► New 3er estate bigger, more practical
► SE, Sport, M-Sport and Plus Edition trim choice
► Great to drive, lots of clever tech
BMWs are a funny looking bunch these days, aren’t they? Leaving us in a situation where this new 3 Series Touring is potentially the most attractive vehicle the firm currently makes – the extra rear bodywork and glasshouse reducing the slightly too Lexus appearance of the 3 Series saloon’s back end, and better balancing that toast-rack grille.
Just us? Fair enough.
Regardless, the all-star one-two punch here is the combo between the latest 3 Series dynamics and the added Touring practicality – polishing off the opposition with a coup de gracein the form of some clever details that actually promise to make a difference in day-to-day life.
That we’ve been driving the outstandingly all-round capable 330d xDrive merely rams this all home like a Saturn V rocket.
What do you mean by clever details?
There are some obvious expectations about a new estate car, starting with the likelihood that it will have a bigger boot that the old one. The 3er obliges, with the regular load area up five litres to 500 overall, and the seats-down space gaining 10 litres to a total of 1510 – still about the same as A4 Avant or C-Class Estate, but way less than a Passat or Octavia.
However, Touring fans will be pleased to note BMW has retained the pop-open rear window that allows access to the boot in tight spaces, and no doubt appreciate that all the boot-related openings are bigger (including the one for that window) and squarer, to make loading easier.
Better yet, disregarding the hidden cubbies and under-floor storage (now large enough to swallow the load cover), the primary load space that you actually use – you know, the bit you find when you open the tailgate and chuck stuff in – is 32 litres larger than before. A decent upgrade.
Passenger space is also improved, with extra leg and headroom, especially in the rear.
But the meeting we’d have really liked to have attended is the one where someone walked in with the idea for the new anti-slip rails for the boot floor.
Our top choice of must have option, these are metal rails with rubber inserts that line-up in parallel with the length of the car.
The metal part means you can slide heavy stuff on them, avoiding the drag of the carpet – but the clever thing is the rubber section, which lies dormant until you shut the tailgate (which is power-operated as standard, incidentally).
Boot shut, each of the rubber pieces raises itself up a couple of millimetres to grip said stuff, and theoretically preventing it from sliding around as you investigate the BMW’s lateral grip levels.
It’s an awesomely over-complicated solution to stopping your gear smashing itself to pieces at the first hint of heavy braking. (BMW – you do know you could do the same with a net, right?)
What’s the new 3-series Touring like to drive?
Even without the opportunity to test the rest of the range, which runs from 318d to M340i, the 330d is going to take some beating.
The only 330 engine to still enjoy a 3.0-litre straight six – the 330i is a 2.0-litre four-pot these days – the Touring’s top diesel option at launch is an utter delight, right from the moment you fire it up and accelerate out into traffic.
It’s not just the immediacy of the thrust – which with 261bhp and 428lb ft is substantial and convincingly relentless, with no perceptible wait for turbo spooling at all – but also the noise, which is a wonderfully woofly six-cylinder growl in the best BMW tradition. Unobtrusive but ever-present, in a reminder-that-you-congratulated-yourself-with-the-big-engine sort of way.
Combined with the standard eight-speed auto and the optional xDrive 4WD (you can’t actually buy a RWD 330d initially, but they are set to follow later), this punches out 0-62mph in 5.4 seconds and achieves three-figure speeds with enormously satisfying ease.
The gearbox is basically unflappable – though it gets a little abrupt with its upshifts in Sport Plus mode – while outside of assuring massive traction, the xDrive very rarely makes its ability to power-up the front wheels obvious in the dry.
In fact, this latest version is apparently self-learning – meaning the more you treat it like a rear-wheel drive car, the more it will behave like one.
Whether this will come as a shock to your other half one morning, when it unexpectedly spits them off a roundabout because you’ve been out hooning the night before, we’re not sure. But it seems the days of cars driving in an absolutely consistent manner are well and truly over. C’est la vie.
But does the Touring handle well?
