The compact estate market is growing steadily, and in a bid to win a slice of the pie, a wagon body style has been added to the Honda Civic range for the first time since the Mk6 Aerodeck departed in 2001.

The Honda Civic Tourer matches the Civic hatch up to to B-pillars, and has the same wheelbase, but is a considerable 235mm longer in rear overhang. Far from distorting the hatchback's design, however, it could be said that the estate offers the more balanced aesthetic of the two, and it's much more interesting to look at than rivals like the Volkswagen Golf estate and Skoda Octavia estate.

Despite that wedge-like profile, the Civic Tourer boasts a class-leading 624 litres of boot space below its retractable, stowable tonneau cover, including 117 litres beneath the two-stage false floor. Thanks in part to the fuel tank being unusually sited under the front seats and the space-efficient rear torsion beam suspension, the seats can be folded flat to create a vast 1668-litre space, which is both sensibly shaped and easily accessible via the knee-height boot lip that's almost flush to the floor. You can also create a tall central load space by flipping up the rear seat squabs.

Up front, the firm, supportive seats are roundly adjustable, as is the steering column, and the combination of high-quality plastic finishes and interior design to match the adventurous exterior impress, but dowdy switchgear lets the side down. A six-footer can sit behind another with just enough legroom and headroom, and visibility is pretty good considering the car's rising glass line.

There are two engines to choose from: a 118bhp 1.6 i-DTEC turbodiesel and a 140bhp i-VTEC petrol. Both are supplied with a slick, shortish-throw six-speed manual gearbox, while the petrol car can also be specced with a five-speed torque converter. The diesel costs £1010-£1210 more than the manual petrol, but is over 60 per cent more fuel efficient (72.4-74.3mpg against 43.5-45.6mpg), and also emits far less CO2 (99-103g/km against 146-149 g/km), so most will soon recoup the premium.

The oil-burner is the better performer, too. The manual petrol is quicker from 0-62mph (9.2sec vs 10.1sec for the diesel), but is at once boomy and breathy, while the i-DTEC pulls strongly from low down and plays on its massive torque advantage as revs climb: it boasts 221lb ft to the i-VTEC's paltry 128lb ft. The diesel can be a little noisy when pushed, but it's never coarse. The brakes are amply effective but feel a bit wooden.

A stint in a passively damped development car exhibited a firmish ride, so-calibrated to cope with a heavy payload. The more impressive selection is Honda's new rear-only adaptive damping system, supplied by Sachs. It brings most of the effectiveness of a four-corner adaptive setup and offers Comfort, Normal and Dynamic modes. The former smooths out motorway stints nicely, while the latter tightens up for rural sprints.

In all cases, however, the dampers retain healthy body control, and shouldn't be overly blunted by a bootful of clobber.

The steering is light and responsive away from the forgiving centre, although the petrol model's weight saving blesses it with a fair bit more pointiness than the diesel. The handling is more competent and benign than it is incisive and engaging, though, and the ride is generally comfort-biased – bumps and scars are more heard than felt.

The entry-level S (from £20,265) brings Bluetooth, digital radio and 16-inch alloys, but those are almost expected in this segment now. Another £1600 or so buys SE Plus, with rear parking sensors and 17-inch alloys, and the opportunity to spec adaptive dampers for £550. Those dampers are included in the top two trim levels, SR and EX Plus, both of which also include sat-nav and heated front seats, while keyless entry/start and self-levelling high-intensity headlights are among top-spec-only goodies. Two generous levels of sensor-based driver assistance and safety kit are also available, costing around £800 and £2500 respectively.

The Civic Tourer's huge and versatile load space, comfortable ride and strong yet frugal diesel engine are impressive, but like-for-like it is somewhat overpriced against its competitors.

Top 5 Family hatchbacks

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