Best estate cars for 2020
By Daljinder Nagra
Article 10 of 16
The best estate cars are reliable and versatile for load-lugging, with great handling and efficient engines. Use our expert lab and road test results to help you find your next estate car.
Estate cars aren't the default choice for large families these days, because of the increased popularity and availability of SUVs. But with a lower profile and normally much lower kerb weight, they're often more efficient and rewarding to drive.
Most estate cars are also immensely practical, with almost all models offering capacious boots. These are capable of swallowing everything from holiday luggage to kids' bikes and purchases from the local garden centre.
Nearly all the big brands offer at least one estate car in their line-up. Popular models include the Audi A4 Avant, BMW 3 Series Touring, the huge Mercedes-Benz E-class estate and the Skoda Octavia Estate.
Estate cars need more than a big boot to be a Best Buy – our tests look at reliability, comfort, fuel-efficiency and safety. If a model doesn't stack up in those key areas, we won't recommend it.
You'll find our top recommendations for the best new and used estate cars in the tables below. Plus we reveal some models that aren't worth your money.
Alternatively, you can jump straight to our in-depth estate car buying tips:
- Estate car load space vs style
- Manageable medium-sized estate cars
- Best small estate cars
- Should you buy an estate car, SUV or MPV?
- Consider an off-road 4x4 estate car
We've broken down our pick of the best new and used estate cars into three categories, to help you choose the one that will best suit you and your family.
- Medium estate cars will benefit those who want more boot space without losing the benefits of a hatchback around town; they're typically a little longer than their hatchback counterparts, but otherwise very similar.
- Large estate cars give you oodles of space and are ideal if you regularly transport lots of passengers or equipment, but they can be a little more unwieldy than medium estates.
- Luxury large estates have more bells and whistles than our pick of standard large estates, with higher prices to match.
Only Which? members can view our expert impartial reviews in the tables below. Log in to see the estate cars we recommend.
If you're not already a member, join Which? to unlock all of our expert reviews, including our Best Buys and Don't Buys.
The best new medium estate cars
Our rigorous lab tests leave no stone unturned, so you can be confident the cars in the table below are some of the very best on the market.
Best new medium estate cars
It may not be the biggest load lugger out there by any stretch of the imagination, but this estate lacks nothing in terms of character. It's quirky design, unusually sporty drive and distinctive looks keep it from blending in, while adding a useful dose of practicality over the hatchback.
The best new large estate cars
See the table below for the top-performing large estates, with plenty of room for passengers and luggage.
Best new large estates
This off-road biased estate car is hugely impressive. Not only does it offer the great practicality you’d expect from the brand, it’s very spacious and easy to drive, and has a modicum of ability on rough tracks. Only middling fuel consumption and a limited engine range let it down slightly.
This brand’s most luxurious car looks especially good value when you consider how much passenger space it has. The boot is very large, too, and its comfort takes the sting out of long journeys. Just don’t expect the quality of the cabin materials to compete with a true luxury model.
The best new luxury large estates
Those looking for exceptionally well-made large estates will find the most outstanding choices below, selected by our experts.
Best new luxury large estates
The best used medium estates
Buying used can be a great way to get a dependable car on a budget. And there are fantastic options available, as selected by our experts.
Best used medium estate cars
This medium-sized estate is worth considering as a family car, particularly if you’re not sold on a fashionable compact SUV. It’s spacious, practical and safe, and is unlikely to go wrong thanks to the brand’s enviable rock-solid reliability rating from our survey of owners. It’s just a shame it’s so dull to look at and drive.
The tall, wide body makes the this estate feel almost like an MPV, and the (optional) seven seats - all highly versatile - make it a very practical option and a Best Buy used estate car. Boot space in particular is of very generous proportions, even if it isn't a true rival to a full-size MPV. Avoid the earlier models without stability control.
The best used large estate cars
Get a great deal on an exceptionally practical car with one of our superb selections below.
Best used large estates
Possibly the king of practicality in the used estate world, the huge boot swallows 530 litres of luggage (or 1,733 litres with the seats folded down) and passenger space is generous, too. It delivers an upmarket feel and it's hard to find fault with how it drives. It manages to accommodate a comfortable ride along with taut steering response, which is no mean feat, and that's maintained even when fully loaded.
This estate has premium aspirations, which it comes close to achieving with a comfortable, high-quality interior. Both diesel engines are sufficiently powerful, and the car doesn’t feel sluggish when overtaking. The boot isn’t the biggest we’ve seen on an estate car, but it’s not small by any means, and the capacity almost doubles when you fold the rear seats.
The best used luxury large estates
Grab a bargain on a heavily depreciating second-hand luxury model that won't let you down.
Best used luxury large estates
This model gives you the practicality and superb luxury of the regular estate version, enhanced with some mild off-road ability. It won't climb every mountain, but four-wheel drive and a useful increase in ride height means it can go where most normal estates can't.
Not found the car for you? Browse all our estate car reviews
And here are three estate cars to avoid
The formula for what makes a great estate car is simple – there should be plenty of interior space, it needs to be comfortable and it should have a massive boot. That seems straightforward enough, but there are models that still miss the mark.
