Friday 15 December 2017

Estate of the art. . .

There has been a noticeable shift in the motoring landscape

Executive estate
AUDI A6 AVANT Executive estate
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

It is never too late to change one's mind. Ask any politician or economist. So I'm in good company? Normally I take an estate on test with some misgivings. We are not big into them here -- as opposed to Europe where they love them -- and I always wonder about relevance.

Well, it may be advancing age, a surfeit of 'crossovers' and hot hatches, or a sense of changing mindsets generally, but I've had a good few estates over the past year and most, not all, made a distinct impression.

The two I had most recently on trial represent, I think anyway, a shift in the motoring landscape.

What I like about today's estate -- as opposed to the roof extensions that passed for the genre -- is that they are integrated and not just a car with a big cargo area.

Most now give really decent mixtures and combinations of passenger/luggage options.

And they're as comfortable and smart as saloons. Indeed some are smarter.

My question is: are they a better bet for many families than a people carrier (MPV) or Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV)?

It just so happened that both estates I had on test in recent weeks coincided with the need for a member of the extended family to shift stuff to new lodgings (where did the summer holidays go for them?).

And 'Uncle Edward' was only too happy to oblige.

The first was the Peugeot 508 station wagon (SW), the second a barnstorming version of the Audi A6 Avant (yes, it is an estate).

They are not direct competitors as they slot into different market segments, but are prime examples of motors that can give families that extra bit of flexibility. Quite often I find the search for that extra nudge of versatility can drive a family into a big people carrier or SUV.

Both genres give the add-on of flexible space but can be a fair bit more expensive. Anywhere here's a quick run through the two on test.

The Peugeot is a big, big motor. You can have a 1.6-litre or 2-litre diesel. Either (I've had both in the saloon) is easily capable of covering 1,000km on one tank of diesel.

Obviously the 2-litre on my estate version had more power and punch. Even with a big load up -- we left the kitchen sink behind -- and two passengers, it swept along the motorway.

Now here's one area where they really score over the SUVs and MPVs. They have a lower centre of gravity and are much better to drive. I mean much better. And they don't carry, as SUVs often do, a whole lot of heavy and unnecessary 'off-road' undercarriage.

We were able to conjure up a seating arrangement for one rear passenger; the rest was devoted to 'luggage'.

This is a smart car -- never thought I'd say that about an estate. On the downside, until we get a bit fonder of estates, they may not be in the same sort of demand on the secondhand market as their saloon counterparts.

But it's well worth a drive. You might find it suits you better than you think.This is a different kettle of fish altogether. And a different driving experience. While it addresses the practicalities (fold-down rear seat, a net to secure fragile luggage and an electric tailgate, which I found frustrating), it is a distinctly upmarket piece of work.

I had a swashbuckling 3-litre diesel under the bonnet and quattro four-wheel-drive for exceptional grip especially on poor, badly surfaced roads. I don't know when I enjoyed a drive as much. It really hoovers up the kilometres. But my advice to you is to go for the more practical and less expensive 2-litre diesel version.

Unless you want searing performance, it will fit the bill with a lot to spare.

My test vehicle had a wonderful cabin. I reckon Audi now consistently makes some of the best driving environments around. This is a substantial motor, yet from where I was sitting it never felt ungainly or cumbersome; it tucked into corners and swished along motorways with equal aplomb. It had a really good chassis and great driving position.

Again it played host to a lot of stuff being shifted and again there was plenty of room.

But it was also ideal for carrying four on a decent journey with lashings of rear-seat space. I'm not saying it's the ideal car -- if only because of the cost -- but it's a hell of an option. Worth a drive. Take the 2-litre first.

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