The 3-series Touring is a massively important car to UK buyers: BMW GB expects to shift over 35,000 new-shape 3-series in 2013, and 8000 of them will sport that fifth door. On sale in the UK from September, the fifth generation of BMW’s posh load lugger is 97mm longer than before, and measures 50mm longer between the wheels.
Some of that extra space benefits rear passengers, a whopping 17mm extra knee room in the back banishing fears of DVT forever. More usefully, boot space is up by 35 litres, pushing overall capacity to 495 litres with the seats up and 1500 litres when they’re folded flat. No one is going to quibble about the odd litre, but it does give BMW bragging rights over the 490/1430-litre Audi A4 and Avant and 485/1500 litre Mercedes C-class. Carried over is the last Touring’s separate lift-up glass window, a brilliant idea that’s far more useful in practice than it sounds. Why other manufacturers – Land Rover aside – have yet to pick up on it, is a mystery.
Unusually, the tailgate comes electrically operated as standard. I normally can’t stand the things, which take an age to open and shut, but the BMW’s version at least makes it easy to override the motor when you’re in a hurry. A ‘smart opener’, part of the Comfort Access option pack, even opens it for you in response to a waved shoe under the rear bumper, a boon for mafia hitmen fed up with having to put down a freshly whacked body just to unlock the boot before stashing the corpse. The boot itself is a great shape, with a flat floor, low load-sill, only the most modest of wheelarch intrusions, and a 40-20-40 split seatback. And it’s all been achieved without compromising the style one bit. In fact, to our eyes, the Touring is by far the more elegant car.
Elegance probably isn’t topping the list of fleet buyers picking the 3-series for their reps in the UK, but economy is. BMW thinks the biggest seller will be the 320d, which manages to combine 60mpg fuel consumption and a whispering 124g/km of CO2, with the ability to sprint from 0-62mph in 7.7sec. It’s an incredible engine, but we’ll have to presume it drives as well as it does in the saloon because the only cars available to try at the Touring launch were 328is fitted with BMW’s twin-power turbocharged 2.0 petrol.
At £30,400 before options, the 328i requires £1020 deeper pockets than the 320d and though incredibly clean by petrol standards, its 45mpg and 159g/km stats mean it won’t make much of a dent in the sales figures. But it is quick little tool, hitting 62mph in 6.0sec and requiring the fitment of an electronic limiter to curb its autobahn enthusiasm. Shame it doesn’t sound as sexy as a six. Denied – for the first few months of production, at least - the 16d, 18d, 20i and 35i engines offered in the saloon, the only other engine available to Touring buyers at launch is the 330d. Unlike the 320d and 328i, this one comes only with a ZF eight-speed auto, and costs a steep £34,700, but 55mpg and 5.6sec to 62mph sounds like ample compensation.
Doubtless the Touring suffers a crucial 0.9% reduction in agility from behind the wheel of the new Touring compared with the saloon, but without driving the two together, it’s hard to believe the wagon suffers at all. Among options, the adaptive dampers are worth the splurge, but we’d stick with the standard steering over the variable gear rack. Do that and you’ve got yourself a nicely balanced car with a reasonably supple ride that is fun to drive, grippy and doesn’t fall apart when pushed. The saloon’s Sport, Modern, Luxury and M Sport trim packages are also available here in addition to the basic ES and posher SE variants.
The latest 3-series is our favourite junior exec, and on this showing, the handsome, roomy Touring version is now our favourite Three. Mated with the super-frugal 20d engine, it has to be one of the best cars currently on sale. The verdict: five stars.