Need something affordable, quick and commodious? Here's the PH top 10, from no money to no limit…
By Matt Bird / Thursday, October 1, 2020
A cheap, fast, durable estate car is not necessarily easy to find in 2020. People tend to hang onto them. They do virtually everything – and look good to boot. Why trade up when you're perfectly happy with the automotive equivalent of a Swiss Army knife?
At the opposite end of the market, the choice is more plentiful – and hugely expensive. The rise of the SUV might have stymied the middleweight options, but premium manufacturers recognise a prestige-led, power-hungry niche when they see one. Hence the arrival of the long-awaited BMW M3 Touring next year. And the advent of the six-figure uber wagon.
If you can't wait that long or are disinclined to spend so much, we understand. Hence a top ten to suit every budget; no man left behind. After all, we've all got stuff to take to the tip. And a home to get back to sharpish…
Up to £2,500…
Saab 9-5 Aero
The Saab 9-5 Aero is the exception that proves the fast wagon rule. The British obsession with fast Fords and T5 Volvos have pushed their used values up, while the more muted image – and defunct branding – of the equally rapid Saab has kept it among the premier bargain basement options. Performance is guaranteed with at least 250 turbocharged horsepower, interior space is measurable in square yards and you won't find comfier seats anywhere. This sort of money buys one of the last YS3E Aero wagons with around 150,000 miles; it won't be perfect – the Direct Ignition Cassette remains a bugbear – and a distinctly 20th century interior will be a shock to some. But we wouldn't invest a tiny budget anywhere else.
Up to £5,000…
Subaru Legacy 3.0R
Double the budget and, unsurprisingly, the choice increases somewhat. The earliest vRS Skoda Octavias can be had for less than £5k, along with the odd V6 repmobile from Vauxhall and Ford. But where's the fun in that?
Subaru had built hard charging wagons before the 3.0R – various Impreza STIs and Spec B Legacys – but in 2004 it went straight for the compact executive jugular with a six-cylinder, four-wheel drive, 150mph saloon and estate. Although the 3.0R may not have persuaded the great British buying public out of their A4 Avants and 3 Series Tourings, it looks a canny buy a decade and a half on. That hearty flat-six won't be cheap to maintain (and is prone to misfires), but Subaru's famed durability is evidenced in the number of presentable cars on offer with six-figure mileages. For less than £5k you can get an Outback 3.0R with just 80,000 miles privately, or a dealer sold wagon that's just ticked over 100k for bang on £5k. It isn't glamorous, the Legacy, but it is good – and that's why it's here.
Up to £10,000…
Ford Focus ST (Mk3)
Both Saab and Subaru could be considered mature, mellow options for those needing to move a lot of stuff a long way in not much time. The Ford Focus ST estate of 2012 was neither mature nor mellow: it was an absolute hooligan, capable of turning even middle-aged custodians into wheelspinning, oversteering maniacs. But it was also able to cart more than 1,500 litres of luggage with the seats down, while those in the front were clamped by figure-hugging Recaros. It was brilliant.
Nowadays, the 250hp Ecoboost Focus ST estate can be bought for four figures, with circa 80,000-mile examples on offer at dealerships for £9,995. Go privately and you could pay as little as £8k, which looks like scandalous value for money. It will chomp through tyres, the infotainment is below par and an ST on its original cambelt will certainly need a change by now. And yet you won't find much more modern fast wagon fun for the money in 2020.
Up to £15,000…
Skoda Octavia vRS TSI (Mk3)
Saab, Subaru… Skoda. The three wise men of performance wagons, really. The trio combine speed, space and sturdiness so completely that it's seldom necessary to look anywhere else. Which is exactly why the previous generation of Octavia vRS is here; if it's good enough for the traffic police – surely the ultimate arbiters of fast estate talent – then it's more than good enough for us.
For £15k, the earliest of the MQB-based vRS Octavia estates are on offer – and given it uses the same engine and underpinnings that delivered the best Golf GTI in years, it should be no surprise to learn that the Skoda is brimmed to its roof spoiler with quality, comfort and buttoned-down performance. The EA888 2.0-litre TSI turbo delivers 220hp and 258lb ft; whether with DSG or standard six-speed manual, and the vRS will reach 62mph in less than seven seconds and top 150mph. In 2020 just £15k buys a circa 50,000-mile example with the manual 'box and a full Skoda service history; given problems have been reported with the automatic, that would be our choice for many more years of swift, sensible, stylish Skoda motoring. You know what they say: if you can't beat them, join them…
Up to £25,000…
Audi RS4 (B7)
Granted, there's a more obvious choice at this money: ask anyone the best fast estate at £25k and they'll say 'Golf R' before you've finished the question. But there is more to life than low miles and long service schedules – especially with the Mk8 Golf R primed to relegate its predecessor to yesterday's news (with residual values to suit).
In contrast, the B7 Audi RS4, is on the way up, a corollary of its peerless reputation in the Audi RS line up; there simply hasn't been one this complete before or since. Not so long ago, £15k would have bought a decent Avant; now that's nearer £20,000, and may still have some room to grow, given the performance of the RS2, 4 and 6 that came before it.
The reason is simple: the RS4 looked superb, drove even better and, courtesy of the 4.2 FSI V8 it shared with the R8, revved to the high heavens with the muted rumble of distant NASCAR. Quattro four-wheel drive gave the B7 an advantage over AMG contemporaries, and its manual-only status further enhanced its appeal with enthusiasts. Spend £20k now and you'll secure an RS4 with fewer than 60,000 miles. The Audi will cost more to run than the Golf, of course – but you're virtually guaranteed to get more back come resale time. And, even more importantly than that, you'll have a truly great car. That will remain true for however long you keep it.
