Best fast estate cars 2021 – our favourite fast family haulers
Fast estates have a powerful appeal born out of their blend of performance and practicality. These are our favourites on sale right now
The appeal of a fast estate doesn’t need a great deal of explanation, in the same way a hot hatchback is fairly easy to understand. You’re combining performance with practicality, albeit to an even greater degree, and throwing in a sleek, elongated profile as a bonus – often resulting in a car with more elegance than the hatchback or saloon upon which the estate is based.
In recent years we’ve seen performance crossovers and SUVs muscle in on the fast estate’s role, but for some customers the original is still best. The lower centre of gravity benefits handling (and often ride quality, given taller vehicles often use firmer set-ups to maintain their dynamics), while the lower profile, smaller frontal area and lower weight all benefit both performance and efficiency.
It’s difficult to pinpoint the origins of the concept – American manufacturers were dropping powerful V8s in ‘wagons’ as far back as the 1940s and 1950s, while for those of an evo disposition, it was the 1990s and early 2000s when the concept really took off, from Volvo’s 850 in the BTCC through various AMGs and the first ‘super’ estate, the V10-engined E61 BMW M5 Touring.
Today the choice remains wide, albeit dominated largely by German manufacturers. There are pockets of resistance here and there – notably Ford’s Focus ST and Peugeot’s 508 PSE – but otherwise most options hail from BMW, Mercedes-Benz or the wide-reaching Volkswagen Group. Even considering the German bias though, there’s variety here, from practical and economical front-drivers to rear-drive sledgehammers, all-weather, all-wheel-drive heroes and even a couple of electric and plug-in inclusions.
Alpina B3 Touring
BMW’s first M3 Touring might be well on its way, but Alpina has had the fast BMW estate thing down for years, and it’s never been better than the latest B3 S. Unlike many of its predecessors, the B3 Touring features a full-M engine, borrowing the new S58 from the incoming M3, albeit re-engineered to suit its slightly different demeanour.
So what we’re left with is a 3-series with some serious pace and capability, but also the trademark Alpina suppleness and daily useability that make the new B3 just about the ultimate daily driver.
Unfortunately as time has passed by, so has Alpina’s subtlety, meaning this latest B3 has picked up the more aggressive body styling of BMW’s M Sport models to facilitate the extra cooling required to keep its M division engine cool. So while it will still be more understated than the incoming M3 Touring, this B3 is still a pretty glaring piece of design.
Audi RS6 Avant
Think of a fast estate and the first to come to mind will likely be some form of RS Audi, and in all likelihood the RS6 specifically. In 2019, Audi’s fourth-generation RS6 arrived with some serious upgrades, and by that we don’t mean its engine – the 592bhp 4-litre twin-turbo V8 is essentially identical to that in the RS6 Performance that came before – but its chassis that saw the bulk of these.
Featuring a body 80mm wider than the standard A6’s, plus bespoke axles, a rear-wheel steering system, optional hydraulically cross-linked dampers and a set of simply huge 420mm carbon-ceramic front brakes with ten-piston calipers, Audi Sport did not hold back, and on a fast road you can tell.
It’s still not the last word in engagement and feedback, but the resilience an RS6 has in sending its two-ton mass into, through and out of corners at immense speed is simply staggering. Add to this its superb refinement, impressive ride quality (despite often sitting on 22-inch wheels) and superbly built interior and it remains about as desirable as four-door cars get – big, practical boot or not.
Mercedes-AMG CLA45 S Shooting Brake
The Mercedes-AMG CLA45 S was immediately impressive when it arrived alongside the A45 S hatchback back in 2019, so how good would a sleek shooting brake version really be? The answer is very, as the small all-wheel-drive estate punches above its weight just as convincingly as its two siblings.
While we know its 415bhp turbocharged four-cylinder is as rabid and aggressive as four-pot engines get, the CLA’s real surprise is the chassis, which is actually superbly judged for the road – supple and forgiving on broken UK roads without giving anything away in composure.
What’s more, its longer body also accentuates the torque vectoring rear differential, making it even more tail happy in drift mode than its siblings. While it still might feel a tad synthetic compared to the thrills usually experienced in a rear-drive AMG estate, if there was a modern-day Lancer Evolution wagon it’d probably feel something like this to drive, and that’s quite the commendation.
Porsche Taycan Turbo S Cross Turismo
An all-electric estate on this list? Surely not. But the Porsche Taycan Turbo S Cross Turismo really is an automotive Frankenstein of the best possible type. Sharing its J1 platform with the Taycan saloon and Audi e-tron GT, the Cross Turismo is identical underneath the skin, which itself is a combination of Porsche 911 bits up front, and Panamera sections at the back.
What this means is that despite the quasi-crossover styling and off-road suspension mode, the Taycan Turismo is one of the most intensely powerful and entertaining electric cars so far. It’s not just the 3.4sec acceleration time, or the astonishing in-gear acceleration that defines the experience, but the fact it does so with such precision.
However, a 2320kg DIN weight will never make the Taycan Turbo S Cross Turismo a particularly agile beast. The interior is also quite cramped despite the generous exterior dimensions. But we’re going to guess that these things won’t matter to most buyers – this really is one desirable performance estate, electric or not.
Mercedes-AMG E63 S estate
After one non-traditional AMG estate, we return to its heartland – the E63 S. Arch nemesis of the RS6 above, and with a similar technical make-up, the E63 S is more outrageous than its rival, yet more practical too. Let us explain.
