Need something affordable, quick and commodious? Here's the updated PH top 10, from no money to no limit…

By PH Staff / Tuesday, October 12, 2021 / Loading comments

A cheap, fast, durable estate car wasn’t easy to find when we originally built this list in October 2020. And the same goes for 2021. Not only do the same rules apply – people tend to hang on to a plucky wagon for the long haul – but the wider market is also suffering from a lack of stock. Which makes redoing this countdown all the more tricky.

Naturally we’ve stuck to the same rules (i.e. there must be a car available for the budget in our classifieds at the time of writing), which offers quite a nice snapshot of the segment, albeit anecdotal. Some entries stay the same; many do not. Just like last year, we’re still awaiting the arrival of the BMW M3 Touring, but there are plenty more uber wagons to fill the gap in the meantime. Let’s begin.

Up to £2,500…

  • Volvo V50 T5

For the sort of money that buys a high-end TV, we struggled last year to find a car of the same value to get it in the back of. We went with the Saab 9-5 Aero in the end, but name checked the Volvo T5 – and, lo and behold, this year there’s a V50 to get excited about. Granted, it has many more miles and slightly less horsepower than the 9-5, but when it’s the hearty 2.5-litre inline five we’re talking about – with a manual ‘box to boot – we’re prepared to overlook the output deficiency. The V50 isn’t the largest estate car to grace God’s green earth, either – but it’s still a Volvo, so expect it to accommodate even more clutter than you hoped.

Up to £5,000…

  • BMW 330d Touring (E91)

Last year we ignored diesel-powered wagons despite the fact there are many fine examples to ponder. But this year, we’ve opened the sluice gates to admit a single entrant. The 330d Touring totally misses out on the left-field charm that the Legacy 3.0R brought to the table in 2020 for £5k, but it makes up for it with near-legendary status. Scary to think how many years have passed since the E91 was launched to great acclaim, but there’s a timeless quality that belies its age – possibly even more so than the E46, which arguably established the blueprint for the modern exec wagon. This earlier example gets the 228hp M57; later cars get the 241hp N57, and with the right kind of maintenance, both do a sterling all-round job of keeping their owner happy.

Up to £10,000…

  • Chrysler 300C

In 2020, we had the third-gen Focus ST wagon where sensible money starts, and, absolutely, it’s still a great choice. But with the sooty aftertaste of a 330d lingering, we couldn’t resist a V8 joker. The 300C was something of a styling outlier 15 years ago; in 2021 its hearse-like presence is all but undeniable. Still, it’s exceptionally rare to find one with the 5.7-litre Hemi – differentiated from the 6.1-litre version that drove the SRT – but still endowed with 345 Soprano-grade horses. True, the ST would be a better fit for almost every imaginable use case – but if you’ve got a body to move, look no further.

Up to £15,000…

  • Skoda Octavia vRS TSI (Mk3)

Enough with the silliness: here we stick. In 2020, we said the first MQB-based Octavia vRS did a first-rate job of evoking the speed, space and sturdiness of a decent fast wagon, and so it goes for a year later. Not for nothing, either, as the same amount of money buys you a very similar example to the one we pitched back then, i.e. an early-ish car with around 50k on the clock. It’s easy to think the 220hp quite modest as we get into the serious money categories, but the Octavia makes it seem much more ample than the equivalent Golf GTI ever did. Especially with the six-speed manual, which this car gets, alongside the pleasingly capacious back-end. Still a no-brainer.

Up to £25,000…

  • VW Golf R (Mk7)

Or you could have a Golf R. Many car comparisons end thusly, if for no other reason than most of us could quite easily and contentedly live with a Golf R, even if buying one suggests a certain lack of imagination. Last year, we plumped for the God-like Audi RS4 B7 at £25,000 partly for that reason (although also because it features that 4.2-litre V8 and is one of the sweetest three-pedal fast wagons ever made). But thanks to dwindling supply of the latter, there’s no denying the Golf’s appearance this year, not when that money buys great looking examples like this 37k-miler in the best colour and on the Pretoria wheels. You’ll get no points for originality – but you’ll be buying one of the best all-round performance cars of the last ten years. So you won’t care.

Up to £35,000…

  • Mercedes-AMG C63

In 2020 we had a C63 miles ahead in this category, but this year, the supply seems to have dried up, with the classifieds supplying us mostly with the saloon variant, or estate versions of the later C43. Happily, there’s one example a fiver under budget to keep the dream alive. Yet fate also threw up this 38k-mile gem, and the 6.2-litre V8-powered model still speaks to us in a way its follow-up does not. Sure, the newer version is better looking and probably quicker, but the soundtrack is not in the same ballpark. At the end of the day, you could flip a coin and be happy with either.

Up to £50,000…

  • Audi RS6 (C7)

As you get into serious sums, the choice includes a number of handsome Audi-built wagons, and many – if not most – are worth considering. Nevertheless, just like last year, we can’t get past arguably the best looking one. The fact the budget still doesn’t buy a last generation Performance model is testament to how highly the C7 RS6 is still regarded, even after the introduction of its big-money follow-up – and it’s easy to see why. In Nardo Grey with the adaptive air suspension and only 46k on the 4.0-litre V8’s clock, you’re getting possibly all the fast estate you’ll ever need.

Up to £75,000…

  • Mercedes-AMG E63 (S213)

If you like what the C7 is selling, but can’t live with its elderly interior, then the outgoing E63 is for you. We said the same thing last year and make no apologies for repeating ourselves. This is the car that beat the Audi RS6 at its own game; the first AWD AMG that wasn’t an SUV, and among the best models it has ever made. In 2021, £75k still buys you one with trifling miles on the V8’s clock, and enough modern-day luxury and space to keep you cock of the walk for at least one tour of duty. Perhaps longer if Mercedes fails to replace the flagship with something equal to its remarkable gusto.

Up to £100,000…

  • Alpina B3 (or B5)

Hands down, the wagon we recommend you buy with six figures is the latest Alpina B5. It looks stupendous, is powered by a twin-turbocharged 621hp V8 and it drives with the sort of flowing grace that would make a Bentley engineer blush. But somewhat predictably, given its newness, none have yet descended into the PH classifieds, so you’ll have to content yourself with configuring one on the Alpina website. Or – for an admittedly sizeable saving – you could have a delivery-mile example of the current B3, which evinces many of the same qualities, save for the size of the engine and the interior. Even without quite so much capacity in either, it is impossibly good.

Sky’s the limit…

  • Porsche Taycan Cross Turismo

Last year we topped out at the Ferrari FF, which is tantamount to cheating. In 2021, we’ve stuck with five doors, but allowed a battery-powered contender into the viper’s nest instead. Any howls of protest the Taycan Cross Turismo meets in the comments are justified, not least because it doesn’t do a terrifically good job of fulfilling the ‘estate’ part of the fast estate brief, and it isn’t likely to be anyone’s first choice for a trip to the Highlands. But in 680hp Turbo format, it is hugely fast and prodigiously expensive, and therefore a decent qualifier as the silly-money option. Undeniably, too, it is the starter pistol for the future of fast wagons, and having driven it, mostly slack-jawed and wide-eyed, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

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