Estate cars have been making a bit of a comeback of late and it’s always good to see alternatives to the ever-popular SUVs that seem to be taking over the motoring world. While we fully understand the practicality of a family SUV with high seating, room for all the family and its versatility, there is certainly still demand for the proper estate models too.
We are looking at two major rivals in the industry – Mercedes and BMW – and comparing two of their finest estate cars. We shall explore model line-ups, pricing, practicality, efficiency and performance in a bid to discover which is the better buy, but one thing is guaranteed, it will be a very close-run contest.
Our two premium models are the Mercedes CLA 250 e AMG Line Premium Plus Shooting Brake and the BMW 320i M Sport Touring.
The Mercedes CLA Shooting Brake is available in four trim levels called Sport Executive, AMG Line Executive, AMG Line Premium and AMG Line Premium Plus and customers can also choose from mild hybrid or plug-in petrol hybrid powertrains.
Prices start from £35,535 for the Sport Executive Shooting Brake model and climb to £52,130 for the high-end AMG Line Premium Plus model, as tested.
The BMW 3 Series Touring model is available with petrol, diesel or plug-in hybrid technology with prices starting from £41,675 and rising to £49,585 for the xDrive PHEV version.
Our test car cost, the 320i M Sport Touring, started out at £41,970, but a range of optional extras saw the final cost creep up to £52,015.
Once again customers can select from a number of well-equipped trim levels and the car can be specified with all-wheel drive.
When it comes to customer choice, separating these two models is nigh on impossible and will probably come down to brand preference for the customer.
Powertrains, Technology and Performance
The 2023 Mercedes Shooting Brake has just undergone a major update with a new-look front end and new rear diffuser to sharpen its styling. There are high performance headlights along with a fresh range of colours to choose from.
We opted for the CLA 250 e AMG Line Premium Plus Shooting Brake which was priced at £52,130, increased to £52,755 with options. It was powered by a 1.3-litre plug-in hybrid engine with a 163hp engine working with a 109hp electric motor and 15.6kWh battery. With an all-electric driving range of 45-52 miles, it is ideal for short commutes in electric-only mode but has the added reassurance of the four-cylinder petrol engine when needed.
With 300Nm of toque it can complete the 0-62mph sprint in 7.7 seconds and tops out at 140mph. The handling is precise with perfectly weighted steering and there is ample power on tap for quick bursts of pace to overtake slower-moving vehicles.
It is beautifully well-balanced when pushed on through twisting country lanes, but like most estate cars, it will be expected to put in regular long motorway stints - and this Mercedes effortlessly cruises at 70mph. In addition it is agile and easy to manoeuvre in busier town centre settings where the 360-degree camera and parking package will make light work of squeezing into tight spaces.
There are drive modes called Electric, Hybrid, Battery Hold, Sport and Individual that alter the driving styles of the Mercedes and steering wheel-mounted paddles are always appreciated for that little bit of extra driver engagement.
The cabin is premium through and through with light flooding in via the panoramic sunroof. There are powered and heated seats, although no heated steering wheel which I miss on colder mornings.
That aside, it’s a very well equipped car with a double infotainment screen that sees a 10.25-inch media display touchscreen merge seamlessly with another 10.25-inch driver instrument display. Both screens can be configurated to taste and there is the excellent ‘Hey Mercedes’ voice activated assistant that can help with all manner of tasks from plotting navigation routes to making phone calls.
On-board tech includes full smartphone integration, wireless charging, DAB radio, navigation, Bluetooth, ambient lighting and lots more besides.
Moving on to the BMW with its 2.0-litre petrol engine delivering 184hp and 300Nm of torque. It’s certainly sharp out the starting blocks with a 0-62mph sprint time of 7.6 seconds (one-tenth of a second quicker than the Mercedes) and a top speed of 143mph.
Out on the open road, it is confident and can deliver a great all-round performance on twisting B roads while still being a very capable motorway vehicle. The handling is precise and the steering is accurate which adds to the fun factor. There are paddles to manually switch through the eight-speed Steptronic Sport transmission or you can leave it up to the car to find the ideal gear for the conditions.
