SUVs may be the talk of the town but you try putting your family in one and enough luggage for a two-week holiday in the rain. You’ll be up a set of rickety step ladders to attach a roofbox before you can say, “Should have bought an estate”.
Which, probably, you should have. Most are lighter on fuel than an SUV and, because they’re lower, ride and handle better. Admittedly, the larger SUVs, such as the Audi Q7 and X5, really are roomy old things with, thanks to their high rooflines, boot space to rival Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall. But so, too, are the best-packaged estates. One of the biggest, the Mercedes E-class, for example, boasts 695 litres of space seats up, and 1,950 seats down.
In fact, to be truly useful, an estate should have seats-up space of around 600 litres and seats-down of around 1,700. Some of the examples below exceed that handsomely while others, such as the Ford Focus ST, don’t come close, but you know your holiday haulage requirements, and whether you have a set of ladders.
Here are 10 roomy estates to consider from Driving’s stockroom of over 140,000 used cars for sale.
Advertised car: Mercedes Viano 3.0 CDI Ambiente (long) 5dr Tip auto, £21,990 (2010/10; 32,996 miles)
Seats up/down (litres): 730/4,610
Hands up: this is no estate car and in terms of ride and handling it makes an SUV feel like a Jaguar. But we were carried away by its sheer load capacity and our recent experience of a Viano, which has the ability to turn every drive into an occasion.
Seats up/down: 695/1950
Mercedes facelifted the E-class last year but such is the enduring appeal of the “big E” that we’ll forgive this earlier example. In any case, it’s a fully warranted, approved used Mercedes and has sporty extras such as larger alloys, an AMG steering wheel and upmarket seats.
Seats up/down: 633/1865
After the Mercedes E-class, the big Skoda is the largest holiday hauler on the market, which only serves to make it even better value. Strip away any lingering doubts you may have about that badge; this model is superb in name and nature.
Seats up/down: 610/1740
In truth, this particular example of an Octavia serves only to show what great value its bigger brother, above, is. But it’s also an excuse to pay tribute to the Octavia’s roomy body, which shames some outwardly larger estate cars.
Seats up/down: 603/1731
This nearly new Passat is a whopping £5,000 cheaper than a new one. It should be, of course, since there’s a new model coming later this year. Still, in its classy build and even classier shape, a Passat estate is rather like a Mercedes E-class, so we’d buy this outgoing example with confidence. By the way, the dealer has others, in different colours, for £500 more.
Seats up/down (litres): 565/1,680
“Avant” is Audi’s word for estate. It certainly sounds a lot better. Our featured car is an early 2012-facelift model. You’ll find more powerful, high-spec, pre-facelift A6 Avants for the same price but the current-shape car will be the better investment.
Advertised car: Subaru Outback 2.0D SE, £20,000 (2012/61; 31,294 miles)
Seats up/down: 526/1677
What the Outback lacks in outright space it makes up for with go-anywhere ability. Fancy taking in the view from Everest? This no-nonsense, four-wheel-drive Subaru will get you there. Want to get lost in the wilderness? With a name like Outback, it was made to do exactly that.
Advertised car: BMW 520d SE Step auto, £20,490 (2010/60; 11,423 miles)
Seats up/down: 560/1,670
It’s interesting how £20,000 puts you on the cusp of old and new models (see Audi A6). This is the new, pre-facelift 5-series Touring (like Audi, BMW avoids the term “estate”). For the same money, you could have an old-model car with a bigger engine and more equipment but this later model is fresher looking, better to drive and will hold its value longer.
Seats up/down: 575/1600
Until larger wagons came along, big Volvo estates pretty well ruled the holiday-hauler market. The V70 is less impressive on the space front these days but no matter, like the Tardis it has a knack for accommodating more than its external dimensions suggest, while driving one will feel like a journey back in time.
Advertised car: Ford Focus 2.0T ST-3 5dr, £19,000 (2013/13; 13,454 miles)
Seats up/down: 476/1502
Not the roomiest estate but certainly one of the quickest. The 250bhp Focus ST is a bit of a cult car and this one, the ST-3, signals its intent with red callipers and upgraded alloy wheels. Best for a small family who likes to take its holidays at a gallop. Just watch the ice cream on that leather trim.