Before the world became obsessed with SUVs, there was an alternative option for buyers in need of family-friendly transport that could cope with the great outdoors: the off-road estate.
Often these are based on premium estates, but with a raised ride height, extra body cladding and a four-wheel-drive transmission to help tackle slippery conditions. Admittedly, many are unlikely to travel far off road, but then, how many SUVs do the same?
Originators in the off-road estate class include Subaru with its permanent four-wheel-drive transmissions, while Volvo Cross Country and Audi allroad models have history in the sector, too. Elsewhere, Skoda has dabbled with the off-road estate as an alternative flagship to the typical high-performance models, while Mercedes briefly entered the sector with the E-Class All-Terrain, as did Peugeot, with the 508 RXH, a car that also came with hybrid power.
But why choose an off-road estate? Well, while they have a raised ride height when compared with the estate cars on which they’re based, they’re not as tall as an SUV, so there’s still some semblance of entertaining driving dynamics going on. And while four-wheel drive is the order of the day, the majority (Subaru excepted) come with part-time set-ups, so most of the time they only send power to one axle, which benefits fuel economy. Again, the lower ride height when compared with an SUV also benefits fuel economy in an off-road estate due to lower aerodynamic drag.
You don’t need to compromise on practicality, either. Since most are based on already-large estate cars, often there is more space available than in an SUV of a similar price, making them far more practical for everyday life, whether you’re ferrying kids, taking on adventure sports or towing a horse box or caravan.
Unfortunately, the off-road estate is becoming something of a dying breed. Audi no longer sells new allroads, and Volvo’s Cross Country badge will disappear when the V90 is shelved and the company no longer builds estate cars. The most recent Skoda Octavia Scout was only available to paramedics in the UK, there’s no RXH version of the latest Peugeot 508 and the E-Class All-Terrain has yet to make a return. That just leaves the Subaru Outback on new-car price lists, but all is not lost, because there are still options to be found on the used-car market.
Off-road estates attract a discerning kind of buyer, so while they’re not as common as some other types of estate car or SUV, you’re more likely to find a well-cared-for example. And because they are usually based on high-spec trims, you get a lot of kit for your money. Here are some top picks from the sector, with a range of models to suit different budgets.
Audi A6 allroad quattro
- Approved used cars start at £24,000
- Independently sold used cars start at £2,500
Subaru pioneered the off-road 4×4 estate car, but the A6 allroad introduced upmarket luxury to the mix. There has always been a rugged version of the A6 Avant estate, with four generations now on the roads, launched in 2000, 2006, 2013 and 2019, although the latest iteration was dropped from the line-up at the start of 2022.
The original model looked quite rugged, but later cars have a more sophisticated appearance, with body-coloured cladding on the wheelarches and door sills instead of black plastic. The obligatory increase in ride height was present, although cars from 2013 onwards feature adaptive air suspension, so the height can be adjusted according to conditions.
Air suspension is just one piece of hi-tech kit on board, and with most models packed with technology, we’d advise having a potential purchase checked over by a mechanic, or going for an approved used A6 allroad, to help give yourself some added peace of mind when it comes to reliability.
Boot space is vast in the A6, as is room in the back seats, so you won’t be having any complaints from occupants in the rear.
Since the A6 allroad is considered to be an upmarket option in the A6 Avant range, it only comes with higher-powered engines. You’ll find 3-litre V6 petrol and diesel options, which means these cars are great for towing, though the combination of a raised ride height and quattro four-wheel drive does mean fuel economy isn’t great.
Overall, the Audi A6 allroad is as upmarket and desirable as any top-spec luxury SUV, but it’s a more discreet package that is arguably more practical and spacious as family transport.
If you find a V6 engine a little too thirsty for your liking, then the Audi A4 allroad uses exactly the same formula as the A6, but applies it to the A4 Avant, so it has smaller engine options. The A4 Avant wasn’t around for as long as the A6, so is only offered as a Mk3 (from 2009-2015) or Mk4 (2016-2022). This means the earliest cars start from around £4,500, with approved used versions from Audi dealers starting at around £36,500.
Mercedes-Benz E-Class All-Terrain
- Approved used cars start at £28,000
- Independently sold used cars start at £26,000
When one German car maker enters or creates a new niche, then the others almost always follow. But there’s no such thing as an off-road BMW 5 Series Touring (although xDrive four-wheel drive is available), while Mercedes only entered the off-road estate car market for the first time in 2016, with the E-Class All-Terrain.
It’s based on the W213-generation E 350 d Estate, so you know there’s going to be plenty of space inside, while 4Matic four-wheel drive and a V6 diesel powerplant mean it packs a punch, too. It won’t be the most economical choice, but then the luxury on board will soon help you forget about that.
Air suspension is standard, while a 29mm taller ride height is on offer. The 20-inch alloy wheels probably aren’t the first choice for off-road exploits, though, and really the difference in ride height is only noticeable if you park an All-Terrain model next to a standard E-Class Estate.
Your other task is trying to find one – the All-Terrain was quite expensive when new and was only sold for a couple of years before disappearing again.
Peugeot 508 RXH
- Independently sold used cars start at £6,000
By their very nature 4×4 estates are obscure, but this could be the most obscure of all. It is based on the previous generation Peugeot 508, sold from 2010 to 2018, so from an era before the French car maker rediscovered its design mojo. It wasn’t a big seller in the UK and the rugged RXH (“H” standing for hybrid) off-road model was even rarer.
