Still not sold on the thought of an SUV? Behold a fire-breathing wagon for any budget…
By Cam Tait / Monday, 29 August 2022 / Loading comments
Up to £5,000 – BMW 3 Series Touring (E91)
While the incoming BMW M3 Touring is the most exciting fast estate announced this year (it’s one of the most exciting cars of 2022 full stop), the regular 3 Series wagon has been a great compact estate for decades now. Never the most capacious and certainly not the cheapest, they’ve nevertheless appealed with a combination of smart styling, straight-six power and rear-wheel drive finesse. Those who wanted the biggest estate could get a Vectra; those wanting the best estate to drive bought a 3 Series. Still do, in fact.
With both E30 and E36 Tourings now having appreciated beyond the realm of affordability (assuming one can be found), it’s up to the later E46 and E91 models to deliver bargain basement load haulers that still have a bit of lead in their pencils. There are four-cylinder petrol and diesels out there, of course, and they remain the sensible choice (as they did when new) but there’s really nothing like the straight six BMW experience. Especially when they’re cheap.
This E91 325i is no longer in the first flushes of youth – now beyond 120k and approaching 15 years old – but it presents well enough. Bangle design doesn’t look so bad now, right? And check out the spec: 215hp 3.0-litre straight-six up front, six-speed manual, cloth upholstery (!) and rear-wheel drive. Debadged, too, for maximum Q car cool.
Up to £10,000 – Volvo 850 T-5R
You can’t have a fast estate list without Volvo. The manufacturer has delivered some belters over the years, from various five-cylinder T-5s to twin-charged V60 Polestar Engineered, but the 850 T-5 R has the added benefit of being linked to probably the coolest touring car of all time. You don’t get that kind of prestige with a Saab.
The big draw of the 850 T-5 R is, of course, the 2.3-litre turbocharged five-cylinder engine. Porsche, having worked on the inline-five in the Audi RS2, was called in to boost the T-5R’s output to a punchy 243hp, all of which was sent to the front-wheels through a five-speed manual (though a four-speed auto was also available). Suspension components were also handled by Stuttgart and it played a part in designing bits of the interior, including the leather-on-suede sports seats.
A Saab 9-5’s V6 will pack a bit more of a punch, and there’s no doubting the time for real bargains is behind us. But there’s something special about a sporty, rock-solid Volvo with a burbling five-pot, especially as we’ve found one for as little as £7,450. It’s a Japanese import (you might recognise it from Brave Pill) meaning rust won’t be an issue, and with 164,000 miles on the clock it’s barely run in. For a Volvo, that is.
Up to £15,000 – Ford Focus ST Estate
To this day, there has never been an estate version of the Volkswagen Golf GTI. And that seems mad given the success of the segment. But Skoda seized the opportunity, pretty much owning the affordable hot estate market with the Octavia vRS since the turn of the century. Seeing a Focus-shaped gap in the market (and presumably with some recollection of the short-lived ST170 wagon), Ford decided to up the ante by releasing an estate version of the Mk3 Focus ST in 2012.
Granted, the Mk3 ditched the tuneful 2.5-litre inline five of its predecessor in favour of a 2.0-litre four-pot, but power increased by 10 per cent to 250hp. The new motor was a tad characterless, but, despite an increase in power, fuel efficiency was massively improved. It’s not like the estate was a watered-down version of the hatchback either, hitting 62mph from a standstill in 6.5 seconds.
Best of all, the ST Estate is an absolute bargain on the used car market. Leggy examples can be had for a little under £10,000, but we’ve found a tidy, lower mileage pre-facelift for £14,995. This one’s a top-spec ST-3, so it’s loaded with goodies including heated Recaro sports seats and ambient lighting. Oh, and it gets major bonus points for its Tangerine Scream finish. Obvs.
