Best small estates
If you have lots of things to transport, but don't want a large SUV with expensive running costs, a small estate could be the answer. They are stylish, affordable and cheap to run.
Since models such as the original Vauxhall Astra Estate were introduced in the 1980s, manufacturers have offered practicality-boosting estate versions of their hatchbacks, creating some of the world’s best small estates in the process. After all, once many millions have been spent designing and engineering a new model, it’s relatively simple to stretch the proportions of the boot in order appeal to customers who need extra space.
With just as much room inside for passengers and very little sacrifice in performance or economy, you can have an estate that looks like your favourite hatchback but one with enough boot space to carry bulky sports equipment, furniture or enough luggage for a fortnight of camping.
The popularity of SUVs and crossovers has shot up in recent years thanks to their practicality and toughness, but small estates still have a few advantages. The first is that the boot opening is closer to the ground, which can make loading heavy or awkward items like mountain bikes much easier. The lower height also pays dividends for fuel bills, because an estate’s sleeker shape will usually give it better fuel economy than an SUV with the same engine.
Driving enthusiasts will be happy, too, because small estates normally handle just as well as their hatchback counterparts. And some of the models on our list are available as high-performance versions.
Here's our ranking of the top 10 best small estates cars available now.
The Skoda Octavia scores strongly in every area. Of the three cars based on the same VW Group underpinnings (including the Golf Estate itself and the SEAT Leon ST), the Octavia offers the most space, putting it in the lead from the off. Its 610-litre boot isn’t quite the largest in class, but it certainly isn’t far off. Clever handles in the boot allow the rear seats to fold down without any fuss, freeing up a huge 1,740 litres of space. With a wide range of engines spanning from a 1.0-litre petrol to a 2.0-litre diesel or petrol in the rapid vRS performance model, there’s an Octavia Estate to suit every taste. It’s a great model to own, too, consistently scoring well in our Driver Power customer satisfaction surveys.
While the Skoda Octavia is the most practical of the Volkswagen Group trio and the Leon is the most stylish, the Golf is the most upmarket small estate in a class. Buyers could easily be won over by the Golf Estate’s interior compared to the alternatives, thanks to its excellent build quality and materials. Performance could be a winning factor, too, with the Golf GTD Estate and Golf R Estate offering two very different takes on high-speed load-lugging. The GTD has a 2.0-litre diesel engine, which can return 56.5mpg and get the car from 0-62mph in 7.8 seconds, while the Golf R Estate is petrol and adds four-wheel drive, hitting 62mph in a scorching 4.6 seconds.
If you don’t necessarily need as much space as the Octavia Estate offers, the SEAT Leon ST can be thought of as a more stylish and sporty version of the same model. With a steeply raked rear window, the Leon trades some luggage room for looks, but can still carry 587 litres behind the rear seats or 1,470 with them folded down. A facelift for 2017 ensured the Leon remains competitive with the latest models, particularly in the connectivity department. This is thanks to a clear and intuitive infotainment system, which works well with smartphones thanks to its Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility. The Leon also benefits from a wide engine range, spanning from economical petrol and diesel models to the Leon Cupra ST, which has performance to rival the Golf R Estate.
The excellent Vauxhall Astra Sport Tourer has compelling all-round ability. Its 540-litre boot isn’t the largest, but represents a big gain over the hatchback and this generation of Astra is greatly improved over its predecessor. For a start, it’s more stylish, but under the metal, the Vauxhall is also better engineered and now provides refinement near the top of the class. Our favourite engines are the 1.0-litre petrol and 1.6-litre diesel, which provide excellent economy and a pleasant drive. The Astra model range looks overly complicated, but even the entry-level Design trim is well equipped, while the SRi Nav brings useful upgrades like OnStar (Vauxhall’s concierge service) and sat nav, making it our recommendation.
The Megane Sport Tourer has a stylish design inside and out, which should appeal to image-conscious families. It represents a sensible buy, too, thanks to a five-star Euro NCAP crash-test rating and low running costs, with the 1.6-litre diesel capable of more than 70mpg. There’s a performance option, too: the GT model has a 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine with 202bhp, which can get the Sport Tourer from 0-62mph in only 7.1 seconds. The talking point inside is the Tesla-style portrait orientation of the large 8.7-inch touchscreen, which comes as standard on the Dynamique S trim level and above, along with a reversing camera and sat nav.
Now in its third outing, the Ceed Sportswagon has lost an apostrophe from its name and gained more space and style. It's better to drive, too, if a little firmer-riding than before, with suspension that's more tightly wound and sharper steering. Stretched bodywork means its boot has grown to a competitive 600 litres, and top versions get a 40:20:40 split-folding rear bench for added flexibility. In fact, equipment levels are one of the Ceed Sportswagon's main selling points, with even the 2 trim fitted with cruise control and a seven-inch touchscreen. A long seven-year warranty is another key consideration.
The Hyundai i30 Tourer boasts a 602-litre boot size and a range of economical petrol and diesel engines. It also offers a comfortable ride and impressive refinement, without being as fun to drive as the Leon ST or Ford Focus Estate. Instead, the i30 Tourer impresses with its standard kit, value and dependable feel. With a five-year/unlimited-mileage warranty, any issues that do occur should be taken care of, and the i30 hatchback on which the Tourer is based also has a five-star Euro NCAP crash-test rating.
The Skoda Fabia Estate is the only supermini-based model to make our top 10, thanks to its combination of practicality, a great ownership experience and brilliant value for money. The Fabia Estate starts from just over £13,000, yet its 530-litre boot (with all five seats in place) is larger than those of the Megane Sport Tourer, Cee’d Sportswagon, i30 Tourer and Focus Estate. Both the Fabia and Skoda as a brand score consistently highly in our Driver Power surveys. Thanks to its smaller size, the Fabia Estate is very easy to drive and park, while its low weight also boosts economy, helping it return up to 74mpg with a 1.4-litre diesel engine fitted. But unless you drive lots of miles each year, we’d recommend one of the petrol models, thanks to their refinement and lower starting prices.
If you simply need the biggest boot on offer, the Peugeot 308 SW is class-leading, with a huge 660 litres behind the rear seats and 1,775 litres when they’re folded flat. To put this in perspective, the 308 SW has as much boot space as you’ll find in the Volkswagen Passat Estate from the class above, but it costs around £6,000 less. If you’re bored of traditional car interiors, the 308 SW is also likely to strike a chord thanks to its arresting driver-focused layout. Almost every button has been eradicated from the dashboard, with functions operated from a large central touchscreen, while the instrument cluster is mounted above the dashboard, nestled behind a small steering wheel. It looks good and works well for the most part, although using the touchscreen just to change the climate control is a bit of a faff. Choose the popular 1.6-litre BlueHDi diesel engine and the 308 SW is also the most economical estate here, returning up to 88mpg.
Those who like the retro style of the standard MINI, but need a car with a bit more practicality, might want to take a look at the MINI Clubman estate. The car's 360-litre boot is significantly bigger than the 211 litres in the back of the MINI hatchback, and the 'barn doors' used to access the space is a quirky design touch. It's not just the styling of the hatchback that's been carried over to the Clubman estate, its driving dynamics have been retained, too, making the Clubman an enjoyable, responsive car to drive on a twisty road. There’s the odd compromise for family life, one of which is a softer suspension setup to make the Clubman more comfortable on longer trips and for passengers more generally. The car benefits from an impressive range of engines and comes with plenty of standard equipment, too.