Volkswagen Passat Estate
The Volkswagen Passat Estate really brings the goods in its eighth-generation guise. It's slightly shorter, but the longer wheelbase means more space for passengers and cleverer packaging ups the luggage capacity from 603 to 650-litres with all the seats in place. UK buyers get a predominantly diesel line-up, with a 240PS all-wheel drive flagship.
The eighth generation Passat has sharpened up its game quite significantly and those changes are most apparent in the way the chassis and suspension combine to improve cabin refinement. The longer wheelbase has certainly helped in this regard, giving the Passat a more assured feel on the road and the stiffness of the MQB chassis lets the suspension soak up surface imperfections without having to devote resource to managing chassis flex. There's been real attention to detail in the quest for refinement. The engine is mounted on a rigid steel structure that's is claimed to further dampen vibration which, when combined with a lot of analysis of the acoustic qualities of the engine bay materials and shape, has cut engine noise significantly.
Under the bonnet, the key news for Passat buyers is the introduction of an extensively re-worked version of this model's volume 150PS diesel engine, now badged the 2.0 TDI EVO 150PS. As before, it can be had with a 7-speed DSG auto 'box and now features Active Cylinder Shutdown for greater efficiency, the first time that this feature has been fitted to a Volkswagen diesel engine. Diesel and 4MOTION 4WD feature as usual in the 'Alltrack' estate variant which gains a higher ride height for limited off road ability.
For petrol people, there's the VW Group's familiar 150PS 1.5-litre TSI EVO unit, available with either manual or DSG auto transmission. Up to a quarter of Passat sales are expected to be taken by the Plug-in hybrid petrol/electric GTE version, which mates a 1.4 TSI petrol engine with an electric motor. This derivative now uses an upgraded lithium-ion battery which now enables a longer 36-mile WLTP-rated driving range. Across the line-up, there's a new 'Travel Assist' feature which allows the car to be driven at highway speeds in partly automated mode.
This eighth generation Passat Estate was shorter and lower than its predecessor but it was given a longer wheelbase, so there's slightly more room in size. The difficulty in attracting buyers away from the likes of BMW and Audi is that you need your product to offer all the attractions of a BMW and Audi but at a more competitive price. That includes looking as expensive as these brands, which is something the Passat Estate has often struggled to achieve. Not any more. At least not from the outside, where this facelifted model looks sleek, chiselled and polished with full-LED head and tail lights that emphasise the car's width.
Inside, cabin quality is at least the equal of what you'd find in more expensive premium brand mid-sized saloon, especially if you're able to stretch to one of the higher trim levels. The interior features a big central 8-inch screen and a set of optional digital 'virtual' dials. The seats, as in most Volkswagens, initially feel unyielding but are supremely comfortable over longer distances. Three adults can fit in the back too - there's far more space than you'd get in a 3 Series, a C-Class or an A4. The boot measures an enormous 650-litres under the tonneau.
Fold the seats down and that extends to a huge 1,780-litres. Big storage bins in the doors and centre console add everyday utility to the cabin.
On to efficiency. Go for the 1.6-litre TDI diesel model and your combined cycle fuel economy is rated at 47.1mpg (WLTP), while your CO2 return would be rated at 116g/km of CO2 (NEDC): pretty good for a large estate.
And in summary? Well sooner or later, as a potential customer here, you'll come to ask yourself the inevitable question about the Volkswagen Passat Estate, "Am I about to buy a boring car?" You might well ponder whether that makes you a boring person, but that association is a fallacy. If you are fundamentally boring, a Ferrari isn't going to magically endow you a Clooney-esque louche charm. Likewise, a Passat Estate, for all its undeniable utility, doesn't make you a boring person; merely one that understands what makes a great estate car.
And it is a really outstanding vehicle for family buyers. Let's face it, who needs a lumbering SUV when estate cars are this good and this useful? To put the Passat Estate into that sort of perspective, consider this. To get the same interior quality and load space with all five seats in place, you'd need an SUV like a Mercedes M-Class which, incidentally, starts at almost fifty big ones. So don't ask yourself if you're being boring choosing a Passat Estate. Ask instead whether all those who buy big SUVs are being hoodwinked by slick marketing. If you've got this far, you probably know the answer to that one already.Click here to find out more about our Volkswagen Passat Estate range
Kia Optima Sportswagon
Most buyers of Kia's Mondeo-sized medium range Optima model go for this Sportswagon estate variant. Now at last it gets a class-competitive diesel engine. And there's a smarter look and some extra safety technology too. There's even Plug-in hybrid power if you want it. Overall, with this much improved model, Kia aims to challenge the market leaders and even worry a few of the more premium players.
With this improved Sportswagon model, the key change is the addition of a new 136PS 1.6-litre CRDi engine, replacing the previous, rather thirsty, 1.7-litre CRDi unit. As before, there's a choice of manual or DCT auto transmission. Kia has also developed a petrol/electric hybrid variant with a 2.0-litre GDI petrol engine mated to a 50 kW electric motor. Total power output for the package is 202bhp. If you want more conventional petrol power, there's now a 180PS 1.6-litre T-Gdi unit available. With all Optimas, by stretching out the wheelbase, stiffening the body with 'Advanced High-Strength Steel' and upgrading the suspension, Kia has sought to improve handling dynamics. Plus Kia engineers have been focussing on Noise, Vibration and Harshness (NVH) innovations to reduce road, wind and engine noise, stiffening the body to avoid vibration and rattles, and improving the seals and insulation around the car.