Up to £35,000…
Mercedes-AMG C63 (S205)
This list wouldn't be complete without at least one 'Benz-badged 'bahnstormer, and so our fast estate recommendation at this money is a C63. Of course. But maybe not be the one you're expecting, because this is the 4.0-litre, twin-turbo, 'hot-V' C63 – the W205 generation – and not the 6.2-litre icon that secured AMG's muscular reputation in the late 2000s.
Why? Because this new AMG-C63 is a better car, frankly. Maybe not as charming or as belligerently daft as the 6.2, but the more complete and capable uberwagon. And with prices now starting at £35,000 – or half its price when new – the C63 is impossible to ignore.
With the 510hp 'S' still out of reach for now, those with £35k to spend will have to get by with the standard 476hp car. No bother, though, as it still combines momentous V8 performance, Mercedes quality and a certain understated style that means it can elude all but the keenest eye. Check the relevant recalls have been done, ensure you're happy with the operation of the Comand infotainment (it isn't for everyone) and enjoy – this is AMG's heartland.
Up to £50,000…
Audi RS6 (C7)
Without question, the C7 generation of Audi RS6 looks more appealing now than ever. Not only did it vastly improve on its predecessor in every conceivable way, to us it's a better looking RS6 than the new C8. 'Sweet spot' is too mawkish for a 2,000kg Audi Avant, but you see the point: this will be remembered as a great RS6.
In 2020 it's possible to buy a 560hp example for less than £50,000. Indeed, prices start at below £40k if you're willing to take a car with more than 60,000 miles. Using all the budget, however, not only opens up the possibility of lower-mileage, Audi approved cars, but also one or two of the later, 605hp Performance versions. You don't need us to tell you how tempting a prospect that is.
The RS6 has always been a large, heavy, complex car, and that stands true for the C7, so prospective buyers should always factor in the potential replacement cost of consumables, as they take quite the pounding. Otherwise keep a look out for leaking DRC dampers, and what might appear to be the same issue afflicting the fuel tank. But they are all like that, honest…
Up to £75,000…
Mercedes-AMG E63 (S213)
The car that beat the Audi RS6 at its own game. Due for replacement imminently (so haggle hard), the W213 E63 was the first four-wheel drive AMG that wasn't an SUV. Not that that diminished the experience one bit; if anything, the almost unfettered access to a 612hp version of the 4.0-litre V8, whatever the weather, made the E63 feel wilder than it ever had.
Like all the great AMG wagons, the E63 also packed huge amounts of space, technology and luxury into an E-Class body. It made a game changing RS6 feel a little inert, and reaffirmed the belief (in case any doubt existed) that AMG ruled the fast estate roost. Buyers in 2020 will have to put up with a firm ride and an infotainment set up a current A-Class driver will heartily mock, but the overall package is damn near unbeatable. This budget is enough to buy an approved used car with a four-figure mileage. An E63 will continue to depreciate, of course, though there's a reason why buyers take the plunge in the first place, and will continue to do so – nothing, really, does it better.
Up to £100,000…
Porsche Panamera Turbo Sport Turismo
Weren't expecting this one? Well, we wanted to consider one or two alternative options, and for those after something a little more prestigious, stylish and just as fast as the latest uber estates, they could do a lot worse than consider the Panamera Turbo Sport Turismo.
Put simply, it combines all that was good about the second generation of Panamera – excellent powertrains, a brilliant cabin and spookily good handling – and added some additional practicality into the mix. This isn't a load lugger in the conventional sense, because the Panamera lacks the aperture width and sheer carrying volume (boot space is only up 25 litres on the hatch), but that doesn't stop the ST being a fine fast estate. Why? Because while being so closely related to the Panamera might compromise its claims to outright practicality honours, the minimal changes for the Sport Turismo mean it drives just as well. While looking even better. Who's to argue with that? Especially with 550hp Turbos available from £80k…
Sky's the limit…
Forgive us an indulgence here – what else could it be? With production having been wound up on the two-door, four-seat, four-wheel drive Ferraris ahead of an SUV, now looks the time to invest in an original: the FF. Back in 2011 it was like nothing else ever seen from Maranello (as the SUV will surely be a decade later): an intelligent, lightweight '4RM' 4WD system, shooting brake style, four seats and a dual-clutch gearbox with a V12 for the first time. It made the 612 look about as advanced as a windmill.
However, the FF unequivocally delivered traditional Ferrari GT appeal as well, seamlessly blending long-legged refinement and comfort with a savage V12 edge. Like so many of its four-seat forebears, the FF never received the attention of its more glamourous stablemates, but then it wasn't designed for showing off in a collection; the FF was meant to be used, and those who did so grew to love it.
Buying a 10-year-old Ferrari is, if less perilous than ever, still something to think very carefully about. The FF may have followed its predecessors in depreciating quite severely – £95k is now your entry point – but it seems apposite to remind everyone at this point that the bills for a £250,000 car don't depreciate with time. Even one a lot better built than they used to be. Still, for those that can maintain an FF in the manner it deserves, it's an unrivalled fast estate experience.
- 2020 Ford Focus ST Estate | PH Review
- 2020 Mercedes-AMG E53 Estate | UK Review
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