When it comes to estate cars, shape is as important as size. Our favourite models do have a big boot, but it also needs to be a practical shape and easy to use, and the rear seats should be easy to fold down flat.
As many estates will be used for work and family duties, efficient running costs are an important consideration.
Class-leading estates will also have a roomy, comfortable and well-equipped cabin and not break the bank to buy. Here's our guide to 10 of the best estate cars you can buy.
The Ford Mondeo Estate offers just about everything you could want from a family estate: it's big, safe, comfortable and great to drive. If anything it might be too big - you could lose a couple of children in the enormous boot.
If you're considering an MPV reluctantly, the Mondeo's blend of size and practicality makes it a viable alternative. It's also refined and very good to drive.
We'd recommend 2.0 TDCI 140 Zetec, which is strong, smooth and claims to cover more than 50mpg on average. Zetec trim offers the best equipment to price balance.
If you're after an executive estate car, look no further than the BMW 5 Series Touring. It's great to drive, has loads of space and is full of Efficient Dynamics technology to keep big bills at bay.
There's plenty of space for everyone inside. A mighty 560 litres of boot space with the rear seats in place (and 1670 when they’re folded down) should cope with most cargo-carrying challenges, while the standard self-levelling suspension helps cope with heftier loads.
The Touring is not cheap to buy, but it's hugely desirable so will hold onto its value. This – along with its class-leading fuel economy – makes it a clear winner as a business proposition.
We'd go for the 520d SE which is much cheaper to run than its direct rivals.
For serious load-carrying on a budget we’d look to the Skoda Octavia Estate. There are no frills and fripperies but plenty of space and quality at a bargain price.
The cavernous boot offers 580 litres of space, extending to 1620 litres with the rear seats folded down. The loadbay is a useful shape, although the floor is bisected by a two-inch-high step in S and SE-spec cars.
The Skoda Octavia is the only estate on our list where we recommend petrol power. Our favourite version is the 1.4 TSI SE. This might sound too small, but it's stong enough to power the car, and SE spec comes with alloy wheels, remote central locking, electric rear windows and a CD-changer.
The Volkswagen Passat Estate is a great all-rounder and one of the best cars in its class. It’s stylish, spacious, desirable and relaxing to drive. Resale values are strong and most versions are well equipped.
While it can't match a Ford Mondeo Estate for outright interior space, it’s still huge. Four passengers will be able to stretch out comfortably, but the high central tunnel impinges on a middle rear passenger’s foot space. The boot is a useful shape and can cope with lots of family clutter, but folding down the rear seats is a hassle – you have to remove the headrests and pull up the seat bases first.
Our favourite version is the 2.0 TDI 140 SE Bluemotion Tech. The engine is strong and frugal and you get lots of standard kit.
If boot size is all-important, the Mercedes E-Class Estate is a huge, practical executive wagon that's also classy and comfortable.
It has the biggest boot in its class, and it’s easy to get into because both the tailgate and luggage cover are electrically operated. If you need even more space, the rear seats can be folded down flat from the cabin or by tugging handles in the boot. There's plenty of head- and legroom for everyone.
Safety kit is impressive and all the engines are strong but we like the E350 CDI Blue Efficiency Avantgarde best. The high list price and lower fuel economy might be seen as drawbacks by some buyers, but we think it's worth it.
Those who love their driving and don’t need space for three Alsatians in the boot should look at the BMW 3 Series Touring. It’s not the biggest estate car, but it is one of the best. It drives every bit as well as the saloon, with sharp handling, plenty of feedback from steering and a strong range of engines.
There's plenty of room for four passengers in the cabin, but the Audi A4 Avant and Mercedes C-Class Estate both offer more boot space. However it gets extra marks for handy features such as under-floor storage and a rear windscreen that opens separately to let you pop small items in without opening the whole tailgate.
We recommend the 320d ES version. The engine blends smooth performance and low running costs, while ES trim includes alloys, four electric windows, and air-conditioning.
The Ford Focus Estate also puts the emphasis on fine driving rather than outright space. It's also well equipped, competitively priced and as practical as most rivals.
The rear seats fold down completely flat, too. Passengers would find more space in a VW Golf estate, but there's still plenty of room in the back for three small children or two large adults.
We'd go for the 1.6 TDCi 115 Zetec model. It has fantastic official figures for emissions and fuel economy – 67mpg - and comes with sports seats, a leather-trimmed steering wheel, alloy wheels and a Quickclear heated windscreen.
Another tempting option for estate buyers on a budget is the Hyundai i40 Tourer. It’s good looking and classy and comes with some very efficient diesel engines.
At 553 litres the i40's boot is one of the biggest in the family estate class. However, it's quite narrow between the wheelarches and the rear seats don’t fold down completely flat. Put the seats back up and there’s room for four adults in the cabin (or five at a push).
Our recommended version is the 1.7 CRDi 115 Bluedrive Active which comes equipped with Bluetooth, air-con and automatic lights and wipers.
For a huge estate car that won’t leave a huge hole in your bank account, the Skoda Superb Estate should be on your shortlist. It’s also classy inside and good to drive.
Practicality is covered with lots of hooks and lashing points in the boot, and you can specify a sliding floor that extends over the rear bumper. It's a pity that the back seats aren't more intelligent, because you get a stepped load area when you fold them down. As in the hatchback version, passenger space is enormous.
We'd recommend the 2.0 TDI SE version. Running costs are low, and it's by far the smoothest and quietest of the diesel engines, while SE trim provides parking sensors – handy in a massive car such as the Superb.
The classy and good looking Audi A4 Avant has a massive boot, handles securely and comes with a wide range of powerful engines. It’s also competitively priced to buy and run, and resale values are strong, too.
With the rear seats in place, the well-shaped boot is larger than a Mercedes C-Class Estate's. However, the seats don’t fold down completely flat and the Mercedes offers more space with the seats folded.
Our favourite model is the 2.0 TDIe 136 SE. It is arguably the most attractive A4 for business users, thanks to its good package of price and equipment, topped off with low CO2 emissions.