Popularity counts for a lot in today’s new car scene and the BMW 3-Series Touring, of which over 500,000 examples of the previous iteration found contented homes, writes Iain Robertson, has been reintroduced in lighter, even more efficient form.
Introduced on the second series (E30) of BMW’s compact model line, the 1987 Touring was seen as a major innovation at the time. It targeted the growing ‘lifestyle’ segment of the market that seemed to desire estate cars more than saloons, or coupes. In fact, over 1.7m 3-Series estates, or Tourings, have been produced over the past 32 years of the model’s existence, which serves to underscore its value to BMW.
Zipping (legally!) around the New Forest’s out-of-season and uncluttered roads provided ample proof of BMW’s fulfilled search for product enhancements at almost every level. The new model is aerodynamically smoother, boasts improved cabin space, features greater levels of practicality and is lighter than before, which helps its suspension to be significantly more compliant. Although Hampshire’s back-doubles are in quite good condition, considering the immense amount of holiday traffic they must contend with, the surfaces feature some unusually sharp transverse ridges and also longer amplitude bumps, over the moorland, both of which provide a real test for any vehicle’s suspension.
While I have complained in the past about BMW’s autobahn-smooth ride potential, which is wrecked the instant any surface imperfections are introduced, by far too stiff damper settings, tapping-in the COMFORT switch (centre console) on the latest 3-Series results in a marvellously smooth response, which suggests that BMW has finally listened to the gripes of British drivers. Having said that, tapping on the Sport button results in a markedly firmer set-up. The alternative ECO-PRO setting is as compliant as COMFORT.
It may come as no surprise to understand that the Touring has grown by 76mm to 4,709mm in length, by 16mm to 1,827mm in width and by 11mm to 1,440mm in height. Its wheelbase has also been extended by 41mm to 2,851mm, plus 43mm has been added to the front track (1,587 mm) and 21mm to the rear track (1,604mm). Its glossy snout is the same as latest versions of the 3-Series Saloon, headlined by a large BMW kidney grille, slim twin headlights and a jutting front apron. Both elements of the BMW grille are framed by a single surround, while the headlight units extend all the way up to the grille, emphasised by a notch in the front apron that rises into the headlight unit contours. Adaptive LED headlights with U-shaped daytime running lights are standard, while Laserlights featuring blue, L-shaped elements in the inner and outer light sources, are available at additional cost. I am informed, due to the fact that I did not drive the 3-Series nocturnally, that the laser lighting option provides an even spread of intense illumination, without glare.
The cockpit is typically driver-focused, with controls arranged to help the driver to concentrate on the road ahead, much as BMW has provided ergonomically for many years. A new design of instrument cluster forms a large-surfaced, programmable and logical screen grouping. The start/stop button for the engine is now positioned in a control panel in the centre console, where the gearshift lever is joined by the iDrive Controller and the aforementioned buttons to adjust the chassis settings.
SE and Sport models come with black trim, while M Sport features a choice of two aluminium trims as well as a selection of modern open-pore wood trims. Customers choosing the M Sport Plus Edition gain exclusive aluminium high-gloss trim. If anything, the entire dashboard looks as if it has been toned down significantly over previous 3-Series models. It appears to be sparsely laid out and, while all of he controls exist, the layout looks far cleaner than it has for years. Audi has been fitting its range of models with a comprehensive digital display for some time now and I do find it more attractive and less confusing than the BMW set-up.
An automatic tailgate is standard, with its opening height adjustable via the iDrive menu, in case of compromises introduced by a domestic garage, or from reduced height in a multi-storey car park. Comfort Access allows hands-free opening and closing, at extra cost. The rear window opens separately, using the remote-control fob, to allow smaller objects to be placed in the 500-litres boot, where there might be insufficient space to open the tailgate fully. I have always quite liked this convenience feature. The boot is up to 112mm wider than on the previous model, with its loading aperture 30mm higher and up to 125mm wider in the upper section. The load sill is slightly lower (at 616mm) and the step between it and the boot floor has been reduced in height from 35mm to 8mm, to make it much easier to load. The optional anti-slip rails integrated into the boot floor are a new feature and they extend automatically, when the tailgate is closed, to prevent cargo sliding around, returning to their original positions once the engine has been switched off. It is just another of those ‘nice BMW touches’.
Performance levels have been increased across the range and prices start from £35,505 for the 320i version. A largely familiar powerplant, it develops 184bhp, can zip from 0-60mph in 7.3s and boasts a top speed of 143mph, while returning up to 41.5mpg and 132g/km CO2 (WLTP figures). Invest a further £3,790 and you can have the 258bhp 330i, while the sportiest 340i, with X-drive transmission is price-tagged from £50,055. Armed with 374bhp, it will blitz the 0-60mph dash in just 4.2s. The diesels start with the 318d at £35,625, progressing through 320d and 330d variants, with or without the 4WD system.
Conclusion: A fine handling balance and refined ride quality are intriguing marker-posts for the latest Touring version of BMW’s always popular 3-Series. A good choice is provided of four and six-cylinder petrol and diesel engines and both rear and four-wheel drive transmissions.