Currently reading: Top 10 best estate cars 2023
Our list of the very best load-lugging wagons you can buy today, with something to suit all budgets

In a rational world free of automotive prejudice and immune to the magic of marketing, the estate car would be king. Deliver all of the versatility (and often more) of an SUV, but with the dynamic sharpness and greater efficiency of a saloon, load luggers really are ‘all the car you’ll ever need’.

What’s more, despite the inexorable rise of off-road-themed alternatives, which has come at the cost of other genres of machine, the estate car class retains a healthy diversity. Not only are there plenty of options when it comes to size, the elastic definition of these machines means our kitchen sink carrying cohort includes everything from sleek shooting brakes through to more square-rigged options that value maximum volume above all else.

There’s also a wide choice when it comes to how you want your load delivered. Whether you want cosseting comfort, fuel-sipping efficiency or supercar-chasing performance and handling, there should be an estate car to suit every taste and budget. Some even manage to make a fine fist of combining all these traits.

As has often been said across the Atlantic, there ain’t no substitute for cubic inches. So with that in mind, here’s our pick of great estates.

Best estate cars on sale in 2023

1. BMW 5 Series Touring

It’s not the biggest estate car money can buy, but as a machine that covers all bases the BMW 5 Series Touring is hard to beat. Elegantly styled, engaging to drive, just about large enough for most needs and packed with enough neat features to suggest the brand has thought hard about how it will be used, the multi-talented German wins this space race.

At 560-litres, boot capacity is about average (it shrinks to 430-litres in the plug-in hybrid), but the load area is well-shaped and the brand’s trademark opening rear glass makes it easier to load smaller items in a tight spot. Fold the handy 40/20/40 split rear bench and there’s up to 1700-litres to play with. What’s more, air-suspension is standard for the rear axle, helping deliver both self-levelling for heavy loads and, combined with optional adaptive dampers, enhanced comfort.

Yet BMW’s ‘ultimate driving machine’ schtick doesn’t come unstuck in the estate transformation, the 5 Series hiding its bulk and mass well with meaty steering, impressive agility and the option of expressive handling if you’re in the mood. The engine line-up has been pared back in recent years, with just four-cylinder diesel and petrol options, plus the lusty six-cylinder 540i. There’s also a 530e plug-in hybrid for business users looking for a tax break. And while there’s no M5 option, official tuning arm Alpina does offer its subtle yet superheated conversions, provided you’ve enough cash to fill a 5 Series Touring's boot.

Bmw 5 series touring top 10

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2. Skoda Superb Estate

Read our full road test of the Skoda Superb and you'll learn that this is a car on its way to becoming one of the very best family cars in the world'. It's not difficult to see why, either. In estate form, Skoda's chiselled flagship model boasts a cavernous 1950 litres of carrying capacity with the rear seats folded flat – more than even a Mercedes E-Class Estate.

There's also now a petrol-electric version – the Superb iV Estate – that pairs the 1.4-litre TSI engine with an electric motor. If you can make the electric range of around 25 miles work in your routine, the fuel (and tax) saving is just another reason to consider the big Skoda.

Meanwhile, finding noteworthy fault in the cabin ergonomics, materials quality or rolling refinement is also a fool's errand when you consider the range starts at so much less than you'll pay for the usual premium contenders. For extra versatility, Skoda offers a folding front passenger seat with its own Isofix child seat anchorages, as well as a variable-height boot floor and the usual nets and trays if you want them. Its only missed trick is forgetting to put a 40:20:40-split back seat on the equipment list.

Skoda superb estate 2023 top 10

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3. BMW 3 Series Touring

The smaller brother of the 5 Series, the 3 Series Touring packs many of its larger stablemate’s strengths into a more compact package. Moreover, its status as one of the greatest all-rounders ever has recently been gilded by the arrival of the long-awaited M3 version.

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However, even if you can’t stretch to the fast and furious flagship, you’ll be pleased to discover that plenty of its magic is sprinkled over the rest of the range. Few estate cars at any price are as good to drive, the 3 Series wagon’s mix of agility, driver engagement and right-sized exterior making it feel at home on any twisting stretch of Tarmac. 

And while it rides a little firmer than some, the sense of solidity and excellent regiment mean it's also relaxing when you just want to mooch. The 3 Series also features a lavishly appointed and finished interior, while the boot will swallow 500-litres (410-litres for the 330e plug-in hybrid) with the rear bench in place. There’s also that handy lifting glass tailgate, numerous storage cubbies and shopping bag hooks.

Like the 5 Series, engine choice for the standard car is limited to 2.0-litre four pot petrol and diesel, turbocharged six-cylinder for the 340i and the petrol-electric 330e. Yet these are now joined by the magnificent 503bhp M3, which has all the saloon’s incredible pace and poise but with an extra dose of practicality to boot.

Bmw m3 touring 2023 top 10

4. Ford Focus Estate

The least expensive car here punches well above its weight both in driver appeal and in practicality, not least because, at almost 4.7m long, its footprint is significantly greater than before. As a result, boot capacity rises from 375 litres in the hatch to 608, increasing to 1653 with the seats folded flat.

