Volvo V60 vs BMW 3 Series Touring vs Audi A4 Avant

  • Tested: three of the best premium estates to buy today
  • Big boots, tempting finance deals, and luxurious interiors
  • Volvo is famous for its estates, but is the V60 the best of this bunch?

Niche-filling is an exercise car manufacturers have become experts in. The latest fad: SUVs. Big ones, small ones, sporty ones, coupe ones, mini-coupe ones, are all occupying space in showrooms at the moment. Spend too long looking at them and shapes become meaningless.

The humble estate car is oft overlooked because of these crossovers. Estates remind people – particularly those younger than 35 – of big, ugly, boxy cars their parents would have ferried them around in. But these people are mightily wrong about the estate car.

The reality is that estate cars are more practical, better to drive, and cheaper than their rival family SUVs. They're also better looking. The Volvo V60, Audi A4 Avant, and BMW 3 Series Touring are three of the best around, but are they good enough to overcome the fuddy-duddy image of the estate car?

The cars

The boxy Swede is as Volvo as Volvo gets. It's attractive, big, and nicely laid out. The A4 Avant has the nicest interior of the three – very Audi. And regular readers of car reviews will not be shocked to learn that the BMW 3 Series Touring is the best to drive.

Objectively, all three models on offer here are really closely matched. They have near identical 2.0-litre 190hp diesels, and in the specs on test, and less than £30 per month separates all three on the monthly PCP figures.

We’ve lined up three 2.0-litre diesel engined estate cars in their most sporting trims:

  • Volvo V60 D4 R-Design Plus
  • Audi A4 Avant S Line 40 TDI Quattro
  • BMW 320d M Sport Touring XDrive

BMW 3 Series Touring

2019 BMW 3 Series Touring front

What's the model range like?

BMW offers a wide range of engines and trim specs for the 3 Series. Not all of them are available at the moment however. The 330e plug-in hybrid doesn't arrive in Touring form until July 2020.

Power output for current models range from 150hp from the 318d (diesel) rising to 374hp from the M340i xDrive (petrol). Between these two extremes you'll find the petrol powered 320i (184hp) and 330i (258hp). Diesel models come in 320d form with 190hp (on test), plus the more indulgent 330d (265hp).

Spec wise, SE cars are the most basic. But they still come with alloy wheels, a rear view camera, and an 8.8-inch infotainment screen. Sport trim gets 18-inch alloy wheels and sport seats. While M Sport models get the full 12.3-inch digital cockpit screen with 10.25-inch central screen, bigger wheels and M Sport badges. M Sport plus models get adaptive suspension, and 19-inch alloys.

What's it like to drive?

Regular readers of car reviews or listeners to people in the pub will not be shocked to learn that the 3 Series is the best steer here. Turn in is crisp and well weighted. It does such a good job of masking the car's weight and big boot.

Our test car had the optional xDrive on-demand four-wheel-drive system. You never really feel the four-wheel-drive working, and with only 190hp, you'd do well to break traction on a dry road.

The ride is exemplary at high-speeds and especially on smooth motorway stretches. Around town and on rural roads, it's not quite as smooth as the Audi. But it's more level than the Volvo.

What's it like inside?

BMW 3 Series Touring interior

Yet another tasteful interior on offer here. Sitting in the seats, you'll notice that there is a huge amount of adjustability, especially with lumbar support.

Look to the left, and there is of course, a flash 12.3 inch touchscreen. But BMW is forging ahead with its iDrive system, meaning you can choose not to use the touchscreen.This is much, much easier to use when on the move in comparison to the other two cars.

Once again, room in the back is good. Boot space is 500 litres, smaller than the Volvo by 29 litres. The boot is decently wide though. And it also has a separate boot hatch where the window opens to reveal the boot, perfect for just throwing something small in without having to actually open the boot.

>> Read more about the BMW 3 Series Touring in our full review

Volvo V60

2019 Volvo V60 driving

What's the model range like?

Five models in total span the V60 range. Momentum is the cheapest, R-Design is sportier looking, Inscription is posher, and Polestar Engineered is the sportiest. Cross Country adds longer suspension and plastic cladding to make it the one to choose if you regularly travel up muddy paths.

Petrols, diesels, and plug-in hybrids are available with the V60. The D4 is a diesel engine with 190hp, and the one on test here. The T4 is a petrol engine, also with 190hp. The T5 is a petrol with 250hp, the T6 has 310hp, and the T6 Twin Engine has a battery that can be charged, making it a plug-in hybrid. This has total power of 340hp. The T8 twin engine has a bigger battery and more power; it has 390hp - the most powerful of the V60 range.

If you want four-wheel drive, you'll have to plump for a cross-country or a hybrid model.

All models include a 9.0-inch portrait style touchscreen. All come with a power-operated tailgate, dual-zone climate control and a 10-speaker sound system too. Inscription models have leather and bigger 18-inch alloy wheels.

All models, aside from the Cross Country, can be specced in Pro trim. This adds a head-up display, keyless entry, a heated steering wheel and other goodies.

What's it like to drive?

The V60 on test is the D4 in R-Design spec. In comparison to the other two diesels, the Volvo is by far the loudest, especially at startup. It's also the most offensive of the three when being revved hard. Above 3,000rpm it really begins to sound coarse.

It's not by any means obscene, or so off-putting it should stop you from choosing the Volvo, but there's no denying that it's louder than the Audi or BMW. The ride is also the harshest of the three, thanks to the R-Design-specific stiff suspension and 18-inch alloy wheels.

