out the Comfort & Practicality sections of our car reviews to find out exactly how much luggage each car can swallow. 

2. Why estate cars can be better than an MPV or 4x4

Estate cars used to be the default choice for families and anyone needing to carry a lot of luggage. In recent years, they've been squeezed by the burgeoning ranks of MPVs and 4x4s. 

MPVs usually offer much greater seating flexibility, headroom, adaptability and the option of having seven seats; but they're more prosaic and less prestigious. 4x4s offer much of the practicality of estate cars with off-road ability; but they're more expensive to buy and run and, for some people, have the 'wrong' image. 

Where estate cars really score is on the style front - Audi doesn't do MPVs, for instance, but its Avant estate cars remain very popular because they're more practical versions of high-class, luxury saloons. And estates normally drive every bit as well as their accomplished saloon car cousins - unlike those sometimes unwieldy 4x4s and MPVs.

Ford Mondeo estate star

Load star: Ford Mondeo estate

3. Best for boot space 

Need to carry a lot of luggage? Some estate cars are spectacularly capacious and should answer all your load-carrying desires.

There are only a handful of cars with more than 500 litres of boot space (with the rear seats up and luggage cover on): the Mercedes-Benz E-class (515) and Citroen C5 Tourer (505), for example. Other capacious contenders include the Mazda 6 (480), Skoda Superb (475), Hyundai i40 (470) and Volkswagen Passat (465).

As for ultimate carrying capacity - rear seats folded, but measured only as high as the car's window line - these are the stars: Mercedes-Benz E-class (930), Citroen C5 (905), Mazda 6 (905), Toyota Avensis (900) and Volkswagen Passat (900).

There's one estate that beats them all, however: the Ford Mondeo estate has more room, seats up or down, than any other estate car, at 530 and 950 litres respectively. 

4. Best medium estate

You have some great options in the medium estate category. The following are all excellent: Hyundai i30 (well-equipped, good value), Kia Cee'd (seven-year warranty), and if you want to go 'premium', the Audi A3 Sportback (which we class as an estate) offers a great drive and impressive reliability.

Other contenders include the Ford Focus estate (great to drive), Peugeot 308 SW (a roomy seven-seater), Vauxhall Astra ST (large and safe) and Volkswagen Golf estate (well built but pricey). 

Hyundai i40 Tourer style

Sharp suit: Hyundai i40 Tourer

5. Consider the 'cool' factor

Vauxhall may have used the 'Daddy Cool' soundtrack for its Zafira MPV adverts but we think estate cars are the really cool members of the 'family car' family. 

Our favourite style icons include the sleek new Audi A6 Avant, swoopy Volvo V60, sharp Hyundai i40 Tourer, stylish Seat Ibiza ST, classy Mercedes-Benz C-class and full-of-flair Alfa Romeo 159 Sportwagon

6. Diesel or petrol?

It's a fact that by far the majority of estates sold in the UK are diesel. The reason is, of course, all about fuel efficiency and tax benefits from lower CO2 emissions. Modern diesels have plenty of pulling power, so they're rarely a compromise next to petrol versions. 

However, don't discount petrol, particularly if you're buying a smaller estate. The latest petrol powerplants are very efficient and the price premium of buying a diesel can take years to claw back through lower running costs. 

Our online calculator will help you work out the cost of petrol versus diesel.

Mini Clubman small estate

Mini Clubman: small but perfectly formed

7. Best small estates

More than any other class, compact estate cars have really been squeezed by small MPVs in recent times. Only a handful now remain: the Peugeot 207 SW, Renault Clio ST, Mini Clubman, Seat Ibiza ST and Skoda Fabia estate. Of these, the Skoda impresses with its roomy cabin, easy-to-drive nature and value for money, while the Mini Clubman offers fun with practicality.

8. Boost your luggage space

If you need even more luggage space, there are some additional tricks you can consider. Many estates come with roof rails as standard, or can be ordered with them as an optional extra. Typically you can add up to around 100kg of luggage on rails in roof-top boxes - or indeed bulky items like bicycles, surfboards or canoes. Many estate cars also have underfloor storage areas, particularly if you're happy to make do without a spare wheel. 

9. 4x4 estates

Here's another of those 'crossover' areas: estate cars with four-wheel drive. These offer the benefits of extra traction in slippery or snowy conditions, without many of the compromises of a traditional off-roader. The estate-only Subaru Legacy, for instance, comes with 4x4 as standard. Quattro versions of the Audi A4 Avant and A6 Avant have 4x4, as do several versions of the Skoda Octavia estate and Skoda Superb estate

10. Consider the depreciation effect

Estate cars usually - but not always - keep their value better than the saloon or hatchback body styles in the same range. This can actually offset much of the extra cost of buying an estate. To find out more about why depreciation is the single costliest aspect of running a car, read our full article on the subject.

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