Fast estates are cool. It’s just a fact of the motoring world. Hard to say why exactly, but then coolness is pretty much impossible to define.
There’s a dichotomy to the whole concept of a fast estate. Estates are supposed to be practical and sensible, attributes that shouldn’t be compatible with being fast and fun.
It shouldn’t work, but it does. From the behind the wheel you would be hard pressed to notice the difference between a Skoda Octavia vRS estate, for instance, and the hatchback equivalent. Until you realise you’re driving like a lunatic with a wardrobe in the boot. Maybe that’s the essence of why they are so cool.
But which fast estates are best? After much deliberation, we’ve narrowed down the surprisingly long list of possibilities down to the top five. Here they are.
Audi RS2 Avant
There had been powerful estates and sporting estates since the Fifties, but it was Audi who invented the fast estate as we know it when the RS2 Avant was launched in 1994.
Power came from a 2.2-litre, five-cylinder turbo engine, backed up by a six-speed manual gearbox and quattro four-wheel-drive. It was on the heavy side, but the combination of 315bhp and unbreakable traction launched the RS2 from 0-62mph in just 4.8 seconds – astonishing at the time. Autocar famously recorded a faster 0-30mph time than the McLaren F1.
The RS2 had more than just brute force. Audi contracted Porsche to help with the suspension and brakes, so it actually handled properly, albeit in a nose-heavy kind of way. Still, it was faster cross-country than just about anything else out there.
Porsche built the RS2, as well, nearly 3,000 rolling off the production line – more than anticipated, such was the demand. Only a handful of right-hand-drive cars came to the UK and values are rising rapidly.
Cadillac CTS-V Sport Wagon
Never available in the UK, but worth our attention all the same because, well, look at it! With its jutting jaw and pumped-up wheelarches, it looks fantastic.
But there’s rather more to it than the styling. Like an awful lot of engine – 6.2-litres of supercharged V8 borrowed from the Corvette ZR1, making 556bhp and 551lb/ft of torque.
Cadillac quoted a 0-60mph time of four seconds flat and a top speed of 190mph. The handling was tuned at the Nurburgring so it can actually contain all that power, as well. But, with a manual gearbox and limited-slip diff, it’s equally as capable of melting the back tyres into a bank of smoke.
Americans don’t buy estates any more, though, so the CTS-V wagon is a very rare thing. Which makes it even cooler.
Mercedes E55 AMG
Audi was pretty much on its own building fast estates until AMG stuffed a 350bhp, 5.5-litre V8 engine under the bonnet of the brick-like E-Class wagon.
It was hilariously fast, capable of ludicrous power slides and sounded like the thunder god chortling through a megaphone. It was also lavishly equipped, very comfortable and had an immense boot.
Best of all, you could have one with an extra pair of rear-facing seats in the boot. Which is ludicrous, but brilliant. I wonder if anyone experimented to see how quickly someone sat back there would throw up while drifting…?
Subsequent generations of E AMG estate became even more powerful, but the original just seemed so unlikely that it gets our vote as the coolest.
Reliant Scimitar GTE
This is one of those early sporting estates I mentioned earlier, from the same people that made laughable three-wheelers. But the Scimitar GTE was really rather good.
The estate-like body came about simply because Reliant wanted a more practical four-seater body to replace the old Scimitar GT saloon. Industrial designer Tom Karen penned the shape, based on a design he had created a few years earlier.
With decent room for four, a simple lift-up glass tailgate and folding rear seats, the Scimitar was a genuinely practical GT. Power came from a Ford V6 sat in a simple, box-tube chassis. With decent power and not much weight – the body was fibreglass – it was quick and handled well.
It wasn’t particularly well made, but it was rugged. Quite a few of the 14,000 built survive and decent ones still go for less than £5,000.
SEAT Leon ST Cupra 280
At launch, it was the fastest estate ever to lap the Nurburgring and one of the fastest front-wheel-drive cars of any sort.
If this doesn’t prove the brilliance of the fast estate, I don’t know what will. You get all the speed and handling of the hatchback – you can even spec semi-slick tyres – with one of the biggest boots in the class. What more could you want?
We recently had the opportunity to take a quick drive in the SEAT ST Cupra. Read the review here
By Only Motors