Published on Monday 20 May 2013 13:00
Ten Second Review
The fifth generation of BMW's 3 Series Touring holds no great surprises to those who understand the narrative of this model. It's not the most accomplished load lugger in its class but it's the best drive and offers the most efficiency. That'll be enough to clinch the deal for most who just hanker after a 3 Series with a hatchback.
Conventional wisdom dictates that estate cars are designed for people who can't fit all the paraphernalia of modern life inside a conventional saloon or hatchback model. You'd certainly imagine that an estate would require a lot more space than the saloon on which it is based in order to justify its own existence but, particularly in the compact executive sector where BMW's 3 Series Touring competes, it isn't always that straightforward. It will be a surprise for most people to learn that many compact executive estate cars are only fractionally roomier than their saloon equivalents and some even have less space out back.
Estate buyers in this sector are also asked to pay around £1,300 more for the privilege. That's extra money for extra space. How much extra space? With the rear seats in place just 15 litres over the saloon. Or around three per cent extra. You don't, in other words, buy this car for its luggage cramming talents. You buy it because you want the capability in hand and also because it's a little more 'lifestyle' and a little less 'field sales' than the standard 3 Series saloon.
The well-versed themes of the 3 Series are present and correct in this latest generation Touring. The car in question is rear wheel drive, it features a very meticulously balanced weight distribution, and, as a result, BMW is keen to position this Touring as the best model to drive in its class. What has changed in recent years is a clearer focus on efficiency and this generation Touring campaigns with some hugely impressive engines.
As for engines, well there are plenty of tempting options. All the volume four cylinder diesel models share a 2.0-litre diesel in different states of tune that delivers 116bhp in the 316d, 143bhp in the 318d and either 163 or 184bhp in the 320d. Petrol people meanwhile, get a choice of two engines. First, there's the 1.6-litre TwinPower unit from the 1 Series that offers 136bhp in the 316i or 170bhp in the 320i EfficientDynamics model. Then you've the impressive 2.0-litre petrol unit that offers up either 184bhp in a 320i variant that comes with either two or four-wheel drive - or as much as 245bhp if you go for the 328i. If you're wondering about six cylinder engines, well yes, you can talk to your dealer about those in either diesel or petrol form. The top 335i petrol unit develops a throaty 306bhp, while the 330d diesel puts out 258bhp and a massive 560Nm of torque.
Design and Build
It won't surprise you to learn that from the front bumper to the B-pillar, the 3 Series Touring is identical to the saloon model. From the side, this generation 3 Series Touring is defined by a sweeping silhouette, with a gently sloping roofline and glasshouse that extends to the rear of the vehicle. The latest car is 97mm longer overall and 50mm longer in the wheelbase with a 48mm wider track than before, giving it a purposeful and planted stance. The rakish D pillars and the traditional 'Hofmeister kink' to the rear window line leave bystanders in no doubt as to what badge this car sports on its bonnet.
We've touched on the fact that at 495-litres capacity with the seats in place, this latest Touring offers only a nominal increase in carrying ability over a saloon, but the entrance aperture is a lot bigger, allowing you to transport bulkier objects that much easier. The rear loading sill is just 620mm off the ground and the luggage bay gets securing lugs, a pair of coat hooks, a luggage net and strap and a deep storage compartment on the left-hand side of the load area. The luggage cover can be stored under the boot floor when removed, while the rear seats have a 40:20:40 split. A sizeable through-loading hole in the centre adds versatility.
Fold the rear seats down and there's up to 1,500 litres of space on offer and a near-level load floor means sliding large items in isn't too tricky. An electrically powered boot, controlled either via the key fob, a switch on the A-pillar or a button on the boot itself is standard and the rear glass can also open independently of the tailgate. In addition, customers can specify optional storage packs, roof transport systems, a trailer hitch and the 'Smart Opener' feature where the boot can be opened with the motion of a strategically placed foot beneath the rear bumper.
Market and Model
The Touring range shares the same trim structure as the saloon models, although you may not be immediately familiar with some of the model designations. Equipment levels have been beefed up (as they needed to be) and the model line up changes quite markedly. The popular 'ES' and 'SE' will be again available, whilst 'Sport' and 'M Sport' are targeted at the more enthusiastic driver and 'Modern' and 'Luxury' are different takes on the sophisticated compact premium saloon. Even the base 'ES' (which is only available on 316d), gets 17-inch light alloy wheels, automatic air-conditioning, Bluetooth, BMW Professional radio with 6.5-inch colour screen and iDrive, keyless starting, USB, a multi-function leather steering wheel, cruise control and automatic boot opening.
Expect to pay from just under £30,000 for an entry-level 320d Touring. You'll need a significantly bigger wallet for the 330d model, which opens at around £35,000 while the 328i looks decent value kicking off at just over £30,000. Yes, prices have crept up quite markedly, but the car is bigger and offers more equipment, so it doesn't sound signally inferior value. It's just worth remembering that more rivals now undercut it.
Cost of Ownership
Although the upfront price might be a bit of a hurdle for some, the 3 Series Touring looks as if it will prove a fairly cost-effective car to own. They're no longer the cast iron financial prospect they used to be - the laws of supply and demand have seen to that - but if residuals have softened a bit, then the improved efficiency of the latest cars make up for it. Even the thirstiest of the Touring models on offer, the petrol-powered 328i, will return 41.5mpg and emits just 159g/km of carbon dioxide. That's quite remarkable for a car this quick.
The 320d will be the model most Touring customers plump for and it's not hard to see why. Up to 61.4mpg is attainable with emissions pinned down to 122g/km, even in the non-EfficientDynamics model. The powerhouse 330d wears its additional pair of cylinders lightly at the pumps, managing over 55mpg and emitting just 135g/km. All 3 Series Tourings come as standard with Auto Start-Stop function, Brake Energy Regeneration and the ECO PRO function to aid with economical driving. Advanced ancillary units, such as the on-demand coolant pump and the electronically controlled oil pump, further enhance intelligent energy management.
The 3 Series Touring has long been one of the quiet achievers in BMW's model range. It might just be the lowest key car the German giant sells but it's also one of the most impressive. Look behind the low-key styling and the almost non-existent promotion and you find a car that does so much so well. What's more, estate car buyers usually have a sense of the pragmatic and will appreciate the great strides BMW have made in terms of efficiency. It used to be that nothing really got close to a 3 Series in this regard. The gap has narrowed in recent years, but this 3 Series Touring still astonishes in offering sports car straight line speed with supermini fuel and tax bills.
We usually have a reservation or two about every new 3 Series generation. These tend to be proven groundless after a year or two, BMW's designers taking great pleasure in demonstrating that they were one or two steps ahead of the game. I'm not sure whether finding a first look at this latest Touring model almost universally to my liking means it's not as avant garde as we're used to or whether BMW's product people are just better tuned into customer expectations. Whichever, I think you'll like it too.