Best fast estate cars 2023 – our favourite family haulers
For a do-it-all form of transport, nothing nails the brief like a fast estate. And for 2023 there’s a new leader of the pack – BMW’s M3 Touring
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, the high-performance wagon combines ability with practicality, often to an even greater degree. Add to this a certain level of discretion depending on the model, and more recently crushing all-weather capability, and they generally appeal as the ultimate do-all performance car.
There has been a distinct upswing in the popularity of performance crossovers and SUVs, but for the discerning buyer they can’t compare to a fast estate. Their 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 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 ’50s, 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.
There remains a wide choice available in 2023, dominated largely by German manufacturers, with one long-awaited addition that’s recently taken the class by storm. After six generations of waiting, BMW has finally glued an M3 badge to the back of a compact estate car. The new M3 Competition Touring with xDrive, as it’s formally known, almost perfectly apes the saloon’s spectacular driving experience, taking the title as the ultimate fast estate by some margin.
This comes despite AMG and Audi Sport having largely sewn up the class in recent years. Even in focused Competition form, the RS4 can't quite live with the M3, and Merc’s new AMG C63 S E Performance is critically overweight and unsure of its purpose. Larger models like Audi's RS6 still have lots of appeal, but their bigger footprints and higher kerb weights make them inferior in terms of driver appeal and engagement.
A newer entry to the market, and one with specific but growing appeal, is the Porsche Taycan Sports Turismo. This electric wagon performs with even more verve than most of the usual offerings in this class, but it comes at the price of usability. The Taycan is smaller inside, is heavier and comes with a significantly reduced range compared to petrol-powered rivals. Still, it’s superb to drive, and if your charging requirements are met then the Porsche is a brilliant package.
There are other pockets of brilliance here and there – notably Skoda’s Octavia VRS and Peugeot’s 508 PSE – but otherwise most options hail from BMW, Mercedes-Benz and the wide-reaching Volkswagen Group.
Best estate cars 2023:
- BMW M3 Competition Touring xDrive
- Alpina B3 Touring
- Audi RS6
- Mercedes-AMG CLA45 S Shooting Brake
- Porsche Taycan Sport Turismo
- Mercedes-AMG E63 S estate
- Peugeot 508 PSE
- Skoda Octavia VRS estate
- Audi RS4
- BMW M340i xDrive Touring
BMW M3 Touring
There’s no point beating around the bush, BMW has totally nailed the new M3 Touring. Only available in Competition form with xDrive, the new M3 Touring drives with all the engagement and capability of the saloon on which it’s based, which is no small feat. The team at BMW M specifically developed new stiffening structures based on those found on the M4 Cabriolet to compensate for the lack of the coupe and saloon’s rear bulkhead.
There is a negligible rise in weight, and so incredibly competent is the M3’s inherent chassis and powertrain you really don’t notice the extra mass. It drives with all the enthusiasm and alacrity of the already brilliant saloon, motivated by BMW’s S58 turbocharged engine that feels punchier than its 503bhp figure suggests.
The Touring’s xDrive system is also another defining factor, as few all-wheel-drive systems are more deftly calibrated. The M3 seems to magic traction from nowhere without compromising its balance, and the various stages of its engagement from 4WD, 4WD Sport and 2WD make it possible to set it up exactly how you want it.
The rest is pure 3-series Touring. There’s a massive boot, more than enough space in the rear seats for offspring and an interior that’s both fantastically built and bang up to date in terms of tech and interface design. Even the digital climate controls don’t bother us as much as they usually would. In fact, the only downside to the M3 Touring is that it’s not a cheap car, starting at over £85,000. Go for all the bells and whistles and this can rise to over six figures.
Alpina B3 Touring
BMW’s first M3 Touring may have stolen the show as of late, but Alpina has had the fast BMW estate thing down for years, and it’s never been better than the latest B3. Unlike many of its predecessors, the B3 Touring features a full-M engine, borrowing its S58 unit from the 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 usability 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 engine cool. So while it will still be more understated than the M3 Touring, this B3 is still a pretty glaring piece of design.
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); its the 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. As of now, the RS6 is exclusively available in Performance spec, which brings an uprated 621bhp V8 and a host of chassis changes to bring more clarity and precision to the driving experience. The result is the best RS6 yet, and by default, one of the most desirable hot estates on sale.
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 Sport Turismo
An all-electric estate on this list? Surely not. But the Porsche Taycan Sport 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 Sport Turismo provides a distinctly Porsche feel in a versatile, zero-emissions package.
The change in bodystyle has done nothing to dent the Taycan's ability: in GTS form and beyond it's one of the most intensely powerful and entertaining electric cars so far. It’s not just the astonishing acceleration that defines the experience, but the fact it deploys its performance with such fine-honed precision.
With a kerb weight well beyond two tons the Taycan doesn't quite move like a sports car, but it gets close. The interior is 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 and with a similar technical make-up, the E63 S is more outrageous than its rival, yet more practical too. Let us explain.
The E63 S has a rear-biased all-wheel-drive system that 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 E63 S remains about the most exuberant estate of its type.
If you want one, you'll need to settle for a nearly new example or – if you're lucky – an unregistered car from a dealer. The current E63 is has been taken off sale with the arrival of the new-generation E-class, which will spawn a hybrid-powered E63 in due course.
Peugeot 508 PSE
Peugeot estates aren’t a common sight in our ‘best of’ lists, but the 508 PSE is a bright light in a 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
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 £36,150, and remains eminently practical with loads of boot space. 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).
Inside, Skoda's sensible side shines through with a brilliantly designed dash that is both clean and elegant – so much so as to have put a few VW boss's noses out of joint. That said, the 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, offering a healthy hit of performance 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 easy. And ramped up to ‘Dynamic’ it’s fast and responsive, but thanks to all-wheel drive, remains secure.
The limited-run Competition version is better still, with optional ultra-focused adjustable coilovers providing meaningful extra bite and poise. We just wish the engine had the aural drama to back this up and create a truly exciting estate car – as of now, the M3 Touring still takes the cake.
BMW M340i xDrive Touring
The M3 Touring is the benchmark fast estate 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 1.8-ton estate to 62mph in under five seconds also return nearly 40mpg in normal driving. What’s not to like?