Kia cee'd Sportswagon
There's a lot to like about the improved second-generation Kia cee'd, but those looking for more of the good stuff will be attracted to the Sportswagon estate model. Offering 528-litres of luggage room with the rear seats upright and 1,642-litres with the rear seats folded, it's got space aplenty.
The cee'd Sportswagon is a vehicle that builds on the hatchback's reputation for exceeding customer expectations. It's a Kia, so you might reasonably expect a few corners to be cut under the surface to make it that little bit more affordable, but check out the sophisticated multi-link rear suspension and then look at the more rudimentary torsion beam rear end of, say, a Vauxhall Astra and consider who might have been making savings.
Under the bonnet, the key news here is the introduction of Kia's latest 1.0-litre T-GDI turbo petrol direct injection engine, offered in 98bhp and 118bhp outputs. We can't really see much point in opting for the pokier version as its pulling power - 171Nm of torque - is no better than that of the base unit. Either way, if you want a petrol engine in your cee'd Sportswagon, this powerplant offers a far more satisfying choice than the old 98bhp 1.4-litre petrol unit that's still offered on lower-order variants of this second-generation model.
Most cee'd Sportswagon buyers though, want a diesel. There's an old-tech 89bhp 1.4-litre CRDi variant still available, but most buyers will want the more efficient, higher-tech 1.6-litre CRDi unit, offered with 134bhp. This powerplant gives buyers the option of a 7-speed dual-clutch DCT automatic transmission, one of those clever gearboxes able to seamlessly select the next gear before you've even left the last one. For this diesel variant, improvements in refinement have been prioritised, so additional sound-absorbing materials have been adopted for the carpet and ventilation system, while twice as much anti-vibration foam has been added to the dashboard panel to cut engine vibrations intruding on the calm of the cabin.
Otherwise, things are much as before. So, the driving dynamics still won't satisfy those for who see handling response as everything, despite the addition of a torque vectoring system, which reduces understeer by partially applying the brake to the inner wheel under cornering. You still get a supple multi-link rear suspension system, something that's still not the norm in this segment. And there's neat FlexSteer steering that allows you to alter feedback at the helm. Plus, these models are as rapid as most owners will need them to be, the 134bhp diesel 1.6 making sixty-two mph from rest in 10.5s on the way to 122mph.
The discipline of turning a family hatchback into a modest estate car doesn't seem, on the face of it, to be too taxing an assignment but look back at some of the designs we've been offered down the years and there have been some proper horror scenes, vehicles that look like normal hatches being mounted by an amorous propagator. Examples include the weirdly broken-backed Citroen BX estate and the unhappy looking Fiat Croma estate.
There's none of that here. Indeed, the cee'd Sportswagon has turned out to be quite an elegant thing. It retains the hatchback's wedgy rising beltline, with the result that the side windows to the rear of the car are really quite tiny. It nevertheless offers impressive practicality, even if there is a tad less space on offer than was provided by the old cee'd SW. Lift the rear hatch and you'll find a 528-litre load space with the rear seats upright, an area you can extend to 1,642-litres with the rear seats folded. The wheelbase is the same as the five-door hatchback, but the increase in overall length compared to the old cee'd SW means more passenger space inside. Front seat occupants have 12mm more headroom and 21mm more legroom, while rear passengers gain 5mm of shoulder room.
As for changes to this improved version, well at the front, it retains Kia's hallmark 'tiger-nose' grille, along with wraparound headlamps and integrated fog lamps. Updates include a more angular and wider bumper, with chrome trim around the fog lamps, and a smarter oval-shaped grille mesh echoing many of the shapes and design forms on the front of the car. A similar change has been made to the rear, with reshaped bumpers, sporty-looking reflectors and LED lamps all featuring.
Kia's cee'd Sportswagon is one of those sensible choices that you might just enjoy making. If you had your eye on the five-door hatch version but felt your growing family perhaps needed a little more room, it'll be just about perfect. And even if you'd had no interest in Kia but came across one of these, you might just be tempted.
For a start, most small estate cars are either deathly dull to look at, not especially spacious inside or inefficient to run. Or all three. This Kia is different. The styling's smart, the practicality's sufficient and the running costs are where they need to be. It feels of high quality inside too and is better equipped than comparable rivals. In summary, this model is yet further proof that not only has Kia closed the gap on many of its European rivals but has edged past many of them. If you're looking for a small estate car, it'd be wholly remiss to deny the Sportswagon a place on your short list.Click here to find out more about our Kia cee'd Sportswagon range
SEAT Leon ST
With 587-litres of luggage space and riding on the same MQB chassis as the Volkswagen Golf Mk 7, the improved SEAT Leon ST estate offers sharp handling, excellent build quality and solid practicality. Plus, this revised version delivers smarter styling, improved media connectivity, extra safety provision and some fresh new engine options. As before, the prices being asked represent a substantial saving over those of a comparable, identically-engined Golf Estate. It's hard to grumble at that sort of deal.
You might not be surprised to learn that this Leon ST offers a very similar driving experience to that of its hatchback stablemates - which wasn't guaranteed given the fact that this variant must carry along 270mm of extra length behind its rear axle. In the event, it's not something you notice at the wheel, where the driving dynamics are every bit as good as they are across the rest of the Leon line-up. Under the bonnet, things are much as before, though there has been a change at the foot of the petrol range where a 1.0-litre TSI three-cylinder 115PS unit slots in above the existing 1.2-litre TSI 110PS four-cylinder powerplant. Other petrol engine options include a 1.4-litre TSI unit with 125PS and a clever 1.4 EcoTSI variant with efficient Cylinder-on-Demand technology and 150PS. As before, Cupra versions get the 2.0 TSI petrol engine from the Golf GTI, but in an uprated form developing up to 300PS.
