WHAT DRIVER doesn’t dream about venturing off the beaten track? Escaping the hum-drum and exploring the great outdoors with family or friends needn’t be restricted to the Range Rover-owning upper classes. All you need is a car-load of company, a job lot of cheese-and-tomato sandwiches and some stout boots.
Actually, you may also need a pushchair, coats, waterproof trousers, backpacks, the dog and a picnic rug. Which is why increasing numbers of drivers choose a large estate car with four-wheel drive and raised ground clearance to help them answer the call of the wild.
The trend for large, family-friendly cars that can stick to a slimy slipway or fly through a ford arguably began with the Subaru Legacy Outback in 1994. Other car makers realised that little old Subaru was on to something, and before long Volvo’s V70 Cross Country and Audi’s A6 allroad could be seen outside the school gates and the sailing club.
Estates are typically lower, lighter and more car-like to drive than a people carrier or a big 4×4. And with large boots and low loading sills, they’re as practical as a penknife. However, the cost of a new go-anywhere estate car can bring a tear to a grown man’s eye.
The answer to that final hurdle is to buy a second-hand all-terrain estate car. Here are five of the most practical used examples, to suit a variety of tastes and budgets.
Audi A6 allroad
The all-terrain estate with a touch of luxury
- Approved used cars start at £15,000
- Independently sold used cars start at £5,500
- View the Audi A6 Allroads for sale on driving.co.uk
Drive an Audi A6 allroad and you’ll be rubbing shoulders with royalty. Prince Charles is a longtime fan, perhaps because the four-wheel-drive estate can handle the sort of terrain encountered on a shoot or at a polo match but doesn’t attract as much attention as a supersize luxury SUV.
There have been three generations of A6 allroad, launched in 2000, 2006 and 2013. All adhere to a proven formula of cladding to protect wheelarches and sills, and a ride height that can be adjusted at the touch of a button.
Talking of suspension, cars from 2013 or later have adaptive air suspension as standard. Few cars this side of a Rolls-Royce ride as serenely. The downside is that it’s an expensive system to fix if it goes wrong, so it would pay to buy an approved used car from Audi, as the warranty is worth its weight in gold.
There’s a 565-litre boot and a choice of three engines — a 3-litre V6 petrol with 306bhp, and two 3-litre V6 diesels, with 201bhp and 242bhp. Fuel economy ranges from 31mpg for the petrol, at best, to 46.3mpg for the lower-powered diesel.
It’s a classy package that makes for a tempting alternative to, say, a Land Rover Discovery. If it’s good enough for royals, it’s good enough for us.
Peugeot 508 RXH
The hybrid estate car with impressive fuel economy
- Approved used cars start at £13,500
- Independently sold used cars start at £9,000
- View the Peugeot 508 RXH for sale on driving.co.uk
Peugeots may not immediately spring to mind when you’re searching for a tough estate that can handle itself when the going gets tough. But the French car maker spotted a window of opportunity in 1980, when it commissioned Dangel, a rally car builder, to create four-wheel-drive versions of its 504 estate, to be sold in Africa.
You don’t need to venture into the Sahara to buy a go-anywhere Peugeot estate today. The most recent is the 508 RXH, which went on sale in Britain in early 2012.
It’s a hybrid, with a 2-litre diesel engine and an electric motor, which combine to give it 200bhp while returning a positively frugal 67mpg. With a wide track, good ground clearance, four-wheel drive and the ability to drive in silent, electric-only setting, this is the ideal car for slipping unnoticed through unspoilt countryside.
There’s a 423-litre boot for carrying cargo, and Peugeot pretty much fitted every conceivable extra to the 508 RXH, as it was a flagship for the French manufacturer.
Skoda Octavia Scout
The affordable workhorse with towing ability
- Approved used cars start at £10,500
- Independently sold used cars start at £3,500
- View the Skoda Octavias for sale on driving.co.uk
If you want to be prepared, you need to get yourself an Octavia Scout. Or, at least, presumably that was the thinking behind the name.
A recent addition to the adventure wagon crowd, the Scout joined Skoda’s successful Octavia range of family cars in 2007. It undercut rivals from Audi and Volvo and made perfect sense for drivers who wanted to go places but didn’t want to fork out for a premium estate car.
It had four-wheel drive, increased ground clearance (by 40mm) and a modest amount of body cladding to signal to other Skoda Octavia owners that this was something different.
There was a 2-litre petrol or 2-litre diesel engine and only a six-speed manual gearbox. As for the cabin, it’s a hardy environment, able to withstand the scrapes that come from an active family, and the boot is seriously big, at 580 litres.
The later Scout, sold from 2014, is a nicer car to drive, but you’ll pay for the privilege. As an affordable workhorse, for towing a trailer or a trip to the tip, the original Scout is best prepared for a life of hard graft.
Reliability comes as standard
- Approved used cars start at £8,000
- Independently sold used cars start at £2000
- View the Subaru Outbacks for sale on driving.co.uk
When it arrived in Britain in 1996, the Legacy Outback showed that Subaru had caught the world’s biggest car makers napping. Its high-riding estate car that looked tough and could tackle tricky terrain was an instant hit. By 2004 the Outback became a model in its own right.
It is an accomplished off-roader: the permanent symmetrical four-wheel-drive system has a limited-slip differential for the rear axle, which helps the Outback haul its way over demanding surfaces.
What’s more, Subaru has a reputation for making reliable cars that keep owners happy, performing well in independent customer satisfaction surveys.
As for the nitty-gritty, older cars had 2.5-litre or 3-litre petrol engines, so fuel consumption wasn’t a strong point. But if that’s not a priority, they make a bit of a bargain, priced from as little as £2,000.
Tough enough to handle the rough stuff
- Approved used cars start at £11,000
- Independently sold used cars start at £2,000
- View the Volvo XC70 for sale on driving.co.uk
The early Volvo XC70 is more snow-plough-tough than Scandi-chic. It’s big and boxy, but — let’s face it — for a hard-working car that’s going to take the family to the middle of nowhere, or maybe just the local park, the bigger, the better.
If you thought the outside looked as if it had been designed with a ruler and protractor, wait until you see the interior. There’s barely a curve in sight. But the controls are all clear and simple and Volvo’s comfortable seats are the stuff of legend. Some cars came with an optional pair of seats that could be installed in the boot, which otherwise holds up to 485 litres of luggage.
The engines are big: five-cylinder petrol or diesel units. They sound characterful and are hooked up to a permanent four-wheel-drive system and chunky tyres that get good purchase on poor surfaces. With a complete service history, they should be good for more than 200,000 miles of hard graft.