Sue Hamon Watt wants to replace the family's R-reg Peugeot 806 with an estate car, which she thinks is more dog-friendly. They are a tall family: Sue is almost 6ft, with two strapping 6ft 5in teenage sons, a 6ft 3 in husband and a more modestly proportioned 10-year-old daughter. As well as needing space to pack them all in, the car will have to go on several university runs over the next few years.

Sue is right that people-carriers are not necessarily the answer to everyone's accommodation needs. Dogs in particular can be short-changed when it comes to space and a decent view out. Of course, the Hamon Watts only need to occupy five out of a possible seven seats, so going for a people-carrier and then rearranging the seats is certainly an option. However, there are a lot of very good estate cars on the market which are superbly thought out.

I'll presume that the whole family, including the dog, won't be involved when packing youngsters off to university, otherwise I'd be recommending an articulated lorry. There is a breed of vehicle that is the effectively adapted van, such as the Renault Kangoo and Citroen Berlingo; but for all those six-footers and the dog, despite sliding seats it will still be a squeeze.

There really is no substitute for the whole family being part of the buying process. It sounds obvious but the Hamon Watts all need to make sure that they can fit inside whatever vehicle they ultimately choose. In theory, a Volvo V70 ought to be perfect, but I don't think they will have enough rear legroom.

A car for the head

In sheer value-for-money terms it is hard to look further than the Citroen C5 estate. Boot access is through a wide hatch or even by opening the rear screen. The boot itself has a large, flat floor. Significantly, that sill can be moved, thanks to the hydraulic suspension system which lowers the rear even further.

The unevenly split seats are useful, as are the seat bases which can be removed to boost luggage space still further. That clever suspension is also self-levelling, whatever the load in the back, and it delivers a fantastically smooth and comfortable ride. The best engines are diesels and the larger 2.2 Hdi makes the most sense; it is powerful enough and frugal at almost 50mpg overall.

The level of equipment is high, with lots of things you need such as air conditioning, and gimmicks such as rain-sensitive wipers. The great news is that most UK car brokers can get at least £3,000 to £4,000 off; and Citroen dealers always have cashback deals that mean great value for money. I firmly believe the six-footers should be fine in the back of what is an incredibly spacious interior.

A car for the heart

When it comes to XXL estates there is none better than the Mercedes E Class. It is possible to pay over £40K for a brand new one, but it is better to go for the last-generation E class. It may look dated but it will be cheaper (under £20K) and just as effective at lugging loads, people and dogs. In practical terms, it is hard to beat, and in headroom and legroom terms it will easily take four adults.

A 10-year-old girl should be OK in the middle seat, despite the fact that there is a transmission tunnel for the rear-wheel-drive layout; and it is right to assume that the vehicle won't be fully occupied all of the time because of university commitments. Still the rear load deck is flat, even with the rear seats folded. It is truly massive at the back. The boot alone is 538 litres, and with the rear seats folded it is 1,974 litres; so there is lots of room for dog and luggage.

Ideally Sue should go for the smooth automatic gearbox; this will be standard with a diesel engine, which is the power plant she should go for. An E320 Cdi should be smooth and powerful and deliver an average of 35mpg.

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