Most Leon ST buyers though, will want a diesel. Here again at the foot of the range there's a fresh option, a 115PS version of the VW Group's familiar 1.6-litre TDI unit. Above that sit the usual 2.0-litre TDI units, offered with either 150 or 184PS. When it comes to gearboxes, the range includes five- or six-speed manual options, all well as double-clutch DSG auto 'boxes with six- or seven-speeds.
Thanks to this Leon ST, nobody, SEAT says, now needs to have to compromise in their choice between a sporty car and a practical one. That may be over-stating things a bit but it's true that this is one of the more dynamic shapes in the compact estate segment. To create it, the Spanish designers have had to compromise a little on ultimate carriage capacity: without the smartly angled rear screen for example, you could certainly fit a bit more in, but then the car would look a little more boxy and boring. We're guessing that most potential family buyers would rather sacrifice a few cubic inches for a more assured driveway statement.
Visual tweaks made to this improved version include revised bumpers and bodywork with sharper, more assertive lines, plus there's a smarter chromed front grille. Inside, the ambient lighting LEDs' intensity can be regulated as the driver wishes from the newly redesigned eight-inch central infotainment screen. This monitor eliminates the need for many of the buttons and dials that were scattered around the fascia on the previous model. From this monitor, the LED ambient lighting of the cabin can be dimmed or intensified, giving the interior a classy feel. Otherwise, things are much as they were before. Raise the sloping tailgate and you'll find a 587-litre boot that's a usefully square shape and fully 55% bigger than that of the hatchback model, Once the 60/40-split backrest has fallen flat, carriage capacity rises to 1,470-litres.
Once upon a time, not so very long ago, estate cars were purely for estate people - those with dogs, photocopiers to cart about and weekend leisure equipment. You wouldn't really consider one if you didn't actually need to. But station wagons like this improved Leon ST are rather different. Why wouldn't you choose one of these rather than a standard Leon five-door hatch? After all, the ST variant isn't much more expensive, looks just as good, drives just as well and offers a lot more everyday flexibility
Like the best of its family hatchback-based competitors, it's also successful in offering nearly all the practicality in a larger estate car with the easy parking and deft manoeuvrability of a much smaller one. Is there really any point in considering a five-seater compact Scenic-shaped People Carrier when a car like this SEAT can be so versatile? Your call.Click here to find out more about our SEAT Leon ST range
Renault Megane Sport Tourer
MPVs tend to dominate the limelight with their versatile interiors and clever storage solutions but the estate car will still be a better solution for many families. The latest generation Renault Megane Sport Tourer is a great example of a compact estate with sleek looks, solid driving dynamics inherited from the Megane hatchback and lots of space in its well-designed boot area.
A big attraction of the estate over an MPV is the way it performs on the road. The Megane Sport Tourer runs on the same platform as the Megane hatchback and the Scenic MPV but has far more in common with the hatch in terms of its low centre of gravity and hunkered-down driving position. The suspension is lifted wholesale from the Megane and a redeveloped power steering system responds more swiftly to driver input. The rear suspension meanwhile, has been tuned to produce a more supple ride, as well as offering improved cornering.
As with the vast majority of cars such as this, a big part of the driving experience will depend on the engine you've plumped for. If you like petrol power, Renault offer two turbocharged 'Tce' options, with either 130PS - or a 205PS unit that is available exclusively in GT trim. If you go for the most potent performer, your only transmission choice is a seven-speed automatic, which is also an option on the 130PS motor. Also, standard with that 205PS unit is '4CONTROL' four-wheel steering that helps agility at low speed and stability as the pace increases. There's no doubt that the diesel options will make up the majority of sales. The 'dCi' choices are 110PS (the most economical variant) from a 1.5-litre unit or 130PS from a 1.6-litre engine. There's also a twin turbo 165bhp 1.6-litre diesel option. On the 1.5 dCi 110, you can talk to your dealer about a 'Hybrid Assist' option that improves efficiency. Or a top of the range dCi 165 1.6-litre twin-turbo unit.
The Megane Sport Tourer isn't merely a Megane Hatch with a conservatory on the back. It's properly practical with a 580-litre boot (the same as that of the previous model) and the longest load area in the segment, at almost 2.8m (assuming you take advantage of the fold-flat front passenger seat). The modular boot is extremely straightforward to use and its floor has two positions. Selecting the high position creates a flat floor when the rear seat is folded to facilitate the loading of bulky items. In this configuration, further storage space is available beneath the cargo bay. Alternatively, setting the floor in its lower position creates maximum load volume in a single area.
Nice touches include lateral storage bins on each side of the boot, next to the wheel arches. In addition, there's a hook on both sides from which bags can be hung. As an option, a luggage safety net that can be used vertically is available. It is also possible to separate the boot into two compartments, front and rear, to prevent items from sliding around. Thanks to handles located within the boot area, Renault's Easy Folding system enables simple unlocking and automatic folding of the 60/40-split rear seat.
Renault appears to be in little doubt that the estate car still has something to offer in the modern marketplace. It has a complete range of load-luggers that sit alongside its popular MPV products and it's easy to see how they could be preferable for some buyers. The Megane Sport Tourer looks the part with its sleek, elongated lines and beneath the handsome exterior is more rear passenger space and a very big boot.
It might not have the flexibility of a leading MPV product but the Sport Tourer blends style and practicality in a manner that should appeal to those who aren't convinced by the people carrier's trickery. The estate remains a refreshingly straightforward style of family car and there's still a lot to be said for that.Click here to find out more about our Renault Megane Sport Tourer range