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BMW 3 Series Touring review (2012 onwards)
What: BMW 3 Series Touring (2012 onwards)
Where: Munich, Germany
Date: July 2012
Price: £29,380 - £37,700
Available: September 2012
We like: Largest-in-class load space, performance, chassis
We don't like: Lack of six-cylinder petrol engines, more expensive than rivals
BMW's junior exec gets space to match its pace. It's the fastest and most fun way to lug a load.
Key rivals: Audi A4 Avant, Mercedes-Benz C-Class Estate, Honda Accord Tourer, Toyota Avensis Tourer
The BMW 3 Series Touring (that's estate to you and me) pioneered the fast junior executive load-lugging sector back when the E30 3 Series estate debuted in 1988. Four generations later, we're presented with the fifth incarnation of the Bavarian firm's practical but premium mover of people and stuff.
It's evolved - getting bigger over the years - but also faster, safer, more practical and crucially in today's day and age, more efficient. Gone are the six-cylinder motors, signalling to some that the 3er estate has lost its USP next to the four-cylinder boxes from Audi and Mercedes.
Not so from our point of view. The new car looks great - reserved and applicable to all occasions - and still drives like a BMW should: with gusto and poise. But is it still the best compromise between practicality and performance?
Just like the 3 Series saloon, in the Touring there's no multi-tonal six-cylinder rumble emanating from under the bonnet. Instead, all the petrol engines in the line-up are turbocharged four cylinders.
In typically confusing BMW nomenclature, the 328i is a 245hp 2.0-litre turbo four. With 258lb ft of torque developed at 1,250rpm and sustained to 4,800rpm it's more than brisk, but it never feels truly fast even though 0-62mph takes six seconds dead - possibly because the engine revs in such a linear fashion, despite its forced induction.
The motor isn't a six-cylinder, so we won't compare it to one, but the noise it makes isn't particularly inspiring. It sounds a touch pained at high revs despite little vibration or harshness permeating into the cabin.
The optional eight-speed auto makes the most of what the engine has to give, thanks to its close ratios and swift, smooth swapping of cogs, and is noticeably different in its programming in each of the different driving modes.
'Eco' is a little more sluggish, with a softer throttle response and early up changes, while 'Sport' gives you a snappier accelerator pedal and shifts. It's a versatile car, the Touring, so it's nice to be presented with options on how to drive it.
We didn't get chance to test the likely best-selling model - the 320d - but given how the 328i powertrain integrates with the added weight of the Touring, the diesel will doubtless be a strong performer.
Ride and handling
The Touring doesn't feel like a big car to drive. There's very little sense that you've got any added mass following you around over the saloon. It rides in a similar fashion to the saloon, too - if anything, its longer wheelbase means it's calmer and more composed.
The last generation 3 Series - both saloon and Touring - was criticised for their choppy ride. BMW cured that with the new generation F30 3er and now they've gone and done it again with the F31 estate.
Soaking up the worst of the ripples
Over some rather technical and varied roads around Munich the Touring's chassis proved capable of soaking up the worst of the ripples, but also engaging the driver and providing decent feedback.
The steering is nicely direct and you feel at home with the car's dimensions straight away - it allows you to confidently place the vehicle on the road. As speeds increase BMW's obsession with weight distribution becomes apparent and the Touring feels nicely balanced.
Only if you provoke it in a ham-fisted overly aggressive direction change do you really get an idea you're in an estate (that and looking in the rear view mirror, of course) but the chances of that happening in the real world are slim. And even when it does, the big 3er copes admirably.
Apart from the obvious addition of the bigger boot the Touring is identical to the saloon inside. That means the same brilliant ergonomics and driver-focused feel, as well as an interior swathed in soft-touch materials and leather. It's nice in here.
Another golf bag into the boot
The above is actually not strictly true as the estate boasts 17mm more legroom and 9mm more headroom than the saloon respectively.
The rationale of this car is its space and practicality and the estate version of BMW's smallest saloon offers a whopping 1,500 litres of boot space with the 40:20:40 split-folding rear seats down.
It's the joint best-in-class with the C-Class Estate and betters the A4 Avant by 70 litres: not a huge amount, but it could be the difference between getting a push chair or another golf bag into the boot.
Economy and safety
If you were going to compare the new 328i to a traditional six-cylinder, this is where it wins. The 2.0-litre engine returns 41.5mpg combined with 159g/km CO2 emissions - figures a previous generation 330i could never live up to.
The 320d returns 61.4mpg (more than the Audi or Mercedes can muster) when driving through the optional eight-speed auto, with 122g/km CO2 meaning it falls into the £100 annual road tax bracket.
It's safe too. The saloon gets a maximum five stars from Euro NCAP and is noted for its decent all-round protection across all of the tests. Expect the Touring to replicate this performance.
The MSN Cars verdict
The 3 Series Touring is one of the most versatile cars on sale today. You can go pretty quickly indeed down your favourite road with little compromise in terms of speed and dynamic abilities over the saloon, but take a load more stuff with you.
At £29,380 for the entry-level 320d SE model, it's more expensive than the corresponding Audi A4 Avant by £605 - but offers more boot space - yet it's £125 cheaper than the equivalent (less powerful) Mercedes-Benz C-Class Estate.
It's horses for courses, then. If you're already an Audi or a Merc person, you'll probably end up staying faithful to the brand, but to us, the BMW 3 Series Touring is still the best way to lug a load.
Need to know
Engines, petrol: 2.0 four-cylinder turbo
Engines, diesel: 2.0 four-cylinder turbo, 3.0 six-cylinder turbo
Power: 184 - 258hp
Torque: 258 - 413lb ft
0-62mph: 5.6 - 7.7 secs
Top speed: 143 - 155mph (electronically limited)
MPG, combined: 41.5 - 61.4
CO2: 122 - 159g/km
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