So, go on, that’s where we’ll begin. The S90 saloon/V90 estate is the second model to arrive under Volvo’s big Chinese-backed plan to sell more cars. It’s based on the same basic architecture as last year’s XC90, a car we like a lot, but is unencumbered by the necessity to have a tall 4x4’s body, and with another year’s development under its belt, it ought to be even better. It arrives here with a 187bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel engine (all Volvos are 2.0-litre fours these days), driving the front wheels through an eight-speed automatic gearbox and called the D4. In midrange Inscription trim, it’s £37,555, before options. This one is modestly specced up to £40,730.
Then there’s the E-Class. Its range is bigger and more complicated, with SEs for comfort and AMG Lines for ‘greater sporty feel’, or something, and this is the latter. There are V6s but this is an E220d, which has a 2.0-litre diesel making 191bhp. It’s longitudinally mounted but unique in this company in that it drives the rear wheels, and via a nine-speed automatic gearbox. The list price is £40,430, which is on the nose of the Volvo, but its optional equipment takes the price to £50,895.
Unfair? Well, when we make the call to see if we can test something appropriate for a few days, we don’t get the full run of an online configurator as you might if you were speccing one to run yourself. Or maybe you don’t, either. Some options will add a bit of pizzazz here or there, but the short of it is that all three of these cars are technically comparable and that the market for big executive wagons is as fiercely competitive as any other. You’ll find one and it’ll be pretty close mechanically and in its spec to another, within your or your fleet manager’s budget.
Third up, then, is the estate that has been on sale for the longest: Audi’s A6 Avant. It, too, has a 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel, also longitudinal but driving the front wheels through a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. It makes 187bhp and in this Black Edition – which, like an AMG Line, brings sportier trim, although ‘sporty’ is a relative term in 1800kg estate territory – costs £40,915.
As standard, the Black Edition has 20in alloy wheels, whose effect on ride quality Audi has presumably attempted to mitigate by fitting this one with £2000 of air suspension. The E-Class gets air springs at the rear as standard but coils on the front. This Volvo has coil springs on the front and a composite leaf spring on the rear, but if you wanted air, it would cost you £950 at the front or £1500 allround. Right? Right.
In short, then: three big estates, all within a few quid a month of each other and all within 13mm in length of each other, at a smidgen below five metres long. And, well, I don’t know about you, but there’s always something very appealing about a big wagon, I find. So much more so than a saloon, even a luxury one from the class above. Much more useful, much better looking, much less ‘airport taxi’.