The reappraisal - estate cars

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It’s hard not to be fearful of that moment when your youth is officially over: when you wake up on a Sunday, open the curtains and think, “Today’s a good day for a bonfire.” While that rite of passage may yet be to come, there have recently been some worrying signs. Have you, like us, recently developed a tendency to glance covetously at passing estate cars?

Naturally, our 10-year-old selves would be horrified. If you were brought up with an estate in the drive, it’s likely it was a source of shame. The tank-like chassis, automatic gearbox and reliable engine represented everything bad about being an adult male — compromise, the death of individual freedom and a lifetime of weekend dump visits.

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Perhaps you vowed never to be the kind of man who chooses a car on criteria as workaday as boot capacity and rear-seat leg room. In the Nineties, car makers left their estate models to gather dust, while chunks of the family market deserted them in favour of people carriers and 4x4s.

The Range Rover, its spin-offs and wannabes did what the estate car could only dream of — fit the labradors and a tartan rug in the back and still manage to look cool. The estate car was crying out for a hero to shepherd it out of the darkness.

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The godfather of the estate car comeback, the monstrous (in a good way) Audi RS6

That hero came in the form of Audi’s RS6 Avant, arriving exactly at the point that the Chelsea tractor backlash began and the kidult generation started settling down. Here was an astonishingly powerful estate car with flair and function, capable of outstripping a Porsche 911 at the lights and still letting you stock up on compost at the garden centre on the way home.

With 562bhp and a power plant based on the Lamborghini Gallardo, this was not a car for the bleary-eyed dad who’d sacrificed his own hopes and dreams for domestic drudgery. The reappraisal of the humble estate was under way.

Now, this year’s Mercedes-Benz E350 (above) and the BMW 5 Series Touring (below) have picked up the mantle, both making a very strong case for being the only car you’ll ever need — big estates with the nimble handling and acceleration of a coupé, and, incredibly, there’s even a shade of on-road menace when you see them coming in the rear-view mirror.

With Jaguar confirming an XF version for 2013 and even Ferrari dipping its toe in the water with the roomy (for a supercar) FF (pictured, top), the onus is now on the rest of the industry to join in. It could be a new dawn of exciting estate cars. Then again, it could just be a good day for a bonfire.