European drivers love Estate cars. As a rule we Irish don’t.
If you own an Estate, Station Wagon, SW, Avant, Sports Wagon, Sporting or Shooting Brake/Break – or whatever the car manufacturer calls it – you are in the minority. In Ireland, Estate sales account for between 5 and 15% of any car model. In Europe, this figure is more like 50%!
So why is this? Are we snobs when it comes to being practical?
Once upon a time, a Volvo Estate was the benchmark for the middle classes. In the 70s,80s and 90s cars like the E Class Estate, the Volvo 740 and it’s successor the V70 and Audi’s stylish Avants like the 80, 100, and later the A4 and A6 versions, really looked smart and purpose-built.
Lets face it though, some brands were absoloute abominations! I still have nightmares about horrors like the Fiat Tempra Weekend and countless other hidious designs that were left to the less talented designers to style. These machines were basically saloons with an after-thought metal shed welded to the rear.
This century the rise of the Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) has offered a better driving position with similar load capacity compared to an Estate. Also, where once a 7-seat Peugeot, Mercedes or Volvo Estate was the only MPV option there are now tons of people carriers like the Ford Galaxy, VW Sharan etc. not forgetting 7-seat SUVs, that do a better job.
It is hard to see where an Estate fits anymore – but drive one and you will understand. Ease of access to the boot is a big plus. Apertures are bigger and load length is always catered for whereas hatchbacks tend to come up short when loading flatpacks. SKODA has the brilliant and vast Superb Combi and while the two-wheel drive version is more affordable, the 4X4 version is high on every motoring journalist’s wish list.
As platforms on which cars are based become more flexible and body panels less important for structural rigidity, designers can really do beautiful work now when creating Estates. I’ve been testing two elegantly-formed Estate versions of VW’s Passat back to back – the biturbo and Alltrack. Both feature the high output 190hp diesel and have all-wheel drive. Fuel consumption is pretty good too and while there is seating for five there is also a huge fold-flat cargo area. The standard biturbo is a smart business machine while the raised, tougher- looking Alltrack makes Audi’s A6 Allroad look very expensive… I’d have either in a heartbeat over the saloon. The Mondeo, the i40, the Avensis – nearly all the mainstream players have really impressive Estate offerings.
Styling is better than ever and there are plenty of Estate cars on sale that are as good, if not better-looking than their saloon version: Jaguar’s XF Shooting Brake; Mercedes Benz CLA; Audi A6 Avant and A4 Avant. If you want power, the last BMW M5 Touring was my favourite – until the current Audi RS6 came along! I’ve been flat-out on the Autobhann in an RS6 (180+mph) and the Estate felt as composed as a Nissan Micra at 60! The RS6 was fitted with the optional ceramic brakes kit allowing the super Estate to scrub off that speed in a flash with ease – whats not to like?