What is an estate car?

Load up your luggage in style: discover the big-booted estate car

Dominic Tobin
Jul 31, 2019

Estate cars are essentially standard hatchback or saloon models with an extended rear end, providing more boot space for flat-pack furniture enthusiasts, sports players with bulky equipment, or anyone who needs to transport their family and associated clutter.

The boot lid opens up the rear of the car - just as it does in a hatchback, so there's a large square-shaped opening that makes it easier to load bulky luggage. Folding rear seats are typically standard as well, giving you the opportunity to create a van-like space behind the front seats.

For years, estate cars had a reputation for being boxy, boring and dull to drive but their purpose has changed. Modern estate cars blend their large boots with a bit more style. They are lower to the ground, which means they are usually more agile and exciting to drive than taller sport utility vehicles (SUVs). It also means their fuel costs are typically lower than those of larger vehicles. In almost all cases nowadays the angular, boxy appearance that defined estate cars has been addressed with much smoother, flowing lines - although these do reduce luggage space.

In fact, for maximum boot space, you are better off with a taller car - such as a large SUV - which can be hangar-like when you fold the back seats down. However, there's no need to opt for one of these cars if you're looking for some extra grip off-road, because off-road versions of estate cars fitted with four-wheel drive  that can cope better with rough or slippery surfaces are becoming increasingly popular. We've listed some of these models available below.

Estate cars are usually one of several models in the same range. For example, you can buy a Mercedes C-Class saloon, a Mercedes C-Class coupe and a Mercedes C-Class Estate (below). All of these share virtually the same mechanical parts and choice of engines.

The estate market ranges from the cheap Dacia Logan to luxury models from Audi, Volvo, Porsche, Mercedes and BMW. The most expensive of which are fitted with gadgets like powered boot lids, that can be opened by poking your foot underneath the back bumper; thickly carpeted luggage compartments and high-powered engines. It's also easy to add accessories for carrying pets.



Reasons to buy an estate car

✔ Practical space, with a large boot opening and square-shaped luggage area
✔ Stylish design means they aren’t a frumpy choice
✔ Not much more expensive to run than a hatchback


Estate cars: why not?

Not as spacious as many SUVs and crossovers
Length can make them difficult to park
Fill the boot up and you can’t see out of the back window


Good looking estate cars

Modern estate cars can be better-looking than the rest of the models offered in the range. Here are three of the style icons.

Volvo V90


The best-known manufacturer of boxy estate cars now turns out the most stylish. The V90 is good-looking inside and out, with a big dashboard touchscreen, as well as a curved shape.


Mercedes CLA Shooting Brake

Mercedes has sacrificed some of the luggage space in its cars to give them an attractive rear end, with a roof that curves gently down to the back lights and doesn’t appear to protrude too far beyond the rear wheels. The German brand refers to their version as a Shooting Brake, but it's an estate with a fancy name.


Seat Leon Sport Tourer (ST)


Sharp crease lines down the side of the Seat Leon ST help to disguise its length and make it appear sporty. It looks as if it was designed as an estate car from the start, rather than modified from the Seat Leon hatchback.


Off-road estate cars

If you’d like the minimalistic style of an estate car with some of the off-road ability of an SUV, then your options are increasing virtually every month.

More manufacturers are fitting four-wheel drive to their estate cars and raising them a little higher off the ground, so they can tackle dirt tracks, muddy fields and snow-covered roads with greater ability

Volvo V60 Cross Country

Volvo’s got a Cross Country version of every estate car in its range. The V60 model is a considerable 65mm higher off the ground than the standard estate car, so it can handle uneven surfaces off-road without damage. On normal roads, the engine only powers the front wheels to save fuel. But on slippery ground, it engages four-wheel drive, sending power to all wheels for better grip. The car also has hill descent control, so it can automatically roll itself down steep slopes at a slow, steady speed.


Mercedes E-Class All-Terrain

Fitted with raised air suspension, the forthcoming E-Class All-Terrain isn’t just higher than the standard estate, but it’s also more comfortable, as the suspension has more space to absorb bumps. As with most of the cars in this list, it has extra panels fitted around the wheels and at the front and back of the car. These look like the protective cladding fitted to off-road cars, but it's mainly a decorative addition.


Audi A6 allroad

While the car crashes through muddy, potholed lanes, the occupants of an Audi A6 allroad can sit back in leather-lined luxury. The A6 allroad is extremely well-equipped and - like the Mercedes, extremely comfortable, as it also has air suspension. It’s only 15mm higher than the standard A6 Avant estate, though, so you do run the risk of scraping the car on rocky ground.


Volkswagen Golf Alltrack

Unusually for an off-road estate car, the extra height of the Golf Alltrack barely affects its agility on the road. It will still take corners with very little leaning and with a sense of sharpness that’s often lost when you lift a car off the ground. Mind you, the Alltrack is only 20mm higher than the standard car. It does make it more comfortable, but does limit its ability to drive over rough ground.


Seat Leon X-Perience

Roof rails and some extra chunky panels on the car make the Leon X-Perience look the part, but it’s only 20mm taller than a standard Leon, so the car’s four-wheel drive system can’t really take it too far. As with the rest of the cars in this list, the X-Perience’s four-wheel drive system rarely operates when the car is on tarmac to save fuel, only engaging when the going gets tough.


What to look for in an estate car

  • Split-folding rear seats are best, as you can fold one or two, leaving one for a passenger.
  • Flat-folding seats. If the back seats don’t fold right down, leaving the boot floor completely flat, then you’re wasting space
  • Low boot lip: if the bottom of the boot is level with the top of the rear bumper, it's easier to slide loads in
  • Attachments: hooks, rails and loops in the boot will help you secure luggage so it doesn’t move about
  • A powered bootlid that you can open by waving your foot underneath the bumper is useful when your hands are full
  • Rear power sockets are handy - for an air compressor to pump up beach inflatables, for example.


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