Art of the estate
Looking for a family car that is refined, efficient with acres of storage and space? Then you should consider an estate car, says Geraldine Herbert
In an effort to find something practical, safe and fuel-sipping but stylish enough to look good in our driveways and avenues, more of us than ever are opting for SUVs. In 2016, for the first time ever, an SUV (Hyundai's Tucson) was the best-selling car in Ireland.
But with summer around the corner it's now that the humble and often overlooked estate car comes into its own. No longer the preserve of antique dealers, builders and gardeners, the modern estate car is spacious, comfortable and well-equipped, so why are we so reluctant to consider opting for one as our family car?
Even car makers avoid the E-word, giving them names like Sportswagon, Combi and Touring to convey the promise of open-road adventures like a leisurely cruise in the mountains in sunny settings, whereas the term 'estate' is left to evoke mundane weekend trips to the caravan park or, worse still, the dump.
The E-Class is one of the best cars Mercedes-Benz have produced in a very long time. Launched last year, the 10th generation E-Class stepped up a gear and finally emerged from the shadows of its talented siblings. So it comes as no surprise that the estate version is just as impressive.
Inside, it shares the same tasteful interior of the saloon and looks and feels expensive and, while modern, it still nods to the marque's heritage. The centre console is elegant and well positioned, making the cabin feel spacious. There is also heaps of storage and nice tactile materials. The boot space is 640 litres but fold the seats down and it becomes an enormous load space of 1,820 litres and despite the sloping roof line, headroom and elbowroom are excellent throughout.
Our test car was the E220D five-door auto, which features the newly developed four-cylinder diesel engine and it is quieter, more powerful and more efficient that the 2.1-litre engine it replaced.
For such a large car it is also frugal and on an average cycle returns between 4.2 to 4.6 l/100km. CO2 emissions are 120g/km so annual road tax is €200. On the road it is a supremely cosseting car that is easy and enjoyable to drive. As with the saloon, the drive is still not as sharp as the Jaguar XF or the BMW 5 Series but then E-Class aficionados tend to favour comfort, safety and a little luxury over performance.
The downsides are as you'd expect: all of this luxury doesn't come cheap. Our test car is listed at €77,434 but with the current 10pc promotional discount, it came to €69,961.
If your budget doesn't quite stretch to the €70k mark, the Skoda Superb Estate is one of the best cars for swallowing flat-pack furniture or luggage. Not only is it incredibly spacious, it looks smart and is comfortable and refined on the road.
Inside, the interior finish and the quality of materials suggest a higher price tag and standard on our test car were bi-xenon headlamps and headlamp washers, Bolero 8" colour touchscreen radio, Smartlink - mirroring of phone apps on screen - sporty black front grille and darkened fog lamps, and the very handy addition, even in June, of an umbrella in each of the front doors.
The Superb is simply huge inside and practicality is key. The 660-litre boot can more than cope with anything a family can throw at it but if you do need larger space, fold down the seats and it extends to a mammoth 1,950 litres. With space that big, who needs a holiday home? You could simply move in there and save yourself the journey.
Our 190bhp 2.0-litre diesel offered a great balance of economy and performance and returned 5.4 l/100km with 120g/km of Co2 with road tax of €200.
Prices for the Superb have been increasing over the years, but so too has the quality, and the €43,095 cost of our 2.0 TDI 190bhp DSG test car still represents great value. Estate cars are all about size and flexibility and with the luggage capacity of a van the Superb really is an excellent overall package
Estates may not be a cool car choice, but don't knock it until you've tried it.
The E-Class Estate is about as luxurious as load lugging gets, while the Skoda Superb is probably the best value large family car on the market. So while SUVs and crossovers have captured the attention of many buyers, the next time you try shoehorning your luggage and family essentials into the boot, roof rack and trailer, spare a thought for the humble estate car.