Cripes, yes. Whatever the xDrive is doing behind the scenes – and this car has the optional, electronically controlled M Differential at the back as well – the end result on a baking hot day in Germany is a great deal of entertainment.
To recap some details from the saloon, the latest 3 Series has a 43mm wider front track, 21mm wider rear track, an extra 41mm in the wheelbase, and a hell of a lot more aluminium in its construction to keep the weight down – much of which is in the suspension, where it makes an even bigger difference.
As such, the Touring is around 10kg lighter than the old one, and although a hefty 85kg or so heavier than the saloon, still has 50:50 weight distribution. Overall its structure is 25% stiffer (in places it’s 50%), which helps all the driving hardware work even better.
It is beautifully balanced, and if the steering isn’t the last word in intimacy it is certainly super-quick, and the weighting in the Sport driving settings is perfectly in sync with this engine and drivetrain – allowing you to instantly carry bold speeds through switchback corners with scarcely believable confidence.
The lighter steering settings are surprisingly different, though, which just goes to show what you can do with software these days. We found the vagueness around the straight-ahead position unnerving here, so spent pretty much all of the time in Sport Plus mode.
Presumably the suspension is mega hard?
Not in the test car, as it was equipped with the M Adaptive suspension option – the top choice of the three available in the Touring.
M Adaptive uses fully electronically controlled shocks, but even the standard setup now features something called ‘lift-related’ dampers, which have variable load paths for greater breadth of ability. The middle M Sport option is the same as this, only with a 10mm height reduction and extra stiffness, including for the anti-roll bars.
First impressions suggest you should go M Adaptive if you can. All cued-up with the other electronically activated chassis components and capable of individually modulating the behaviour at each corner of the car, this delivers sweet body control and huge grip levels while largely allowing you to ignore poor quality surfaces.
Put the M Adaptive together with the xDrive, this engine and the finely tuned steering, and you’ve got an estate car that proves hugely real-world fast and hugely flattering – enveloping the driver in an immense warm blanket of competence and joy.
What about the BMW estate's interior?
This is now a total tech-fest. The top spec BMW Live Cockpit Professional array fitted here gives you a 10.25-inch central touchscreen display and a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, the new ‘BMW Operating System 7.0’ infotainment software, and the new ‘BWW Intelligent Personal Assistant’ – which is a ‘Hey BMW’ voice-control interface.
There’s also a head-up display, iDrive rotary controller (doubles as a touch pad, of course) and gesture control (now with seven gestures), and yet still a puzzling amount of conventional buttons – on the centre console and the steering wheel. Add that all up, and there are at least five ways of performing some functions now, which is just showing off.
Shame the overall interior design seems a little bland, the digital instrument cluster looks rather generic and the ‘intelligent’ assistant didn’t prove very intelligent at all during the launch drive in Germany.
Uniquely, BMW allows you to relabel this, so instead of ‘Hey BMW’ you can set it to respond to Hey something else – presumably good news if you’re the kind of person who names their car.
We could live without this, the optional built-in dashcam – called the BMW Drive Recorder – and the parking tech that means you can tell the car to reverse back the way you’ve just driven without any assistance from you on the steering wheel.
We did enjoy the Tesla-style car sensor perception display, which gives you a graphical representation of what the 3 Series is detecting around it, and were impressed by the smooth operation of the active safety tech. Both of which are clearly precursors to extended autonomous driving capability, something BMW may be planning to roll out ‘over-the-air’ in the future, as the 3er now has remote update technology (like a Tesla) as well.
Putting PC World to one side, the driving position is great, with plenty of adjustment, the seats the go super-low, and the acoustic windscreen and foam-filled a-pillars make for quiet cruising.
BMW 3-series: verdict
Considering a 330d Touring with xDrive? Then stop considering and just buy it. As a driver’s tool it blows away most opposition in this sector, it’ll satisfy any tech fetish, and the practicality improvements reaffirm that this estate is much more than just a pretty face.
As if pretty has ever been an appropriate word for a BMW.