The 190hp on offer and mighty 400Nm of torque does mean that the engine rarely needs to be thrashed, and it's plenty fast even fully-laden. At motorway speeds it feels level and predictable, with just enough cushioning. But at speeds below 30mph big bumps can really be felt. It struggles to glide over them as well as the Audi or BMW.

What's it like inside?

2019 Volvo V60 interior

The V60's interior is classy and understated and not in the least bit flashy. Typical Volvo then. But being unflashy doesn't mean it won't impress.

The R-Design Plus model in this test has nappa (read soft and posh) leather and a Harman Kardon stereo with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There are no complaints about the stereo to these untrained ears. However, the portrait style touchscreen feels outdated compared with the others on test. It works well enough, but there just seems to be endless menus and sub menus.

The seats are comfortable, and there's more than enough room in the rear for two full-sized adults with loads of room to spare in the middle. The boot measures in at 529 litres. This is the biggest of the bunch here, and there's also a flip-up divider you can put bags behind, which stops them rolling around in the boot.

>> Read more about the Volvo V60 in our full review

Audi A4 Avant

2019 Audi A4 driving

What's model range like?

The A4 received a bit of an update in 2019. Now there are only four trim levels - Technik, Sport, S Line, and Black edition. The S4 tops the line-up as a standalone model. All models come with alloy wheels, Audi's Virtual Cockpit system, a 10.1-inch media display with navigation, a reversing camera, and other techie bits.

No plug-in hybrids or regular hybrids on offer here. There is a 35 TFSI petrol with 150hp, a 40 TFSI with 190hp, and a 45 TFSI with 245hp.

Diesel-wise, there are three to choose from. The 30 TDI has 136hp, 35 TDI has 163hp, while the 40 TDI, on test here, has 190hp and comes with Quattro four-wheel-drive as standard. The standalone S4 TDI has 347hp.

What's it like to drive?

Like the Volvo above and BMW below, the 40 TDI A4 is rated at 190hp. And just like the other two, it feels as if there is plenty of power, and it can overtake with ease. 0-62mph comes up in 7.6 seconds - a perfectly agreeable sort of time, and imperceptibly slower than the BMW.

Our test car did without the optional adaptive suspension and rode with remarkable poise. High speed ride is cosseting and refined, while even at lower speeds the suspension does a good job of not simply burying into potholes. It really does glide over the majority of them.

What's it like inside?

Audi A4 Avant interior

Audi really really knows how to make a premium feeling interior, and the A4 is no different. Our S Line model on test here has an opulent 10.1-inch central infotainment screen that's every bit as good as an iPad. It does without haptic feedback (simulates the sense of touch, like you'd find on your mobile) like in the bigger and more expensive Audi A6, but it's still the most premium feeling of the three on test.

It also has Audi's excellent Virtual Cockpit. This allows you to configure the instrument panel tucked behind the steering wheel. There are loads of options and they're all easy to use. Full adjustment of the seating and steering is available. The rear, like the Volvo, will seat two adults comfortably, or three at a pinch or for a short journey.

Boot space is just a bit less than the Volvo with only 495-litres worth of space. Rear seats don't fold completely flat, though.

>> Read more about the Audi A4 Avant in our full review

PCP finance costs

Like every other aspect in this test, there really isn't much between them in terms of their financials. The Audi is the most expensive if you go the whole hog and buy the car outright, but it's much much closer if you don't pay the balloon payment at the end of the 36 month contract and choose another car.

The BMW is the cheapest per month, and the Volvo falls in the middle. At least the Volvo has the lowest APR rating among the lot. All come with hefty deposit contributions too.*

BMW 320d M Sport Touring XDrive

Representative manufacturer PCP
Monthly cost £568.81 (x36)
Upfront £3,000 (£2,610.10 deposit contribution)
Total payable £41,655.65
Mileage allowance 8,000
APR 4.9%

BMW 3 Series leasing prices: from £370 per month

Volvo V60 D4 R-Design

Representative manufacturer PCP
Monthly cost £577.69 (x36)
Upfront £3,000 (£2,000 finance deposit contribution)
Total payable £41,806.34
Mileage allowance 8,000
APR 2.9%

Volvo V60 leasing prices: from  per month

Audi A4 Avant S Line 40 TDI Quattro

Representative manufacturer PCP
Monthly cost £597.09 (x36)
Upfront £3,000 (£4,250 deposit contribution)
Total payable £46,350.65
Mileage allowance 8,000
APR 4.9%

Audi A4 leasing prices: from £455 per month

The Parkers Verdict

Audi A4 Avant, BMW 3 Series Touring, Volvo V60

All three are £40k+ cars in cash terms, and they all look and feel it. But the Audi feels the most special where you spend the majority of your time - inside. It's the best to sit in on the move too, with the most cosseting suspension.

The BMW is the best dynamically, and its gearbox is a lot less hesitant than the others, plus its iDrive system is a doddle to use when on the move. But it just lacks the extra refinement of the Audi.

The Volvo has the biggest boot, and is in our opinion, the best looker. But the R Design models just don't ride well enough, and while the engine is a strong performer, it's just so much more gruff than the other two.

So, there we have it. The Volvo is the best looking. The Audi has the best interior. And the BMW is the best to drive. All three are brilliant, but it's the Audi that takes home the spoils overall, and is the one we'd recommend.

Further reading:

>> Small business class face off: BMW 1 Series v Mercedes-Benz A-Class

>> Like the idea of an electric supermini? We choose the best

>> The best cars for sub £500 per month

>> Here are our favourite hatchbacks

*These deals are indicative examples of some packages available as of 5 March 2020, but are subject to change without prior notice. Everyone's financial circumstances are different and the availability of credit is subject to status. Terms, conditions and exclusions apply. Parkers cannot recommend a deal for you specifically.