Tips and advice

Top 3 used 4x4 estate cars for £12,000

“Dear Carbuyer, I’m looking to buy a used four-wheel-drive estate that can handle slippery roads. What can I get for £12,000?”

The 4x4 estate car gained popularity in the 1990s thanks to models like the Subaru Legacy Outback. Rivals followed, including the Volvo V70 Cross Country and Audi A6 Allroad. Cars like the BMW 3 Series Touring and Mercedes E-Class have subsequently become available with four-wheel drive too.

Estates sit lower than SUVs or traditional 4x4s, which means they have a more traditional driving position and handle more like regular cars on the road, with less body lean in corners. Four-wheel-drive versions have better traction than standard estates in poor weather conditions and, while they can’t be considered dedicated off-road vehicles, most are capable of traversing a dusty track or a damp field.

Nearly all 4x4 estates are offered with the same engines and gearboxes as the two-wheel-drive models, so fuel economy is likely to be similar or slightly worse, due to the added weight. Most, however, are more efficient than an equivalent SUV with the same powertrain. 

Inside, you can expect a spacious and well-specced interior with luxuries such as sat nav, climate control and leather upholstery. Nearly all models have a large boot and the conventional ride height makes it easier to load heavy items or the family dog. 

Our reader has a budget of £12,000 to spend on a used 4x4 estate car capable of handling slippery roads and surfaces. Every one of our picks is well specced, with a varied choice of engines, a spacious interior and great practicality. 

The premium choice: BMW 3 Series Touring 

  • For: Excellent driving dynamics, premium cabin 
  • Against: Smallest boot, firm ride with M Sport trim 

The BMW 3 Series Touring has all the virtues and class of its saloon counterpart, but with the additional practicality of an estate thrown into the mix. The sixth-generation car we have here is available with a wide range of engines, but you’ll need a 320d, 330d or 335d diesel, or a 320i petrol, to get BMW’s xDrive four-wheel-drive system. 

For just under £12,000 you can have a 42,000-mile 64-plate 320d xDrive Sport, which has a 181bhp, 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel engine, and officially returns 58.9mpg. 

BMW cabins feature a smart, clean design that is user-friendly, with functions spread between a clear, intuitive infotainment screen and physical controls. At 495 litres, the 3 Series’ boot is the smallest here, but should still be spacious enough. 

Estate versions of the 3 Series are genuinely rewarding to drive; they’re smooth and refined on the motorway, and agile everywhere else. The optional xDrive four-wheel-drive system is a permanent one, which splits power 40:60 front to rear, but can send 100 per cent of its power to one axle, if required. 

The left-field choice: SEAT Leon X-Perience 

  • For: Huge boot, curiosity factor adds appeal 
  • Against: Not many used examples, part-time 4WD 

The SEAT Leon X-Perience was the brand’s first car to feature its ‘4Drive’ four-wheel-drive system. Compared with the standard Leon estate, the suspension is raised by 15mm and a rugged-looking bodykit fitted. Only a 2.0-litre diesel engine is available, although this can be had with either 148bhp or 181bhp. 

Low sales when new mean you’ll have less choice on the used market, but £12,000 gets a 56,000-mile, 181bhp 15-plate SE Technology with a panoramic roof and nav. 

Inside, the Leon is neatly laid-out and well equipped, particularly if you can find a version with SE trim. The SEAT’s boot capacity is a generous 587 litres, while its removable floor adds another 100 litres of space. 

This Leon is front-wheel drive by default, sending power to the rear if it is heavily loaded or it detects a slippery surface. Its 2.0-litre diesel engine is punchy and frugal, but it can be gruff under acceleration. Handling is generally reassured, but the increased ride height means more body roll than in the BMW. 

The rugged choice: Subaru Outback 

  • For: Best all-wheel-drive system and off-road capability 
  • Against: Least rewarding to drive, cabin off the pace 

The Subaru Outback is the closest thing here to a genuine off-roader. It’s available with a 2.5-litre petrol engine (175bhp, 38.7mpg) or a 2.0 diesel (148bhp, 46.3mpg), and all models come with Subaru’s renowned AWD set-up. 

A touch under £12,000 is enough to secure a 65-plate, 60,000-mile SE Premium with the 2.0-litre diesel engine and a manual gearbox. One highlight of the Outback is its EyeSight suite of safety features, which include adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist and auto-emergency braking. 

While it’s neat enough and feels built to last, the Outback’s materials and design trail the BMW’s. Heated seats come as standard, while SE Premium models get full-leather trim. Boot capacity is a decent 512 litres, while cabin space is generous. 

Subaru’s petrol engine lacks punch, so the diesel is our pick. As with the SEAT, there’s a little body roll in corners, but the Outback’s steering is accurate and there’s decent grip. It also has more off-road ability than its rivals, while Subaru owners tend to be a loyal lot, and rate the firm’s reliability highly. 

Carbuyer’s choice, as picked by deputy editor Ben Hodges

Each of these 4x4 estates will make a great used buy but given our reader's requirements, my recommendation has to be the BMW 3 Series Touring. Of the three cars, it has the nicest interior and is the best to drive. 

BMW 3 Series Touring xDrive

A varied choice of trim levels and engines are available, ranging from the frugal 320d to the impressively quick 335d, meaning there’s a spec to suit many budgets and requirements. Add this to the premium badge, excellent used residuals and the Touring's excellent practicality, and it's my clear winner 

Read our picks for the best 4x4s on sale today

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