Once again, drive modes called Eco Pro, Comfort and Sport alter the handling – no prizes for guessing which is the most fun and rewarding.
The car also boasts all the latest on-board technology, with a 12.3-inch driver display screen merging into a 14.9-inch control display behind a curved screen. The car is equipped with the very latest generation BMW Operating System 8 and it matches the Mercedes with top quality systems such as a pitch perfect Harmon Kardon sound system, a voice activated personal assistant that can open the sunroof amongst many other tasks, plus heated seats and a heated steering wheel which was sadly missing from the Mercedes.
Comfort levels impress on both vehicles with top suspension systems and excellent refinement levels meaning barely a sound filters through into the cabins.
They are packed with all the latest technology, but our vote would just swing towards the Mercedes which features one of the finest cockpits and displays on offer today, although I miss a heated steering wheel in case I hadn’t said!
Practicality is a key area for estate car buyers and both vehicles cover this base exceptionally well.
The Mercedes CLA 250 Shooting Brake has a strong road presence stretching 4,692mm in length, 1,999mm across and 1,433mm tall. The boot, accessed via a powered tailgate, can accommodate 445 litres, increasing to 1,310 litres with the 60:40 split-folding rear seats dropped flat.
Elsewhere, there is a glovebox, door bins with sections for water bottles, front and rear cup holders, seat back nets, a deep central cubby, non-slip trays and a wireless charging port.
If towing is high on the wish-list, this Mercedes can pull a braked trailer weighing up to 1.6 tonnes.
By comparison, the BMW is 4,713mm long, 1,827mm wide and 1,442mm in height.
The boot, again accessed by an automatic tailgate, can swallow 500 litres of luggage and this capacity increases to 1,510 litres with the 60:40 split-folding rear seats lowered. This limit is quite a substantial increase over the Mercedes, so might prove a deciding factor when choosing the estate to suit requirements.
The BMW also has a wealth of storage options scattered throughout the cabin which are on a par with its Mercedes rival. And the BMW can also tow a trailer weighing up to 1.6 tonnes.
Both models are similar in dimension, although the BMW has the larger boot capacity and that could swing the vote for some potential buyers.
With all eyes on high energy prices and fuel costs, day-to-day running costs are a key factor when buying a car these days.
The Mercedes features plug-in hybrid technology and has an EV-only driving range of 45-52 miles. With a low carbon emissions rating of 24g/km, it also boasts an excellent Benefit in Kind rate for business owners of just two per cent.
The combined fuel efficiency figure of up to 313.9mpg is a little unrealistic. Yes, it could be achieved if the car’s compact battery was kept fully charged and the EV driving range used to the max. But in reality, this is an estate car so is likely to cover thousands of motorway miles, so expect to see a figure in the low to mid 40s on average day-to-day driving.
Charging the 15.6kWh battery takes 3 hours, 45 minutes via a 7.4kW wallbox or 1 hour, 15 minutes if using an 11kW wallbox.
The BMW Touring model is equally impressive when it comes to running costs with its 2.0-litre petrol engine delivering a combined 37.6 to 42.1mpg under WLTP testing. However, the CO2 figure of 151 to 169g/km would not bring so many financial rewards as the Mercedes, but customers do have alternative models to consider if going down the fleet car route.
For example, the BMW 330e Sport Touring plug-in hybrid model has a lower carbon emissions figure of 31-33g/km, a combined fuel efficiency figure of 201.8mpg (similarly to the Mercedes – not the most realistic) and an electric-only driving range of 37 miles. So, there is plenty of choice out there for business drivers.
So, which takes your fancy?
So, how do you choose between two exceptionally good estate cars? At the end of the day, both the Mercedes and BMW models are so close that its virtually impossible to separate them.
Customers are treated to a wealth of powertrain and trim level choices so there will be something from either carmaker to suit requirements. And both vehicles deliver on the performance front too.
If interior looks are a priority, maybe the Mercedes edges it, but if practicality is the main factor, the BMW has a larger boot capacity.
Personally, I’m torn between the two. One minute I think the Beamer takes the honours, but in the next breath my preference has switched to the Mercedes.
All I can say is both models are exceptional in the premium estate car field.