The 508 RXH was designed in the mould of Audi’s allroad models, although it’s closer in size to the smaller A4 allroad.
The grey plastic cladding for the wheelarches and door sills give the RXH a more distinctive look than the bland 508 SW estate, and this was one of the first Peugeots to use the distinctive ‘lion claw’ style LED daytime running lights in the front bumper.
The diesel-electric hybrid system delivers 200bhp, so it’s relatively quick, while the combination of 2-litre diesel and a modest battery and electric motor helped it achieve an official 67mpg. However, the 508 RXH is more about comfort than driving fun, and that raised ride height is combined with soft suspension. The four-wheel-drive system also relied on the hybrid set-up for traction, with the rear wheels being driven exclusively by the electric motor.
A 423-litre boot isn’t one of the biggest in the class, but since the RXH is at the top of the 508 range, it’s loaded with equipment. We’d advise checking that everything works properly before you spend your cash, though, because Peugeots of this era aren’t necessarily the most dependable in terms of electrics.
Skoda Octavia Scout
- Approved used cars start at £17,300
- Independently sold used cars start at £2,200
Before the Kodiaq, Karoq and Kamiq SUVs, the closest you could get to a Skoda off-roader was the Octavia Scout. In many ways it mirrors Audi’s allroad philosophy by delivering an upmarket alternative to a performance model — if you didn’t want a fast Octavia vRS then the Scout offered something different.
The first Octavia Scout arrived in 2007 and while it was upmarket, it still stuck to the company’s mantra of offering great value when compared with similar 4×4 estate cars for sale by Audi and Volvo, or Subaru for that matter.
A part-time four-wheel-drive system, increased ground clearance and the usual black plastic cladding made an appearance, and it was a formula that returned for the following generation in 2014. The current Octavia Estate introduced in 2020 is offered in Scout guise, but is only available as a special-order model for the UK’s paramedic services.
Power came from 2-litre petrol and diesel engines in higher power outputs, and with a choice of manual or automatic gearboxes. That means all cars are great for towing, while the vast 580-litre boot means that it’s far more practical than the 508 RXH above.
If that’s not enough boot space, then the second-generation Skoda Superb Estate was also available in high-riding guise. It wasn’t called the Scout, though, instead being named the Superb Outdoor. Either way it still had a vast 633-litre boot, just like the standard Superb Estate. It had the same diesel engines as the Scout and was sold from 2012-2014, and can be found for around £10,500.
- Approved used cars start at £13,300
- Independently sold used cars start at £1,500
Subaru pioneered the 4×4 estate philosophy and the Outback has become a staple of country life for a dedicated band of the brand’s fans who are in tune with outdoor pursuits.
Originally based on generations of the Legacy Touring Sports estate, the Outback became a model in its own right in 2004 when the Legacy was dropped from the UK line-up. That was the third generation, while today you’ll find the sixth incarnation, introduced in 2020, on new car forecourts – and it’s one of the few remaining off-road estates that you can buy new.
Whichever version you choose, the Outback comes with permanent four-wheel drive, unlike the part-time systems seen in some of the other models mentioned here. That means the Outback is ready for rough conditions at all times, while a limited-slip differential and (on more recent models) a host of electronics help you in rough conditions.
All cars also get Subaru’s traditional boxer engines. Early cars could be had with thirsty 2.5-litre or 3-litre petrol units, while boxer diesel variants are more economical (though still relatively thirsty thanks to the permanent four-wheel drive and the extra friction that causes). Maintenance costs are on the steep side for these models, although reliability should be a strong point.
- Independently sold used cars start at £1,800
It seems appropriate that Swedish firm Volvo participated in the 4×4 estate car class: a high-riding estate would seem to be the perfect fit for winters in the Arctic Circle. The XC70 and V70 Cross Country variants follow the same formula as the Audi A6 allroad by offering space, practicality and versatility in an upmarket package.
Early cars weren’t quite as sophisticated but are dependable workhorses, while running costs will be on the high side for a prestige marque. But then safety will be second-to-none for cars of the same age, and the ageless look of a two-box Volvo estate appeal, too.
Power comes from petrol and diesel engines, with a unique five-cylinder layout offered on earlier cars. As with other off-road estates, only engines with higher power outputs were offered on the XC70, but while that engine format delivers a unique sound, they’re not the most economical, even in diesel guise. Still, proper maintenance and care should help the XC70 rack up a high mileage without too much trouble.
In 2016, the XC70 was replaced by the V90 Cross Country, which went even further upmarket. If you’re looking for a manufacturer approved used car, it’s going to be one of these that will fit the bill, with prices from £20,000 (or from £19,000 privately). There’s also the smaller V60 Cross Country, available from 2015 in the first-generation body, and then the second-generation from 2018 on. These start from £11,500 used, while later approved used Mk2s V60 Cross Countrys start from £20,500.
If the off-road estate isn’t a specialist enough niche for you, then Volvo also offered Cross Country variants of the V40 hatchback (starting from £3,600, although four-wheel drive wasn’t available on all variants) and even the S60 saloon (if you can find one).
Prices correct at time of publication
- If you enjoyed this 4×4 estate car buying guide, you might be interested in our review of the 2019 Volvo V60 Cross Country
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