Up to £25,000 – Skoda Superb TSI 280
Skoda may be sensible, but it also knows how to have fun. We’ve become accustomed to its warmed-up hatches and estates under the vRS banner, but its most powerful car to date, the Superb TSI 280 4×4, delivers strong performance in a package that flies under the radar. No wonder the police love them.
Particularly as it can give chase to pretty much anything. Skoda packed in the same 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine as the VW Golf R, albeit in a slightly lower state of tune at 280hp. But couple that with a six-speed DSG with the heaps of traction offered by standard all-wheel drive and the Superb TSI 280 could deliver an unsuspecting turn of pace. True, it’s not as focused as the smaller Octavia vRS, but its effortless performance will hurtle you towards your destination in huge comfort.
It’s also massive inside, far more cavernous than the equivalent 3 Series Touring or Audi A4 Avant. Other than convincingly stringing a set of corners together, there’s not a whole lot the Superb 280 can’t do, making this example look good value at £25,490. Perhaps a little less understated in red, but at least it won’t be mistaken for an unmarked police car.
Up to £35,000 – Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX
Admit it – you didn’t see this one coming, did you? Probably because, like most Japanese carmakers, Mitsubishi kept most of its really special stuff back for its home market – the Lancer Evolution IX Wagon was never officially launched in the UK. But if you spot one of the few that made have made it over here as a grey import, you’ll have a serious giant slayer on your hands.
Mitsubishi made zero compromises when giving the Lancer Wagon the Evo treatment. The engine is the same legendary 2.0-litre 4G63T turbo developing a claimed 280hp (though in reality it’s likely well over 300hp). Couple that with an all-wheel-drive system and the Evo Wagon could blitz a 0-62mph dash in 4.8 seconds, which is seriously impressive even by today’s standards. It even managed to lap the Tsukuba circuit in Japan a mere second off the pace of the lighter saloon.
Now, there are other wild wagons that’ll scratch that JDM itch. Subaru released various Impreza WRX STI wagons, while the Nissan Stagea was essentially a Skyline estate, but neither were quite as ferocious as the Evo. We found one for £29,950 that’s undergone some light (honest!) upgrades, so it should be a fair bit quicker than the standard car. Which promises to be just about as quick as anything, including a few of the others on this list…
Up to £50,000 – VW Arteon R Shooting Brake
Once upon a time, the only fast estate to consider above £30k or so was the VW Golf R. It was quick, spacious, stylish and decent value. It should have been more of the same with the Mk8; while now faster and better to drive than ever thanks to a torque vectoring rear axle, a significant price hike and a poor interior have taken the shine off. But don’t forget VW makes another R estate…
The Arteon R Shooting Brake was never going to be a big seller because of what the Golf offers for less – and there’s no Drift Mode here, sadly. But as a used prospect – with money off the RRP, those suave good looks, 600 litres of boot space and an interior that won’t drive you to distraction – the Arteon deserves some recognition. Who wants to drive a Golf when you could have something very similar wrapped up in a much more handsome body?
With precious few sold new, you’ll have to search a bit more for a secondhand Shooting Brake. But good ones are out there: this 2021 Arteon R is Lapiz Blue (of course), with 7,000 miles on the clock. At just over £40k that’s more than £10,000 off the list price, before options. Who says there aren’t good used buys still out there?
Up to £75,000 – Mercedes-AMG E63 S
Mercedes is turning its back on big, powerful engines. The upcoming C63 will feature a hybrid four-cylinder, and it’s believed that the next AMG E-Class will follow the same path. A real shame, but there are still plenty of V8-engined estates to be had on the used market – and they’ll likely be in high demand once Mercedes officially pulls the plug.
There has never been a more powerful Mercedes estate car than the W213 generation E63 S, with AMG extracting 612hp and 627lb ft of torque from its now legendary 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8, meaning devastating on-road performance. A 0-62mph time of 3.4 seconds will leave some supercars in its dust, yet it still plays the (fairly) comfy cruiser perfectly when you need to devour some autobahn kilometres. And when being sensible becomes boring, you can do skids by sending up to 100 per cent of the power to the rear wheels.
