Subaru Levorg GT
Subaru's Levorg (the name derived from 'Legacy', 'reVOlution' and 'touRinG') is the spiritual successor to the brand's fourth generation Legacy estate that ceased production in 2008. This car's a little smaller than its predecessor thanks to underpinnings from the brand's Impreza family hatch, but it still manages to offer more interior space than any old Legacy model served up. And, as with all Subarus, there's the usual stout build quality, peerless reliability, dependable 4WD system and charismatic Boxer engine.
Subaru are using the Levorg GT to introduce an all new 170PS 1.6 litre DIT (direct injection turbo) four cylinder boxer engine coupled exclusively to a Lineartronic CVT automatic gearbox with six simulated ratios. Power is slightly below the older 2.5-litre naturally aspirated flat four that the brand used to offer in this class of car, although the torque output is higher. This sole engine and transmission combination gives a 0-62mph time of 8.9 seconds and a top speed of 130mph.
Subaru says that it's benchmarked this car against its performance models and it certainly should provide a more dynamic drive than you used to get from the old Legacy Tourer. Ultimately though, this isn't an out-and-out performance-minded estate car, something you could have guessed by the standard provision of CVT belt-driven auto transmission - there's no manual gearbox option. This won't be quite as smooth as the latest dual clutch systems you'd find on many rivals. Still, handling should be quite sharp, aided by this model's very low centre of gravity. Thank the low-mounted Boxer engine up-front for that. The Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system is also of the permanent kind, rather than the sort of 'on-demand' set-up you'd get in rivals like Ford Mondeo or Volkswagen Passat estates. So you'll be better provided for in terms of traction.
The Levorg GT looks a potent thing with its menacing headlamps and deep front bonnet scoop. It's also very space-efficient, as you'll discover on taking a seat inside. Despite a platform derived from that used by Subaru's smaller Impreza family hatch, there's more cabin space than there was in the apparently much larger old Legacy Tourer. There's plenty of room for up to five passengers and a decent 522-litre boot capacity. Fold the seats down and this increases to a useful 1446-litres.
Up front, the driver faces a neat instrument binnacle, while the centre console houses a touch screen infotainment system that's much better than anything Subaru used to offer. Build quality is another thing that's surprisingly good too, though it still isn't up to the quality you'd expect from the smart German brands. Plus of course, there's lashing of standard kit.
Subaru is well aware that this Levorg will be a minority choice in its segment but knows that for a select few loyal customers, it will hit the mark precisely. These people will get a charismatic, spacious estate with strong performance, high levels of standard equipment, good residuals and the best 4WD system in the business. In other words, a car of many talents.
True, it's nothing like as efficient as most rivals, even if you look at them in petrol form. But Subaru will doubtless address this issue in future with other engine options. For the time being though, the Levorg remains a rare but quite appealing choice in its segment. If you're happy with petrol power, have a £30,000 budget and don't want an SUV - or an estate car trying to look like an SUV - it may be just up your street.Click here to find out more about our Subaru Levorg GT range
Mercedes-Benz C-Class Estate
The improved fourth generation Mercedes-Benz C-Class Estate offers subtle exterior revisions and inside, the option of a fully-digital instrument cluster. Plus the driving experience has been enhanced with fresh engine-ware and the optional application of Mercedes' latest autonomous driving technology. As before, there's a practical 490-litre boot.
First the figures. The boot offers 490-litres of capacity with the seats in place and 1,510-litres all-up. Not vast then. Still, that's the same as an Audi A4 Avant, while the BMW 3 Series Touring only adds another 5-litres, so as load luggers, all three are reasonably dismal. The luggage bay measures 950mm in width and the rear seat splits 40:20:40 allowing longer items to be carried with two rear seats in use. A powered tailgate and hands-free access system are both offered as options and you can also spend more on a Cargo Package which includes adjustable rails to separate boot contents and an additional electric rear seat release button.