Being based on the E-class the E63 S has a rear-biased all-wheel-drive system that (in)famously is able to be switched to rear-wheel drive when certain controls inside the cabin are pressed in the right order. This fundamentally changes the attitude of the E63 S, with all 627lb ft of torque now coursing through just two 20-inch rear tyres, turning it into a total monster on the road. The recently updated version has mercifully polished off the previous model’s edgy ride, but the E63 S remains about the most exuberant estate of its type.
And yet it’s also the most practical. The boxy rear end gives the E63 S the largest load area of all in this class, which makes it larger than the RS6’s capacity by some measure. Granted, this is more a by-product of the lesser E-class estate’s job as a mule for taxi drivers all over Europe, but it’s a duality that’s not unappreciated.
Peugeot 508 PSE SW
A Peugeot estate isn’t really a common addition to one of our ‘best of’ lists, but the new 508 PSE is a bright light in this sea of German metal. While it’s certainly not perfect, it’s a great start for a new genre of performance estate that’s just about to explode in popularity.
The plug-in hybrid powertrain is effective rather than effervescent, as despite a peak combined 355bhp power figure its outright performance is dulled somewhat by both a chunky 1875kg kerb weight and some complex calibration required in making its two electric motors, turbocharged 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and eight-speed automatic work seamlessly.
Yet it’s the chassis that shines most against rivals, despite its weight. At any speed the 508 PSE is fluid, supple, balanced and brilliantly composed over even the most challenging of roads. That it also looks great and has a definite character distinct to the German norm makes it a very attractive proposition. Until the reality of a £55k Peugeot hits home...
Skoda Octavia vRS Combi
Yet another Volkswagen Group fast estate in our list, but for good reason. It’s the most affordable car here for a start, opening at £31,850, and remains eminently practical with loads of seats-up boot space (no pun intended). The new-generation Octavia is also a handsome thing, pairing a crisp new body with just enough performance addenda to make it look like you’ve done more than closed your eyes and blindly pointed at a random line on your company car list. The current vRS also touts strong performance, hitting 62mph in 6.8sec (whether manual or DSG).
The interior is where the new Octavia’s focus has been placed, with a brilliantly designed new dash that is both clean and elegant – so much so as to have put a few VW bosses’ noses out of joint. That said, the new infotainment system is still problematic, but it’s easier to use than the Golf’s, and does get better with acclimatisation. It also helps keep the interior pleasingly clean-looking.
The only minor criticism is that petrol vRS estates cannot be had with all-wheel drive, unlike the incoming Leon or Golf performance versions. But Skoda’s Octavia vRS TDI is a compelling alternative combination – just a second slower to 62mph than the 245bhp, 280lb ft of torque, standard DSG, and a combined 55.4mpg. All Octavia vRSs are fantastic all-rounders though – we’ve run several on our long-term Fast Fleet and there’s always a slight pang of disappointment when they go.
The RS4 might lack some of the theatre of its direct rivals, but there’s still a lot to like about the current model. Performance for one – 0-62mph in 4.1sec and, with a raised limiter, 174mph is as quick as you’re likely to need to transport Labradors, wardrobes or other estate car luggage clichés.
The RS4 also has a pleasing duality to its personality that allows it to serve both as an estate car and as a performance car. Left in its ‘Comfort’ settings the ride is pliant and the engine smooth and quiet, making long-distance touring little chore. And ramped up to ‘Dynamic’ it’s fast and responsive, but thanks to all-wheel drive, remains secure.
The cabin is great too, with high levels of quality and a great driving position, though the lack of colour may bother some. In fact, the cabin is a good analogue for the car as a whole – very well done, but perhaps lacking that final element of excitement offered by some rivals.
Ford Focus ST Estate
There’s a lot to like about the new Focus ST, not least its torque-monster engine, but when compared to the best of its hot hatchback rivals it hasn’t really risen to the occasion. As an estate, however, the ST has a somewhat different set of adaptations that really suits its different deliverables.
Less important is the ST’s on-limit handling and top-draw enthusiasm, and instead the engine’s sheer grunt, strong brakes and front-end grip that make for a fun family hauler without being too uncompromising. The extra length also accentuates the hatchback’s adjustability, and while the rear suspension isn’t quite as sophisticated as some, it’s still a brilliantly sorted-out technical package.
It might lack the glamour of some rivals, and the interior’s ambiance is more bargain bucket than those of rivals such as the Skoda Octavia vRS, but it’s the most dynamic of all of the hot hatchback-derived estates.
BMW M340i Touring
The new M3 Touring is on its way, and Alpina’s B3 Touring has already proved a compelling alternative, so where does BMW’s own M340i Touring sit? Somewhere beneath these two admittedly, but that’s no bad thing. Like many of the estates on this list, the M340i is one of the most capable and multi-talented cars on sale right now.
It’s fast, superbly built, well equipped, big enough for the family clobber, but without the egregious dimensions that larger executive estates have now established as the norm. The all-wheel-drive system also makes it weatherproof like few fast BMWs have ever been, yet not to the detriment of adjustability – it will still wag its tail if you try hard enough.
To top it off, BMW has also figured out how to make a petrol straight-six engine capable of sending a 1.7-ton estate to 62mph in under five seconds also return nearly 40mpg in normal driving. What’s not to like?