THIS WEEK The SF’s Ken Fletcher looks at three estate car choices likely to appeal to a wide range of buyers. But they range from the run-of-the-mill Honda Civic to a Ford pretender to the snobbier brands and the downright scary Skoda vRS load lugger.

The luxury ‘pretender’

FORD has some pretty good cars in its inventory and it’s not the first time that I’ve likened the quality of the likes of its Mondeo with a similar-sized BMW.

But, it seems, the design gurus at the blue oval’s head office must have been listening and decided to take the notion of a luxury Ford one giant leap forward.

With the company’s credentials lying firmly in the principles of the Model T Ford way back in the 1920s – pile ‘em high and sell ‘em cheap – there might, indeed be some skirling going on in the last resting place of one Henry Ford when the Vignale brand appeared for the first time on what is essentially a Ford with lofty aspirations.

Further removal of his ennui from within his incarceration would be the news that the estate will cost customers more than £32k with the ‘big’ version of the engine.

But, this is no ordinary Ford. The Vignale version of the Mondeo has a major selling point. It is an all-options-included vehicle that has more kit in it that you can shake a stick at, plus some nifty detailing and dealer benefits.

While prices start at £29,045 for a 185bhp hybrid model, the new 207bhp 2.0-litre bi-turbo diesel takes that up to £31,000, with the estate adding £1250 and all-wheel drive a further £1500.

It’s a pretty good stab at luxury too, with a comfortable cabin, leather seats, well laid out instruments and hot and cold blowing seats! But, is it that far removed from Ford’s top-of-the-range Titanium X spec’? – I’m inclined to think not, admirable as all the extras are and great as the massage from the seats was.

Basically, it boils down to a £5k premium over the ‘normal’ Mondeo top spec’ and I’m not sure it’s going to be worth that.

However, this is a seriously good motor car and there are a lot of premium-branded motors out there which will not come up to the standard of the Mondeo, Vignale or not.

Other selling points include the impressive two-litre bi-turbo engine, as tested in its 207bhp form, which is expected to be the top seller.

At first, there didn’t appear to be a rush of torque, but a quick switch to sports mode in the auto’ box changed all that. This turned it into an effortless cruiser, but with oomph where needed to overtake on the winding roads that can make a journey to Wales such a chore.

The ratings say it can do the 0-62mph run in a tad more than eight seconds. You’d be hard pushed, though, to know that there was any turmoil going on under the bonnet as the Vignale spec’ includes some pretty serious noise damping, including acoustic glass and some teccie stuff that counters engine noise by pumping soothing sound waves through the car’s speakers.

The driving experience is enhanced by a wide range of electronic aids, the best of which is the automatic feature which allows you to set your cruise control, but only let you come within a certain distance of the car in front. It takes away the need to brake and then hit the switch again into cruise, removing the drudgery that average speed cameras engender.

As standard, there’s also a reversing camera, LED headlamps and an easy to use sat-nav.

A workhorse

WHEN’S an estate car not an estate ... when it’s a Tourer, dummy!

However, while Honda’s Civic might be a Tourer to them it’s an estate to me. And quite a good little workhorse it is too.

Famous for creating space in cars where others can only follow, Honda has managed it with the Civic by adding nine inches to the rear end, compared to the standard hatch-back.

What this translates to is 624 litres of load volume up to roof level with the seats in play. Fold them down at the flick of a button, via some Honda design magic, and a creditable 1668-litre of space is made available.

It also has an adaptive rear axle damping system in the higher echelons of the spec’ range, which is useful when carrying heavy loads and a plus point when set against a lot of the opposition in this bracket.

Bog standard for most buyers will be the 118bhp, 1.6-litre diesel as tested. While it’s never going to be one to take to Knockhill for a spin around the track, it’s still a pretty acceptable engine choice.

It’s light and nimble on the handling front and Honda is pretty good at clear and simple dashboards – with a mix of digital and analogue instrumentation – so that’s good.

However, the touch-screen panel needs a re-think as it is all too easy to press the wrong key and difficult, say, to latch on to a name to phone while driving. It was frustrating.

The model tested was a 1.6 i-DTEC EX Plus manual, which had driver assist safety pack at £600 extra.

Leather upholstery and heated seats are included at this level, as is LED headlighting. Sat nav, rear privacy glass, an interior alarm and a self-dimming interior mirror are standard too.

It has some pretty spectacular economy figures. The ‘combined’ official figure is 72.4mpg, but even in the 60s mpgs as I obtained, that’s pretty light on the wallet.

While the headline price on this model is quite a hefty £26,200, you have to take into account that Hondas do sell well second hand given their reputation for reliability, so you will get a bit of that back when you come to sell or trade in.

The hot one

Skoda has taken its ‘run-of-the-mill’ estate, the Octavia, and given it considerable go-faster appeal by squeezing one of its daddy's VW Group’s most potent weapons, the 2.0TSI petrol engine, tuned to 227bhp – or 230 PS – under the bonnet.

With a few glamour tweaks and upgrades all round the vehicle, this has turned a meek little Jacob sheep into a big growling Rottweiler. That is, apart from the colour of the test vehicle which was a rather drab grey – much better to opt for Skoda’s vibrant red (as pictured)!

The Octavia vRS 230 is a well put together outfit which is capable of doing the usual 0-62mph sprint in 6.8 seconds, yet will still manage to give you almost 45mpg officially, or about 40mpg in practical terms.

It’s pretty evident that this car has been souped up, but not too overtly. It has rather smart 19-inch black alloy wheels, with bigger brakes and a sporty exhaust system, plus a delicate rear spoiler and vRS 230 decals scattered around it.

Helping to keep you on the road when you hit the ‘button’ is a new electro-mechanical, limited-slip differential which is a pretty useful antidote to relying on your skill as a driver!

This is a pretty hi-tech affair, using data from sensors from critical points in the steering geometry, including the driver’s input to the steering wheel, to maintain the correct amount of power to each of the front driving wheels.

The interior continues the upmarket theme and the leather upholstery has some natty red stitching on it, while the seats are electrically adjusted and heated.

But, it also has the added advantage of being a pretty roomy estate car, which kind of belies the raspy engine note that comes from pressing the ‘Sport’ button on the dash from the performance mode selection.

So that’s the rub. It’s a pretty well-equipped estate car and it has the ability to appeal to those looking to cart various things about, like the family dogs – but it will also propel your mobile dog kennel around the place at a considerable pace! Grrrr.