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Hatchbacks vs estates

  • We look at whether estates are dearer to run and inferior to drive
  • Estates offer greater practicality but do you need the space?
  • Hatchbacks’ lower P11D values equate to lower monthly bills

Once upon a time you only chose to run an estate if you absolutely had too. Compared to the cars they were based upon, they were slower, less pleasant to drive, heavier so consequently more expensive to run and their interiors doubled as echo chambers.

Is this still the case or has that particularly myth been consigned to the annals of motoring fairy tales?

We’ve taken a look at some popular company cars that are available in both estate hatchback and estate forms to determine whether there’s any real penalty for choosing the latter.

Tax and running costs

Often longer than their hatchback equivalents, with more metalwork and larger windows, estates are subsequently heavier as a result.

This is only half the story, though, as their longer roofs can make them more aerodynamic meaning the weight gain disadvantage is negated.

Demonstrating the effect of this are the 148bhp, manual gearbox editions of the 2-litre TDI-engined Skoda Superb hatchback and estate, which post identical 68.9mpg fuel economy claims, despite there being a 20kg weight difference. There’s a miniscule 1g/km difference in CO2 emissions but not enough to place the estate in a high BIK band, both slotting into the 19 percent category for the current 2015/16 tax year. 

It’s a similar story with the 118bhp versions of the 1.5-litre TDCi Ford Focus hatchback and estate, where the latter carries a 25kg disadvantage, yet both claim 74.3mpg and CO2 emissions of 98g/km.

In both cases the estate versions will have a marginally higher monthly tariff but only because the P11D values are higher in the first place.

Dig around though and you’ll find differences, although they tend to be marginal – such as for the for the Honda Civic hatchback and its larger showroom-mate, the Civic Tourer.

Here the estate version is significantly larger and tips the scales some 35kg more, impacting on economy and emissions figures. While the hatchback claims 78.5mpg and 94g/km in 1.6-litre i-DTEC guise, the mechanically similar Tourer posts figures of 74.3mpg and 99g/km.

For someone in the 20 percent earnings band an SE Plus specification model would result in monthly bills of £55* and £61*, respectively, thanks to the Tourer’s higher P11D value and being one percent higher in BIK terms.

Practicality

With a large tailgate opening, estates are always more practical than a booted saloon derivative, but compared to a hatchback the differences are less clear cut.

Most hatchbacks have a more sloping tail design than their estate equivalents, meaning the tailgate – and consequently the opening – are often larger, making it easier to manoeuvre cargo into the boot area.

That’s only half the story, of course, as estates can carry taller loads than their hatchback counterparts and in the majority of cases there’s no ledge to lift heavy loads over as you’re taking them out of the boot.

Despite the interior height advantage estate cars have over their hatchback relations, manufacturers tend to quote boot space up to the luggage cover’s height, rather than the roof, when in five-seater mode.

While this gives the estate versions of the Focus (476 litres to the hatch’s 316) and Civic (624 litres in the Tourer trumping 477 in the hatchback) it’s a closer-run thing with the latest Superb – at 660 litres, the estate’s boot is only 35 litres larger than the hatchback’s, making the latter a more sensible choice if you rarely need the former’s height advantage.

Much depends on how you use your estate, though – if you regularly have the rear seats folded over and drive them in two-seater ‘van’ mode, the estates’ advantage is much more clearly defined.

Tumble both of the 60:40 split rear seats over in the Skoda and at 1,950 litres it has a 190-litre advantage over the hatchback. At 1,502 litres the Ford estate offers 287 litres more than the hatch, while with the Honda the gap’s 290 litres thanks to the Tourer’s 1,668-litre capacity.

Driving

You’ve nestled behind the wheel of your car for 30 miles and in that time you’ve trudged through stop/start urban traffic on a pock-marked High Street, cruised along a motorway and wended your way along a twisty B-road – so what’s the biggest giveaway that you’re in an estate?

Unless you’re an enthusiastic driver, honed to detect the smallest of handling characteristics, the way the vast majority will tell is because the back window looks far away in the rear view mirror.

Gone are the days when estates had unsophisticated rear suspension arrangements designed to cope with heavy cargos without any real consideration to rear seat passenger comfort.

True, modern estates may ride slightly more comfortable with their boots loaded, but the differences aren’t significant. Similarly, the additional weight of the enlarged rear bodywork can affect the handling balance compared to a hatchback counterpart, although not necessarily for the worse.

Which is best for you?

Having established that in many cases estate versions of hatchbacks are only marginally more expensive to run and offer few discernible differences in their driving characteristics, the key decision points are down to which you prefer the looks of and how you intend using your car.

While appreciation of the aesthetics of one body type or another is a personal choice, examining how you’re likely to use a car’s practicality and flexibility is easier to pinpoint.

If you regularly transport tall items or need to maximise your car’s carrying capacity by folding the rear seats over much of the time, then an estate’s the car for you. If not, then enjoy the capaciousness most hatchbacks have to offer and enjoy slightly lower monthly bills in the process.

Still not sure which company car to choose? Maybe these articles could help:

MINI launches Countryman in ALL4 Business guise

The best seven-seater company cars revealed

Will cheaper diesel affect your car choice?

More appeal for fleets with the revised Ford EcoSport

Exciting new technology for the next Mercedes-Benz E-Class

*BIK car tax bands and P11D values correct at time of publication and monthly tax costs are based on the current 2015/16 tax year