We’ve all been there: you’ve been sent out to buy a new (old) car, armed with a list of prerequisites that seem solely designed to ensure that you’re kept as far as possible from the adverts for rally cars, roadsters and hot hatch rockets that usually attract your attention.
But just because a car has four doors, doesn’t mean it has to be boring.
We’ve chosen five super estates capable of taking your entire family, a couple of suitcases and a chest freezer up to the national limit in less than 8 seconds, and on to a top speed that you’d only ever achieve on the autobahn. Better still, not all of them will break the bank.
5. 1999 Nissan Stagea – £5999
Unless you’re an avid fan of Japanese domestic market products and rare grey imports, chances are you won’t have the foggiest idea about the Nissan Stagea. The easiest way to think of it is as a Nissan Skyline shooting brake – and we’re sure you’ll have heard of one of those.
The model was built between 1996 and 2007 and across three series, with updates coming in 1998 and 2001. Early cars shared a raft of components with the Skyline, most notably the 2.6-litre twin-turbocharged twincam as fitted to the R33 GTR, and for the top-spec models, the same ATTESA E-TS all-wheel-drive system. They look similar, too, with the front of the car bearing a striking resemblance to the Skyline’s.
With a slick four-speed automatic gearbox, permanent four-wheel-drive and a claimed 300bhp, the example we found for sale makes a compelling case for becoming your next load-lugger – especially when its sub-£6000 asking price is taken into account.
4. 1995 BMW M5 Touring – £55,000
More familiar to the layman is BMW’s venerable E34 5-Series, which graced British forecourts from 1989 through to 1995.
Plenty of Touring versions were built, too, but most will be more pedestrian models than the M5. Not that you’d know it unless you have a keen eye: from the outside, there’s little to tell the monstrous, top-spec version from the cooking models; it doesn’t even have quad exhaust pipes, a threatening burble being one of the only giveaways.
Hiding beneath the M5 Touring’s subtle looks is a supremely capable car, powered by a 3.8-litre straight-six producing 335bhp – enough to hit 60mph in just 5.9 secs and on to an electronically limited top speed of 155mph.
The asking price of this particular example is frightening, but with good reason: only 891 Touring versions were ever made, making it a rare beast indeed.
Tempted? You should be.
3. 2000 Subaru Impreza – £11,895
From the moment we first sat wide eyed at the sight of Colin McRae hurtling sideways through a special stage in his iconic 555-liveried Subaru Impreza, we’ve been completely sold on these Japanese rally cars for the road.
We weren’t the only ones either: the British public were hungry for cheap performance in the 1990s, and that’s exactly what the Scooby offered.
It undercut almost everything with decent power, and the addition of permanent four-wheel-drive only served to sweeten the deal, its prodigious grip flattering even the most ham-fisted of boy racers.
While McDonald's car parks up and down the country were packed with the still-practical saloon variant, the wagon iteration flew under the radar, being more associated with the workhorse Forrester than electro house and ASBOs. As a result they’re cheaper and tend to be better cared for, despite sharing the same blistering performance.
We’ve found a rare STi Version 6 V-Limited example – one of just 500 made – finished in the most desirable combination of blue with gold wheels.
It sports a 2-litre boxer engine producing 276bhp, and with just 43,605 miles on the clock there’s sure to be plenty of life left.
2. 1996 Volvo 850R – £13,995
If you really want to fly under the radar, Volvo’s 850R could be the car for you.
The model was introduced in 1996 to replace the T-5R – a favourite of high-speed traffic police – and while it wasn’t a direct successor to the limited-edition model, the 850R shared fearsome performance figures.
Its turbocharged inline ‘five’ helps to see away the 0-60mph dash in just 6.5 secs, propelling the ‘flying brick’ to a top speed of nearly 160mph.
Despite aesthetics that suggest its main purpose is to ferry the kids to football practice or take the dogs to the park, the 850R became one of the most unlikely sporting success of the decade, regularly doing battle in the British Touring Car Championship and surprising with its turn of speed and competent handling.
However, it remains relatively subtle: apart from the R badge on the boot, among the only giveaways to the 850R’s outrageous performance are its alloy wheels and low-profile tyres.
The 1996 example we’ve found for sale owes its low mileage and fine condition to a life spent in Japan. And while its four-speed automatic gearbox makes it slightly slower than the manual version, the difference is negligible.
1. 1994 Audi RS2 – £39,940
Those looking for the ultimate modern classic super estate need look no further than Audi’s RS2 Avant – the firm’s first RS car and the model that established the company as a leading manufacturer of performance vehicles.
The RS2 was built between 1994 and 1995 in conjunction with Porsche, being assembled at Zuffenhausen’s Rossle-Bau factory, home of the legendary 959. And boy did it show.
At its heart, the RS2 was powered by the most advanced version of Audi’s five-cylinder engine, breathed upon by Porsche to the tune of 311bhp.
Coupled with Audi’s quattro four-wheel-drive system, the weighty wagon could rival the McLaren F1 to 30mph, hitting 60mph in just 4.8 secs and on to a dizzying top speed of 162mph.
All that performance comes at a fairly high price, though. Still, of all the cars in our list, it’s the RS2 that offers the best likelihood of making money in the long run.