Thursday, October 19

Tested: sporty estates from Volvo, Seat and Skoda

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What do you get if you combine a hot hatch, a sensible estate and a high-speed saloon? (Apart from a huge accident, obviously.) VW started the hot hatch idea but have never offered a GTI estate. The company is unlikely to since there are several fairly feisty estates already within the VW Group.

But if you want the drivetrain from the stonking Golf R and a big boot then there’s the Seat Leon ST Cupra, and if you went for a Skoda Octavia you could have the vRS which gives you 227bhp yet a price that starts £1500 under even a three-door Golf GTI.

But if you want to add more budget you could go for the turbocharged, supercharged, tricked-out Volvo V60 AWD, along with 362bhp. Might that be worth a nadge under £50,000? Or should you choose the Skoda Octavia vRS Estate, which is all but half that price, at £26,385?

Sitting in the middle, at £34,485, is the Seat Leon although it feels a well-equipped and smart alternative, even if the cabin and boot does feel a bit small compared to the cavernous Skoda. It actually feels virtually on a par with the much more expensive Volvo, but that’s partly down to the Volvo being a much older design, feeling every one of its six years.

But the Volvo has a sort of brooding presence to it, as well as adjustable suspension, all-wheel drive and that 2.0-litre engine supported by both a supercharger and a turbocharger. But it can feel a bit cumbersome, not helped by slow and heavy steering. However, the Ohlins dampers do a great job of tying the Volvo down.

The Skoda has notably more suspension travel in its passive set up, which just about has enough control to allow you to lollop along with some degree of carefree fun. It works as an estate, and it’s definitely helped by being quite light even though it’s a big car. With about 400kg less than the Volvo to lug about, it can shift about quite neatly for its size, more so than the relatively lumbering Volvo.

The Seat, once again, sits somewhere in the middle, especially if you stay in Comfort mode – having some modes to play with does mean the Seat can be a really friendly long-distance companion, whatever the road surface is doing. It would be better if that Golf R set up included the latest seven-speed auto box, with the six-speed fitted meaning a slightly less leisurely progression down the motorways, but it’s still a nice set up to have underneath you.

As it stands, the transmission shifts quickly and unobtrusively while the huge wodge of midrange means you’re not hunting gears the whole time.

Seven might be the best number of gears, but six works pretty well – rather better than the eight in the Volvo in fact. The Volvo has to deal with a 2.0-litre engine and quite a lot of weight, and the combination, even with the forced induction, seems to cause the transmission some bother, and not a little dither.

However, the Volvo still has 362bhp compared to the 227bhp in the Skoda, so it ought to be a slam dunk, but it’s not. In fact the Octavia feels faster than the posted acceleration and speed figures below. It pulls well and that lighter weight allows it to move along with a pleasant fluency. It covers ground quickly and easily and only really starts to sway around and roll a bit when you’re really pushing on.

The Volvo can respond with a feeling of heft and solid competence, particularly in those fast corners where the Skoda would be leaning out to a noticeable degree. Once again, though, it’s the Seat that comes honking up the middle. There’s a very satisfying balance between weight and power, while the 4Drive all-wheel drive system helps tie it all down neatly. It’s not outstanding anywhere, it’s just very competent, such as you might want in a reasonably hot estate. We’d still rather like it with a manual gearbox though. 

And we’d certainly like the Volvo cheaper. It seems expensive for what is an old design, however much they’ve managed to add some muscle to the looks and experience.

For virtually double the price of the Skoda Octavia vRS Estate, the V60 AWD Polestar is a tough act to recommend, whereas the light and less powerful Skoda seems a simpler solution to the question of how best to move people and their goods, sometimes at speed, always in comfort. There’s not too much power, nor too extreme a package, it is, in the words of the fairy story, just right.

Seat Leon ST Cupra 300 4Drive DSG

Rating: 4/5,
Price: £34,485
Engine: 4cyls, 1984cc, turbo, petrol
Power: 296bhp at 5500-6200rpm
Torque: 208lb ft at 1800-5500rpm
Gearbox: 6-speed dual-clutch automatic
Kerb weight: 1470kg, 0-62mph: 4.9sec
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
Fuel economy: 39.2mpg (combined),
CO2/tax band: 164g/km, 31%

Skoda Octavia vRS Estate

Rating: 4.5/5
Price: £26,385
Engine: 4cyls, 1984cc, turbo, petrol
Power: 227bhp at 4700-6200rpm
Torque: 208lb ft at 1500-4500rpm
Gearbox: 6-speed manual
Kerb weight: 1367kg, 0-62mph: 6.8sec
Top speed: 153mph,
Fuel economy: 43.5mpg (combined)
CO2/tax band: 149g/km, 28%

Volvo V60 AWD Polestar

Rating: 3.5/5
Price: £49,665
Engine: 4cyls, 1969cc, turbo, supercharged, petrol
Power: 362bhpat 6000rpm
Torque: 347lb ft at 3100-5000rpm
Gearbox: 8-speed automatic
Kerb weight: 1772kg, 0-62mph: 4.8sec
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
Fuel economy: 34.9mpg (combined)
CO2/tax band: 186g/km, 34%

Graham Scott is a writer for AutoCar.

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