On to the changes made to this revised model. The design of the front and rear lights is defined by clear-lined contours. On both the saloon and the estate, the bumpers have been re-styled both front and rear and the sportier 'AMG Line'-trimmed models get a sleeker front apron and rear diffuser. Inside, the alterations are more obvious, with the introduction - as an option - of the fully digital instrument display already familiar from the brand's E-Class and S-Class models, complete with touch-sensitive steering wheel buttons. This is complemented by now-larger centre console screens that can be either 7-inches or 10.25-inches in size, the latter format used for the top 'COMMAND' multi-media set-up that many customers will want.
As you'd expect, the handling of this estate variant is pretty much indistinguishable from the saloon model. The C-Class has for some time been, and will continue to be, a car with a clear focus on comfort and refinement - at least in its mainstream guises anyway. It was the first model in this class to offer the option of air suspension, though most buyers stick with the standard steel springs. As before, across the range there's a standard 'DYNAMIC SELECT' driving modes system - and you can add to that with optional 'DYNAMIC BODY CONTROL' adaptive damping. All models come as standard with 9G-Tronic automatic transmssion, which now features nine speeds and buyers certainly aren't short of engine options, with most still likely to want a diesel. There's a base 160hp 1.5-litre unit in the C200d. But most buyers opt for the 2.0-litre 194hp unit on offer in the C220d variant, which offers the option of 4MATIC 4WD.
The entry-level petrol unit in the base C180 is a 1.6-litre 156hp powerplant, but ideally you'd stretch to the more modern, much perkier 184hp 1.5-litre engine installed in the C200 which features the brand's latest 'EQ Boost' technology using a 48volt on-board network with a belt-driven starter/alternator. When accelerating, 'EQ Boost' system can assist the engine with an additional 14hp, bridging the brief moment until the turbocharger has built up its full charge pressure. 4MATIC 4WD is optional. Mercedes has also developed a 2.0-litre 258hp version of this petrol engine for the C300 derivative. Beyond that lie only the Mercedes-AMG high performance derivatives. The first of these, the 3.0-litre V6 C43 4MATIC, now puts out 390hp, 23hp more than before. Beyond that lies only the V8 C63 AMG model, with a 4.0-litre V8 Biturbo engine offering either 476 or 510hp.
On to practicalities. First the good news. Where the old C-Class estate let you pack in 485-litres of gear in the boot and 1,500-litres with the rear seats folded down, this successor model offers more room. The bad news? It's only gone up to 490-litres with the seats in place and 1,510-litres all-up. So you can stack an extra couple of bottles of Coke in the boot and that's your lot. Still, that's the same as an Audi A4 Avant, while the BMW 3 Series Touring only adds another 5-litres, so as load luggers, all three are reasonably dismal. The luggage bay measures 950mm in width and the rear seat splits 40:20:40 allowing longer items to be carried with two rear seats in use. A powered tailgate and hands-free access system are both offered as options and you can also spend more on a Cargo Package which includes adjustable rails to separate boot contents and an additional electric rear seat release button.
And in summary? Well although there's a lot to like about this improved MK4 model C-Class Estate, it's still not really a car that will appeal to those with a lot of gear to carry. Seats up in normal family mode, there's a scant 10-litres more space back there than you get with the saloon. So why would you bother? The added practicality does come in handy for those odd occasions when you need to drag some Billy bookcases back from IKEA or such like, but how often will this be? Often enough in, say, three years to justify tying up another £1,200-odd over the saloon? That'll be a decision you need to make.
Some may well find the estate's styling a bit more handsome than the saloon's. We've heard a few dissenting opinions regarding the four-door car's CLA-like tapered rear end and the estate is more conventionally proportioned. Still, the opportunity to offer significantly more space than its key rivals has been missed and that would have clearly and objectively differentiated this model. Overall, this C-Class looks a very good car. As an estate, however, we remain to be wholly convinced.Click here to find out more about our Mercedes-Benz C-Class Estate range
Audi A4 Avant
The fifth generation Audi A4 Avant now features a sharper look and still claims to be class-leadingly efficient, hi-tech and, yes, practical. There's a 510-litre boot that's bigger than you might expect from a car in the compact executive market segment and the usual cool, classy Audi ambience. You'd like one.
