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What Is an Estate Car, and is it the Right Choice for You?

If you're looking for a new vehicle, you may be confused by some of the terminologies. After all, car companies make a wide variety of different cars, designed to appeal to various sectors of the market place. Yet you may have noticed that individual manufacturers use strange terms to describe vehicles that appear to be somewhat similar and it's no surprise that there is so much confusion. If you have a large family or may need to transport a lot of gear from place to place, you'll probably be looking for something with a lot of space, but specifically, what is an estate car and is it right for you?

Different Car Designs

To fully understand this complexsubject, it helps to know how car companies design each car in the first place.

  • Often, each company will create a platform and use this base design for different body variants. The wheelbase will be identical, as will the position of the engine, gearbox and transmission, but the body can vary significantly.

  • Typically, the company will focus on three different configurations, known as "boxes." They may market a particular model to three distinct markets so that they can maximise their revenues from the project.

  • The box refers to the configuration of the vehicle above the floor pan. They may build a van using a one-box design, which will incorporate everything from the engine through to the rear of the frame.

  • They'll reserve the twin box option for the estate car, with the interior cabin being one unit, stretching from the bulkhead back to the tailgate.

  • The most common design is the three-box. In this case, the engine, interior compartment and boot area are entirely separate, and this design covers the conventional sedan car and the hatchback.

You can often differentiate between these designs by looking at the pillars that support the roof. From the front of the vehicle and working towards the rear, these are known as A, B, C or D. If an estate car has four side doors, then it will traditionally have all four pillars as well.

An estate car may offer the same interior volume as a van variant. Unlike the van, however, it will typically have a second set of doors and a rear window.

The roof will usually feature a different design as well. Traditionally, an estate car has a large door that folds upward, whereas a van will have folding doors that configure vertically.

What's the Difference between a Hatchback and an Estate Car?

People are often confused by the difference between a hatchback and estate. While a hatchback will also feature a rear door that swings upward, it will usually be much smaller than the estate car option. The door on the estate will extend all the way down to the floor pan for extra access capability. The roof on the hatchback will also swoop down from the B pillar and will be more aerodynamically efficient as a result.

Why the Term "Estate Car" and What Is the Difference to a Station Wagon?

Few car manufacturers call such a vehicle an "estate car" as part of their branding and marketing initiative, as it's not particularly alluring. They may prefer to use the term "kombi" or "sports tourer," for example.

Yet the origin of the name is thought to date back to the time when the landed gentry would drive the vehicle around their country estate. In America, companies designed similar cars to move goods and people around the all-important railway stations of the day, and thus the term "station wagon" was born.

To confuse you even more, some people use the term "shooting brake". Again, it dates back to a time when people who shot wild animals as a pastime used these vehicles. They would have plenty of room for rifles and other paraphernalia in the rear, as they set out for their entertainment.

What Should You Look for in an Estate Car?

Many people are looking for extra capacity when they search for an estate car for sale, but they may also consider a hatchback.

Typically, the hatchback design will feature two front doors only and a roofline that will taper down quite quickly behind the B pillar. The hatchback might be more of a compromise than a practical solution to extra space, and if you need to transport something substantial that is cube-like in its design, you may struggle with the hatch.

While the rear seats in the hatchback will typically fold down, the estate car design is usually far more practical. You can refer to the information provided by the car company to see just how much cargo volume you will get once you fold the rear seats out of the way.

You may also find that the rear suspension on an estate car (or station wagon) is beefed up to an extent to cope with the extra weight. Designers may use different mounting points or geometry so that it does not intrude into the vehicle as much as it might otherwise.

As you look for the best estate car in the UK for your needs, think about practicality. Will you carry large or awkward items regularly? Look carefully at how the back seats fold down and make sure that the mechanism is simple to use. Be careful with the roof design as some models tend to prioritise style over functionality. If you cannot close the rear door once you've loaded everything in, you're back to square one.

Or Should You Pick an SUV?

Some people may choose an SUV rather than an estate car, simply because of the increased interior volume. Yet an SUV also takes up a lot more space, which may be an issue in the typically small UK garage. You may prefer the manoeuvrability of an estate car as well, and this type of vehicle is, traditionally, somewhat cheaper than an SUV.

In Closing

There are many different types and style of estate car in the UK market. Calculate your needs carefully before you choose.