Big estates may have fallen out of favour as ever more buyers opt for off-roaders, but large estate cars still manage to blend practicality, economy and roadholding better than oversized 4x4s can manage. One of the newest on the scene is the VW Passat Estate, which replaces the tired previous model, which was starting to look dated inside and out.

With a conservative design on the outside, the Passat Estate doesn’t look like much of a step forward, though the interior and tech underneath the skin bring this large car bang up to date – useful when the Passat faces stiff competition from the popular new Ford Mondeo, the Vauxhall Insignia and upmarket machines including the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes C-Class.

What is it?

The Passat Estate is the five-door version of Volkswagen’s biggest saloon, which has just been given a ground-up redesign and boasts a cavernous boot. Unlike previous models, only diesel engines are available, ranging from an economy-focused 1.6-litre model with 118bhp that returns 68.9mpg and slots into the £20 annual car tax band to the 237bhp twin-turbocharged, four-wheel drive 2.0-litre model that we tested.

Sitting in the middle of the range are two other 2.0-litre models, which offer 148bhp and 187bhp, with the less powerful model matching the 1.6-litre model for economy and the 187bhp version offering not only more power but lower fuel consumption too.

Five trim levels are available; S, SE, SE Business, GT and R-Line. Entry-level S cars get three-piece folding rear seats, 16-inch alloy wheels, a starter button and a raft of safety kit including a post-collision braking system. Stepping up to SE trim adds 17-inch alloy wheels, adaptive cruise control, which automatically maintains a safe distance behind the car in front, while SE Business models include front fog lights, tinted rear windows, electric folding wing mirrors and sat nav with internet access.

GT models, meanwhile, feature leather and alcantara sports seats, aluminium trim and piano black inserts, three-zone climate control, 18-inch alloy wheels and a sat nav system. Range-topping 2.0-litre BiTDI models also include sport and comfort suspension settings and powerful LED headlights. Sporty R-Line versions, on the other hand, feature a sharp body kit and different 18-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights and adjustable chassis modes.

What is it like to drive?

Despite its large size – and hefty weight in four-wheel drive, automatic BiTDI form – the Passat Estate offers plenty of punch – with the DSG automatic gearbox shuffling between gears quickly and smoothly under acceleration – while the brakes are also strong enough to confidently slow down the Passat. It takes corners well too, with the steering feeling suitably meaty for such a big car and the body not rolling much around corners.

The flipside of this impressive roadholding, though, is that the Passat Estate isn’t as comfortable as it could be. We found the ride a little firm, jarring over some bumps that other large cars would have smoothed out better, exacerbated by front seats that we didn’t find very comfortable, leaving us with a numb bum after a few hours in the saddle. The DSG automatic gearbox, which seemed happy when driving fast, also seemed a little jerky at low speeds, which combined with the impressive handling makes the Passat Estate seem to place roadholding above ultimate comfort.

Living up to the large car billing, however, are high refinement levels, which make the Passat a very competent motorway cruiser. Though the engine is audible at lower speeds, producing typical diesel grumble, it becomes silent when cruising, with little wind or road noise making its way through to the cabin.

What is it like inside?

As you’d hope with our test car’s £36,000 price tag, the Passat Estate’s interior is very high quality and nicely designed with sensible controls dotted across the wheel, touchscreen media system and the centre console itself. The media system offers a large screen and easy-to-understand controls, with handy features such as an onscreen button that centres the sat nav map on the car, should you move the map by hand to check the route.

Everything from the steering wheel to the gearstick and door trims feel very solid and built to last, warranting the price premium that the Passat commands over models including the related Skoda Superb and Ford Mondeo.

Is it practical?

Absolutely. The Passat Estate is a very big car on the outside and the interior is suitably cavernous – in the front and rear seats and in the boot. While we didn’t find the front seats hugely comfortable, the rear seats are much more comfy than in most cars, offering good back support and reams of head and leg room.

All three rear seats provide more than enough space for adults, though those in the middle seat will have to contend with a large transmission tunnel – needed for the four-wheel drive system – which robs foot room. Meanwhile, buyers are unlikely to ever run out of space in the boot, with additional underfloor storage and space for a spare tyre too.

Should I buy one?

The Passat Estate is a practical, well-equipped and rapid machine in 2.0 BiTDI form. It makes a very sensible, refined and sharp-handling family car option, though some buyers may wish for a softer ride and more comfortable front seats. With the price of our test model coming in at £36,000 some buyers may also wish for a more premium badge on the bonnet, though buyers will not feel short changed with the level of luxury on offer inside.

However, unless you absolutely need four-wheel drive, the 187bhp 2.0-litre diesel seems like a more sensible buy – even if you opt for the DSG automatic this comes in at £5,000 less than our test car’s list price. Go for this and the Passat appears to offer much greater value, being more than fast enough for most passengers and breaking the 60mpg mark.

Don't want to buy new? You can browse for a used Volkswagen Passat in our classifieds here.

The facts

Volkswagen Passat Estate 2.0 BiTDI 240 4MOTION DSG

List price: £36,175
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder twin-turbocharged diesel
Power: 237bhp
Top speed: 149mph
0-62mph: 6.3 seconds
Fuel economy: 44.1mpg (urban), 61.4mpg (extra-urban) 53.3mpg (combined)
Emissions: 139g/km CO2
Euro NCAP rating: Five-star