A Drive Mode Selector lets Optima drivers switch between Eco, Comfort, Sport and Smart modes. Each mode enables the driver to customise the powertrain's responses, prioritising fuel economy or more immediate acceleration. It also lets drivers adapt the weight of the rack-mounted power steering system, for more relaxed or more immediate, engaging steering responses. 'Smart Mode' is designed to anticipate the driver's needs, switching automatically between Eco, Comfort and Sport modes depending on conditions. This enables the Optima to adapt to the driver's behaviour and the road conditions, pre-empting the driver's preference for different speeds and driving environments.
Inspired by the Kia SPORTSPACE concept, the Optima Sportswagon represented Kia's first foray into the competitive D-segment tourer segment when it was originally launched back in 2015. Though a thoroughly practical vehicle for everyday use, this estate offers a long, lean and dynamic profile subtly enhanced by a package of recent changes. These include a revised front bumper design, as well as smarter LED tail-lamps and revised styling for the headlights and fog lamps. The 'tiger-nose' grille features a brighter chrome finish and at the rear of the car, wide LED tail lamps wrap around the corners of the bodywork. The rear bumper houses a single oval exhaust and features an integrated air diffuser, for a sporty finish. As before, the Sportswagon offers the same width (1,860mm) and length (4,855mm) as the saloon, but grows by 5mm in height (to 1,470mm) to accommodate the expanded boot which can swallow 553-litres.
Inside, the cabin of this revised model features a re-designed steering wheel and satin-chrome trim on the centre console which extends across the dashboard. Buyers can specify their interior in black, two tone black and grey cloth or leather, or choose new brown cloth or leather upholstery options. In addition, the Optima features new ambient lighting around the dashboard and doors, letting occupants switch between six different colours - or assign different colours to individual driving modes. By default, cabin lighting floods the cabin in a soft green glow in Eco mode, while Sport mode turns lighting to red. Smart mode fills the interior with soft blue ambient lighting. As before, the central fascia is angled 8.5 degrees towards the driver, with the upper 'display' zone housing a smarter 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system.
In summary, we think that this Optima Sportswagon has much to offer for those willing to look beyond the established contenders in the medium-sized estate segment and give it a try. What previously required improvement was the relatively inefficient 1.7-litre CRDi diesel engine that virtually all customers chose. Now that there's a more frugal 1.6-litre CRDi powerplant to replace that, this model deserves another chance from buyers who may have rejected it in the past. These people might also want to look at the clever plug-in petrol/electric hybrid variants too.Click here to find out more about our Kia Optima Sportswagon range
Ford Mondeo Estate
The ideal estate car is one that offers excellent utility but doesn't penalise you for it with poor refinement and soggy handling. Ford were mindful of this when developing the MK4 model Mondeo estate, a car which not only drives well but also looks a good deal sleeker than most boxy estate contenders. Here's the improved version.
If Ford could make this estate version drive much like the five-door hatch, it would have a winner on its hands. Guess what? It does. There's a reassuringly polished feel here that's usually the preserve of far more expensive cars - and the same excellent refinement at speed. Low profile roof rails help cut the wind roar that many estate cars suffer from and the cabin is well insulated from road noise with no booming apparent from the big box at the back. Handling is safe and assured, but the Mondeo estate never completely disguises its size and you might need to pass up some smaller parking spaces. On the plus side, rear visibility is notably better than that of the high-rumped five-door hatch.
Ford's has slimmed down the engine choices on offer. Most customers choose a 2.0-litre TDCi diesel engine good for either 150PS or 180PS, both variants featuring single variable geometry turbocharger technology. There is also a 165PS 1.5-litre EcoBoost petrol unit. Buyers can even opt for a Mondeo Hybrid. It uses a specially-developed 2.0-litre petrol engine combined with two electric motors - one to drive the wheels and another to supply regenerative charging - and 1.4kWh lithium-ion battery.
The 150PS and 180PS diesels are available with Ford's Intelligent All-Wheel Drive system, which offers a seamless transition between front-wheel drive and all-wheel-drive performance to automatically enhance traction and road-holding when needed. The Mondeo's also the first model for Europe to be built on Ford's global CD-segment platform, which debuts Ford's integral link rear suspension. The all-new platform and body structure combination delivers 10 per cent more torsional stiffness than the outgoing model and the Mondeo also gets electrically-assisted power steering for the first time with variable weighting. More importantly, road noise reductions of around three decibels in the rear and two decibels in the front have been achieved.
There aren't too many estate cars that look remotely sexy but if you choose your specification wisely, the latest Mondeo estate does a better impression than most. Decent alloys are key, as is the right metallic paint finish. Ford has subtly updated the look of this fourth generation Mondeo Estate, revising the upper and lower front grille, re-styling the bumpers, introducing more stylish 'C'-shaped tail lights and incorporating fresh fog light and LED daytime running light designs. As before, this station wagon version is order-able with a retractable panoramic glass roof.
It's no use kidding ourselves that the Ford Mondeo estate is, or will ever be, a glamorous vehicle, but the MK4 model is sprinkled with enough clever design and high-tech equipment to make it anything but a run of the mill load lugger. Its sheer capaciousness is a given and, if space matters, the Mondeo estate more than justifies itself with nearly 1700-litres of cargo volume when you fold the back seats flat.
It was ever thus. What impresses most about the fourth generation Mondeo estate is the fact that it now looks great, drives without constantly reminding you that you bought an estate car and now offers a best in class range of engines. Our choice would be a 2.0 TDCi 150PS diesel with an alloy wheel upgrade, but whatever your preference, it's very hard to go wrong with this likeable station wagon.Click here to find out more about our Ford Mondeo Estate range