The A4 has always struck an appealing balance between handling and comfort and with this MK5 Avant model, the Ingolstadt engineers have sought to improve its credentials still further by developing a new five-link suspension system. Optional adjustable shock absorbers with 'sports' and 'comfort' modes will enable owners to get the most from this and a dynamic steering system is another extra cost feature that'll reward those you like their driving. Both features can be controlled through the standard Audi drive select driving-dynamics system, which alters throttle response and auto gearshift timings in its most basic form. Talking of auto gearshifts, the old CVT automatic gearbox has gone, replaced by a seven speed dual clutch 'S tronic' unit that claims to be able to improve both performance and fuel consumption.
As before, the A4 differs from its BMW 3 Series rival in its use of front wheel drive for most models. Also as before though, quattro 4WD is optional - and standard on the top V6 variants. The most powerful of these models even has the option of a sports differential for the rear axle to maximise traction. Refreshingly in a segment dominated by cars fueling themselves from the black pump, TFSI petrol models are still very much part of the mainstream A4 range, a 150PS 1.4-litre '35 TFSI' unit offered alongside a pokey '40 TFSI' 2.0-litre powerplant offering either 190PS or 245PS. There's also a 354PS 3.0-litre TFSI sporting S4 model near the top of the range. And a 450PS 2.9-litre V6 RS 4 Avant model beyond that. Most A4 buyers though, will continue to want a diesel, probably the 2.0 TDI 150PS '35 TDI' variant, which gets to 62mph from rest in a brisk 8.6s. If you want more diesel power, then a 190PS '40 TDI' version of this unit is also available, plus there's a 286PS 3.0 TDI V6 '50 TDI' model further up the range.
Styling is a subjective matter, and it's probably not our place to tell you what looks good but let's just say that this MK5 model A4 Avant has dodged the ugly stick by quite some margin. The stylists have been very clever in that they have retained a fairly high roofline at the back for load volume purposes but have artfully used chrome finishing to draw the eye to the sleek window lines instead.
The external changes made to this revised model are relatively slight. The volume 'SE' and 'Sport' versions get a revised front and rear bumper design, more pronounced side skirts, a special finish for the Singleframe and side air inlet grilles, a roof edge spoiler and a rear diffuser flanked by new look trapezoidal tailpipes. The 'SE' versions retain wheels of the same 17-inch diameter as before but in a new design, while 'Sport' models upgrade to a smarter, larger 18-inch wheel. The top 'S line' and 'Black Edition' models get a more striking 3D-look finish for the Singleframe front grille, plus 'S line' variants get new 19-inch wheels and a re-designed rear diffuser
The interior is typically Audi and a very classy place to be. Everything is well laid out with high grade materials in all areas you'll interact with regularly. There's the option of getting an 8.3" touchscreen mounted on top of the dashboard but even if you stick with the standard centre dash infotainment screen, you'll get an up-to-the-minute set-up able to support the latest Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. As for practicality, well this estate variant offers a class-leading 505-litre boot, extendable to 1,510-litres if you wish.
Only very rarely does an excellent product fail. When this happens, it is usually down to poor promotion, but that's certainly not going to be the case with Audi's marketing machine at work. The truth is that this MK5 model A4 Avant is a very tough car to fault. It's superbly built, it's big enough to make a decent first of being a properly practical estate car, it rides on the exemplary A4 chassis so is a strong proposition for enthusiastic drivers and, when whole life costs are examined, it's surprisingly cost effective to run.
No car is perfect though and the A4 Avant does raise a few questions. It could be even bigger at the back. And putting the power tailgate and telescopic load bar on the options list also looks a little mean. Other than that, it's hard to see this one continuing to sell strongly amongst the best compact executive load luggers.Click here to find out more about our Audi A4 Avant range