For example, just because a boot's big, that doesn’t mean it will be well designed. We don’t just test the capacity of a boot; we look at how easy it is to fill. A boot could be as deep as the Mariana Trench, but it’s useless if you can’t get your heavy items over a high load lip.
The success of small and large SUVs has eaten into the sales of estate cars, but being lighter with a lower centre of gravity means estates can be more efficient and handle better. One estate we tested proves it by achieving a staggering 74.3 miles to the gallon – the best fuel economy of any petrol or diesel car we’ve tested. On the other hand, another similarly sized estate managed just 31.7mpg.
The huge gulf in the efficiency of estate cars highlights the importance of our fuel-economy testing. It’s easy to assume that all estates are the same – big, spacious and sturdy. But our in-depth testing finds the important differences, such as efficiency, that separate a good estate from a bad one.
Below we've rounded up the estate cars you should avoid.
Estate cars to avoid
Our realistic emissions assessments are more stringent than the official tests, and we discovered that this model is a big NOx polluter at motorway speeds. Its poor visibility and wide turning circle also make it a surprisingly awkward car to manoeuvre in town.
How to buy the best estate car
From boot dimensions and loadspace capacity to crash safety, we look at the things you need to consider before buying an estate car.
Read on for the advantages and disadvantages of different-sized estate cars and how they compare with MPVs, so you can pick a model that will suit your needs.
Already know what you're looking for? Head straight to all of our expert, independent estate car reviews.
Where once estate cars were all about sheer load capacity, they’ve been reinvented somewhat in recent years. Manufacturers have renamed them ‘sports wagons’, ‘sports tourers’ and other such dynamic names, and have put greater emphasis on the styling and driving dynamics of what is traditionally a worthy but dull class of car.
Sometimes the desire for eye-catching design comes at the expense of practicality. In our tests we’ve discovered some estates that actually have less usable loadspace than their saloon counterparts, whether it be due to sloping rooflines or other design features. Each of our car reviews has accurate measurements of usable loadspace in litres, with the seats both up and down, so you can compare models in detail.
Of course, an advantage of estate cars is a larger boot opening; there's the option to load all the way to the ceiling and fold down the rear seats more effectively.
You don’t have to put up with a large car just because you need extra boot space. Many medium hatchbacks currently on sale are also available in estate guise. This usually adds a little extra length, but otherwise keeps their easy-to-manage dimensions.
Strong contenders in this category include:
- Ford Focus estate (great to drive)
- Peugeot 308 SW (spacious and stylish)
- Volkswagen Golf estate (well built but pricey).
If you wish to scale down even further, compact estate cars do exist, although they've really been squeezed out by compact crossovers.
Estate cars used to be the default choice for families and for anyone needing to carry a lot of luggage, but MPVs and particularly 4x4s have captured the attention of many buyers in recent years.
The best MPVs (people carriers) usually offer much greater seating flexibility, along with more headroom and – in some cases – the option of seven seats.
However, they're normally more prosaic to drive and less visually appealing than a sleekly styled, lower-slung estate. If you're after something with room for seven, have a look at our guide to the best seven-seater cars.
High-riding large SUVs and 4x4s, as well as small SUVs and crossovers, offer much of the practicality of estate cars, although our tests highlight models that come up short inside, despite taking up lots of room on the road. However, SUVs have a more commanding driving position, and some – depending on the model – will also have better off-road ability. Such full-sized four-wheel-drive cars tend to be more expensive to buy and run, though.
Where estate cars have the upper hand is on the road, as they're often little different to drive than their hatchback or saloon counterparts. This is in contrast with SUVs that, unless you go for a particularly performance-orientated model, can feel heavy and unwieldy on twisting roads.
If you just can't make the call between an estate and a 4x4, another small niche in the estate car market is off-road-biased estates. Kicked off by the ‘Allroad’ series of Audis, such models add increased ride height, four-wheel drive and a smattering of body protection, to improve their ability on rough tracks and slippery terrain.
Other estate models, such as the Subaru Levorg, come with four-wheel-drive as standard. Quattro versions of the Audi A4 Avant and A6 Avant also have four-wheel drive, as do some versions of the BMW 3 Series Touring. This is only for increased road holding and grip, though, rather than any additional off-road ability.
We test cars more thoroughly than anyone else
Our tests go further than those carried out by other organisations, and because Which? is independent and doesn't accept advertising or freebies, you can trust our reviews to give you the full, honest and impartial truth about every car we test.
Every car we review is subjected to more than 100 individual tests in a lab, on a test track, and on real roads – and we really clock up the miles, driving around 500 miles in every car we test.
Testing in controlled lab conditions means the results we collect are directly comparable between different cars, helping us to determine exactly which models are better, and why, and helping you find the perfect car for your needs.
And so you know which cars are likely to prove reliable for years to come, we also gather feedback from thousands of UK car owners through the Which? Car Survey, using it to generate detailed reliability ratings for the cars we test.
To take the guesswork out of choosing your next car, join Which? and you'll receive access to all our expert reviews and advice.