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For long-haul family car duties, we'd spec our Focus Estate with Ford's adaptive dampers, which help massage a ride quality that otherwise strays into the realm of coarseness. However, you might also consider the ST version, which is available in both diesel and petrol form and with up to 276bhp in the latter. Whichever model you choose, the Focus estate is four-wheeled proof that having a family doesn't mean abandoning driving fun.

Ford focus estate 2023 top 10

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5. Mercedes-Benz E-Class Estate

Does the E-Class – also available in coupe and saloon guises – get any more convincing than this? We think not, because if the role of a big Benz is to convey the whole family in enviable comfort, the estate is where you should spend your money. 

On this list, only the cavernous Skoda can compete with the Mercedes' outright carrying capacity. With the seats in place there’s a healthy 640-litres, while dropping the 40/20/40 split-fold rear bench liberates a cavernous, and flat-floored, 1820-litres of capacity (although as with others here, the plug-in hybrid’s version is smaller due to the need to house a large battery). The load area is also well-shaped, there’s a low load lip and a powered tailgate, all of which make its easier to carry awkward items.

So cultured is the ride quality and effortless the driving controls that piloting the E-Class Estate is almost as relaxing as sitting in the passenger seat. Those who want entertainment when the road starts to twist will be better served elsewhere - but that doesn't mean you can't have one with huge power (E63 S), or with diesel-electric plug-in power (E300de) if you want. Best of the bunch, however, is the effortlessly muscular and cultured E400d complete with confidence-inspiring 4Matic all-wheel drive, which is as fast, effortless and efficient as you’d ever need.

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Mercedes benz e class estate 2023 top 10

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6. Volvo V90

Just five miles in a V90 is enough to show you firmly where Volvo's priorities lay when designing this car. The high waistline and steeply raked dashboard cocoon passengers within a materially rich cabin, and the V90 feels supremely robust and secure, given the luxury on offer. The ride quality makes good on that promise of insulation from the outside world, and although the suspension can feel a little brittle at low speeds, it's right up there with the best as a motorway cruiser.

Few cars gobble up colossal mileage in such style and comfort, but the V90 ultimately trails the class leaders because of its loose body control, a slight imprecision in the driving controls and relatively coarse four-cylinder engines. Talking of which, the choice is between four-cylinder petrols or a similar diesel - or there's the T6 Recharge petrol-electric plug-in hybrid, which is one of our favourite Volvo electrified powertrains, especially as the addition of a larger, 18.8kWh battery delivers an EV range in excess of 40 miles and a company car tax BiK rating of just 8%.

If there's a niggle, then it's the fact that the V90's not a particularly effective load lugger. If your memories of a Volvo estate stretch to the square-rigged 200- and 700-series cars beloved of grandfather-clock-carrying antiques dealers, then you're likely to be disappointed. With a carrying capacity of 551 litres with the rear bench in place and 1517 litres with it lowered, the V90 has to give best to cars several classes below, such as the Skoda Octavia.

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Volvo v90 2023 top 10

7. Jaguar XF Sportbrake

Jaguar did much for the rational appeal of its slightly long-in-the-tooth larger executive option, the XF, early in 2021 when it widely overhauled the interior, cut the engine range and slashed a four-figure sum off the list price. A rear-driven, diesel-powered D200 XF Sportbrake can now be had for a biscuit over £40,000, which makes it cracking value. To put that in perspective, a similarly powerful Skoda Superb 2.0-litre TDI Sportline is around £1500 more. We'll just let that sink in a bit.

WLTP emissions tests have robbed Jaguar's only estate of its multi-cylinder engines, sadly: Jaguar hasn't yet got around to dropping any of its straight-six Ingenium motors into the car, and it isn't likely to in the future. But whichever engine sits in the Sportbrake's nose, you're getting arguably the best-handling chassis in this class here, and one that changes direction beautifully thanks to the weight and response of Jaguar's trademark steering.

The top-billing petrol model pairs the same 296bhp 2.0-litre petrol engine from the F-Type with all-wheel drive and is a superbly competent all-weather family car, now finally with a cabin and infotainment system worthy of a premium executive operator. If you're looking for those traditional Jaguar values of space, pace and grace, then the Sportbrake has them by the bootful.

Jaguar xf sportbrake 2023 top 10

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8. Toyota Corolla Sports Touring

There was a time not that long ago when the Toyota Corolla was a byword for humdrum transport. Durable and dependable, it was also dynamically flat and devoid of charm. However, that’s all changed with the current 12th generation version, which features all the nameplate’s' traditional strengths, but mixes in some style and a big dollop of driver appeal. Go for the Touring Sports and you get a healthy injection of practicality too.

