BMW IS BACK WITH A TOUR DE FORCE
German carmaker’s latest model offers a stronger package for those who don’t like to pack light
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. In this case, you get only 15-litres more boot capacity than you would in the saloon, despite a near-£1,500 price premium.
But then you don’t buy a car of this kind for its luggage-cramming talents. Yes, you want a bit of practicality but if you’re a typical customer, you’ll be more interested in the fact that the estate bodystyle is a little more ‘ lifestyle’ and a little less ‘field sales’ than a saloon is perceived to be. BMW has traded on this for years with the 3 Series Touring, as has Audi with its A4 Avant and Mercedes with its C- Class Estate. With both these two German rivals now usefully improved, BMW needed to up its game. Let’s see if it has.
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.
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 version. 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 headlights have also been tinkered with, LED indicators now acting as eyebrows across the top of the light units. The cabin has had a similarly light touch applied to it, with a splash of chrome here and a high-gloss surface there.
This latest Touring model offers only a nominal increase in carrying ability over the saloon version, but the entrance aperture is a lot bigger, allowing you to transport bulkier objects that much more easily.
Market and Model
The cost to get yourself this Touring estate version of the 3 Series — rather than the saloon version — is just under £1,500. That means pricing that starts at around £26,500 for the petrol range and just under £29,000 for the diesel line-up. The Touring range shares the same trim structure as the saloon models, SE, Sport, Luxury and M Sport. Equipment levels have been beefed up (as they needed to be) and all versions of this car get a very complete tally.
Even in SE trim, this runs to alloy wheels of at least 17-inches in size, a chrome-trimmed exhaust, LED daytime running lights, LED rear lights, tyre pressure monitoring and auto headlamps and wipers. Inside, you’ll find two-zone air conditioning, Bluetooth, cruise control, a BMW Business Navigation system, a high quality stereo system with DAB tuner, a multi-function leather-trimmed steering wheel and BMW’S ‘Emergency Call’ system, there to automatically alert the emergency services should you have an accident.
Cost of Ownership
BMW has concentrated on improving the efficiency of the 3 Series Touring and there are benefits right across the board. The three-cylinder petrol engine in the 318i variant records CO2 emissions that can be as little as 133g/ km in manual form, or as little as 129g/ km with the eight-speed Steptronic transmission fitted, a big improvement over the previous BMW 316i. Fuel consumption is equally impressive, with the 318i Touring returning 49.6mpg in manual form. Of course, most UK customers will look to the diesel engines and they’re not going to be disappointed. For example, the 316d Touring manual model returns up to 64.2mpg in manual form, with CO2 emissions of 116g/km.
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 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 with this improved version 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.
Plus ,of course, this model retains its unique selling point, something that no other prestigious compact estate in this segment can offer — rear wheel drive. If you’re an enthusiast, you’ll appreciate the benefits at once the first time you throw the car into a corner. Even if you’re not, you might notice more responsiveness through the turns than you might usually expect from a car of this type. With contenders in this class so closely matched, it’s the sort of thing that might tip the balance BMW’S way. Try a Touring and you’ll see why.