The more practical variant of BMW\'s trademark 3 Series is a convincing compact luxury wagon.
As the most practical variant of the German company’s next-generation best-seller, where better for a first, overseas test of the 2013 BMW 3 Series Touring than a trip to the European ski fields.
CarAdvice grabbed the keys to the new 3 Series wagon ahead of its local, late-March release in Australia – a timing that sees it follow a year after the all-new sedan.
As we head down the derestricted Autobahn from Munich towards Austria at an effortless 210km/h – 20km/h below our BMW 320d Touring test car’s maximum speed limit due to the fitment of winter tyres – it’s a chance to consider the changes to the longer-roofed 3 Series.
At 4624mm, the latest BMW 3 Series Touring gains a lengthy 97mm over the previous wagon (though is the same size as the sedan that also grew, except for an extra 13mmm of roof height).
With 50mm of that stretch going between the front and rear axles, BMW says an extra 17mm of rear legroom has been created. Boot space also increases – by 35 litres to a best-in-class-claimed 495 litres (with 1500L available if the rear seatbacks are lowered).
That’s useful, as three large suitcases – one each for three occupants – need to be stored there, with the rear seat occupied by one passenger, a ski boot bag and smaller luggage.
Once those bigger items are transferred into the chalet, the 40-20-40 split-fold rear seats make it easy to make a set up that allows for one passenger on one side using armrest from central section, with skis and poles occupying the other part. (Contrary to the official BMW images, they will actually come in handy.)
Every BMW 3 Series Touring comes standard with an automatic tailgate – including an option to open it by aiming a kick under the rear bumper (a trick seen in the next-generation Ford Kuga).
You might also think of another vehicle, such as the Ford Territory, if you use the Touring’s rear window that opens independently that’s handy for quickly grabbing or throwing in smaller items.
The 3 Series wagon gains firmer rear dampers over the sedan, to deal with increased cargo weight (and a Touring that already weights 70kg more than the four-door).
The BMW 3 Series Touring, however, also benefits from the improved suspension suppleness that improves the ride comfort of the new 3 with its predecessor.
Our BMW 320d test car is even fitted with an M suspension that’s firmer and lower than the regular set-up – just one of a myriad options we have fitted that increase the cost of our Touring model by nearly two-thirds.
The suspension is also the adaptive version that comes recommended over the standard 3 Series underpinnings that, on less-than-smooth roads, lack the brilliantly disciplined body control this BMW has become renowned for over the generations.
Switch modes through the Driver Experience Control to Sport or Sport Plus – there’s also Eco Pro for maximum efficiency or Comfort – and the dampers harden noticeably and the steering weighting becomes stiffer.
It’s here where the 3 Series Touring is at its sharpest on the curving roads through the Austrian alps, while Comfort works best when you’re simply looking to, well, tour.
The 2.0-litre turbo diesel four-cylinder of our BMW 320d Touring is a good all-rounder engine, but also at its best cruising – where driver and passengers alike can appreciate its smooth, quiet and torquey nature.
Offering 135kW of power at 4000rpm and 380Nm of torque between 1750 and 2750rpm, it builds speed with purpose – and capable of accelerating to 100km/h in 7.7 seconds.
Gearchanges from the ZF eight-speed auto are typically intuitive and swift.
Over 500-odd kays for the week, the 320d’s trip computer never ventured excessively beyond the vehicle’s official consumption figure of 4.7L/100km.
The diesel’s low-rev tractability certainly made it a pick over an alternative petrol engine during a week of often heavy snowfall.
Combined with the grippy winter tyres, the rear-wheel-drive 320d Touring managed to tackle some uphill snow/ice tracks without the aid of snow chains. (All-wheel drive xDrive 3 Series Touring models are available in Europe.)
The 320d variant is not part of the local line-up unfortunately.
Australia’s insufficient enthusiasm for wagons means just two BMW 3 Series Touring models will be in showrooms, comprising one diesel and one petrol – both featuring stop-start technology.
The 105kW/320Nm BMW 318d Touring diesel will be priced from $58,900. Its consumption is pegged at the same 4.7L/100km figure as the 320d, though is 1.5 seconds slower (9.2sec) in the 0-100km/h run.
If you’re happy to sacrifice some extra expense at the petrol station for more performance, the $62,600 (before on-road costs) 320i Touring slurps 6.2 litres of fuel every 100km but clocks the benchmark sprint in 7.5 seconds.
Both wagons will mimic the standard features and options of their sedan counterparts.
That means the likes of 16-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone climate, intelligent cruise control, rain-sensing wipers, rear parking sensors, auto headlights and Bluetooth connectivity for the BMW 318d Touring.
The BMW 320i Touring adds power front seats, leather sports steering wheel, interior lights package, 17-inch alloy wheels and rear-view camera.
We’ll deliver definitive reviews on those two Touring models when they launch in March, but in the meantime the BMW 320d wagon we tested points to a strong blend of tangible luxury, efficient performance and flexible practicality.