Thanks to the brand’s TNGA (Toyota Next Generation Architecture, should you ask), the Corolla is blessed with a fine ride and handling balance that makes it a genuine pleasure to steer down your favourite road as well as affording it genuine comfort and refinement. Even the petrol-electric hybrid powertrain is strong, serving up eager acceleration and fine economy without the soaring revs that normally come with CVT gearbox.

The interior isn’t quite up to premium standards and the infotainment is fairly lackluster, but there’s decent space and it’s robustly built. Likewise, the boot lacks some of the clever features of rivals, but at 598-litres it’s roomy and benefits from a low loading lip and a decent shape. So there you have it, a Corolla with space, style, substance and sparkle.

Toyota corolla sports tourer 14 1 scaled

9. Genesis G70 Shooting Brake

If you need proof that premium brand newcomer Genesis is serious about its assault on Europe, then look no further than the G70 Shooting Brake. While its imposing SUVs and state-of-the-art EVs grab headlines and sales, the load lugging version of its compact exec saloon is the only model designed purely for sale over here, rather than for a global audience.

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As its name suggests, this is more of a lifestyle load lugger than a true hard-working estate, but the 465-litre boot capacity is hardly shabby and can be extended to 1535-litres. The rear seats are a little cramped by class standards, but otherwise the Genesis is roomy, well-equipped and feels like an upmarket product.

Plenty of effort has been lavished on the suspension in order to cater for European tastes, and overall the hard work has paid off. Not only is it firmer and more controlled than its saloon sibling, the G70 steers accurately and feels balanced and biddable when pushing on. If there’s a fly in the ointment it’s the engines. The four-cylinder diesel and petrol options aren’t short of poke, but they can’t match the cultured sound and delivery of the six-cylinder units found in some of the competition. Still, as a distinct and different choice, the Genesis is worth a look.

Genesis g70 shooting brake 2023 top 10

10. Citroen C5 X

Citroen has rediscovered its knack for doing things differently, and the C5 X is arguably the most tangible proof of this. Combining the style of a coupe with the stance of an SUV and the versatility of an estate, the flamboyant French machine forges its own path to practicality. It’s an estate car, Jim, but not as we know it.

What’s clear from the outside is that comfort is the order of the day with the Citroen, even if it’s not quite as accomplished in this area as some of its double-chevron ancestors. The soft suspension can get unsettled but otherwise it delivers a supple and easy-going gait, while the squidgy seats are surprisingly supportive. Light steering and a fair amount of body movement mean it's best to take it easy too, although the light steering, accurate handling and consistent grip mean it’s hardly a chore to drive.

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Despite its rakish looking exterior, the C5 X features a spacious interior that looks good and is well built. There’s a large boot as well, which will swallow a very useful 540-litres of luggage with the rear seats in use, although this drops to 485-litres in the hybrid. Speaking of which, the plug-in models deliver some decent savings for business users, but the smooth turbocharged 1.2-litre and 1.6-litre petrol better suit the relaxed Citroen’s grand touring character.

Citroen c5x 2023 top 10

James Disdale

James Disdale
Title: Special correspondent

James is a special correspondent for Autocar, which means he turns his hand to pretty much anything, including delivering first drive verdicts, gathering together group tests, formulating features and keeping topped-up with the latest news and reviews. He also co-hosts the odd podcast and occasional video with Autocar’s esteemed Editor-at-large, Matt Prior.

For more than a decade and a half James has been writing about cars, in which time he has driven pretty much everything from humble hatchbacks to the highest of high performance machines. Having started his automotive career on, ahem, another weekly automotive magazine, he rose through the ranks and spent many years running that title’s road test desk. This was followed by a stint doing the same job for monthly title, evo, before starting a freelance career in 2019. The less said about his wilderness, post-university years selling mobile phones and insurance, the better.

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Join the debate

Add a comment…
Tonrichard 22 July 2023

Sadly the traditional estate car has become eclipsed by the crossover/suv and even those that remain have moved from the practical space efficient box shape vehicles to more stylish "sports tourers". I would hazzard a guess that 4 out of 5 of today's fashionistas would on all rational grounds be better off with an estate car than a higher riding more expensive and less fuel efficient crossover/suv. I suppose on our more congested roads a higher driving position gives you a better view of the road ahead an large wheels help you climb the kerbs outside little Tamsin's school. I may be a bit of a Dodo but personally I regret the passing of the MPV. I look at my neighbours three children climb into their VW Touran (often with a bike in the back) as they set off for school each morning and think what a sensible car. Great space with the footprint of a Golf. Incidently they had a Golf estate before their two Touran's. 

Peter Cavellini 25 October 2022

Al right then, hands up, who buy a Car for need?, or, just because they like whatever Car, even I think the Tourer is a three series with more weight added, but, then again, if your minted enough, buy what you like.

ianp55 9 August 2021

Bit of a joke list isn't it surely the point of an estate car is useable space? putting the BMW 5 series at the top of the list seems ridiculous then adding the Alpina version of the 3 series is rubbing salt in the wounds. Why pay more for less with the VW Arteon Shooting Brake? the Passat Estate offers so much useable space than it's over priced stablemate