The E63 S really is fun for the whole family, which might be the best way to justify spending this much money on a wagon. With a generous budget there are plenty of fully-loaded, low-mileage examples like this 2020 car. You may be tempted by a C7 generation Audi RS6 at this price range, which delivers an equally emphatic blend of performance, capability and lavish desirability. This time around, though, we’re going for the big, bad Benz.
Up to £100,000 – Alpina B5
Speaking of comprehensively brilliant estate cars, we’re now well and truly in Alpina territory and, for £100,000, nothing really comes close to the B5 Touring. Of course, the looks play a big part, with a subtler appearance compared to an M car, but the B5 comes into its own with the way it melds luxury with blistering pace.
While an M5 still represents the ultimate Nurburgring crushing super-saloon experience, the B5 is the car you’d rather have for the 300-mile drive there from Calais. In fact, Alpina prides itself on developing its cars on public roads, only visiting racetracks when it’s absolutely necessary. Don’t take that to mean the B5 is soft, though. You still have a 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 up front churning out 608hp, coupled with a four-wheel drive system to effortlessly cover great distances from the get-go.
Really, though, the B5 vs M5 argument here is moot. Only the Alpina can be had as a Touring, and therefore takes a spot on our list. Not that you need to spend six figures to get behind the wheel though, with this 2021 example coming in at £85,000. It does without the decal pack, too, with only the Alpina lettering at the base of the bumper giving the game away.
Up to £125,000 – Audi RS6
Audi is so committed to the wagon concept that you haven’t been able to buy an RS6 as a saloon for over a decade. We’ve always considered the model to be up there with the very best German cars, holding its own against saloon rivals such as the BMW M5, but the latest C8 generation forced Audi’s biggest Avant into the performance stratosphere.
A 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 sends 600hp across both axles, though the Quattro system can send up to 100 per cent of the power to either one of the rear wheels to keep the nose in check. Plus, with fuel prices being as terrifying as they are, there’s a 48V system that’ll intermittently take over from the engine when you lift off the accelerator. And just look at it. No colour combination can tone down the angular vents up front and giant rear diffuser.
Of course, you’ll need to be a diehard fan to make the £124,975 price tag of the car we found that little bit more bearable, but it does also come with RS Sports Suspension Plus, which helps keep all two tonnes in check when flying through a set of bends. Plus there’s the idea the latest RS6 might be all the car you ever need – and then some.
Sky’s the limit – Ferrari GTC4 Lusso T
A Ferrari? In an estate car list? Is that even possible? With the gorgeous GTC4 Lusso, it is (just about). Obviously, you can have any wagon you like with no budget limit – but it’s with that devil-may-care attitude in mind that we’ve landed on Maranello’s shooting brake. It all kicked off with the FF, but the GTC4 Lusso presented a noticeable uptick in performance and luxury. And that’s saying something.
Out front is an overhauled version of the 6.2-litre V12, furnished with a staggering 690hp at 8,000rpm and 514lb ft of torque for a 0-62mph time of 3.4 seconds. Most importantly, though, is that the GTC4 Lusso is properly usable. It’s a little longer than the FF, meaning there’s more space for passengers in the back. The 450-litre boot is a tad awkwardly laid out – probably to push you towards Ferrari’s very expensive fitted luggage – but fold the rear seats flat and there’s enough room for two medium-sized dogs. Just watch the leather.
If the GTC4 is too leftfield for you (or not enough) there’s also the prospect of the fully-electric Porsche Taycan Cross Turismo to consider. But the GTC4 Lusso is more luxurious, more evocative in V12 format and plainly better looking. This example comes in at £144,950, a hefty discount on its original list price, and features some seriously cool options such as painted-on Ferrari shields. Practicality never seemed so desirable.
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