Luxury wagons such as the new BMW 3 Series Touring remain relatively niche models in Australia, struggling to match their popularity in Europe as Australians mostly snub them in favour of SUVs.
BMW, for example, is only hoping to convince a paltry 500 Australians a year to forgo the ever-popular SUV for the traditional family hauler.
Granted, Aussie buyers won’t get the all-wheel drive capability (available in Europe), or ride height, but what you will get is almost as much load space and some of the best on-road dynamics on the market.
If you're after practicality, the 3 Series offers plenty.
Based on the same platform as BMW’s best-selling sixth-generation (F30) 3 Series sedan, the latest 3 Series Touring has been redesigned with more space, more power and even more efficiency.
From the nose back to the B-pillar, the 3 Series Touring is identical to that of its sedan sibling, but with 97mm added to the car’s overall length and 50mm to its wheelbase, there’s now extra room for passengers and luggage alike.
Offering 495 litres with the rear seatbacks up and a class-leading 1500 litres with them folded, the new model’s luggage capacity has not only grown by 35 litres, there’s also some very clever new storage solutions.
The standard storage package across the 3 Series Touring range includes a three-way split/folding rear seat bench, along with an adaptive fixing system that allows for multiple load sizes to be securely and easily fastened in the boot.
There’s also the usual compilation of storage hooks, cargo nets and under-floor storage compartments.
Also new to the latest BMW 3 Series Touring is as an electrically operated split tailgate that can be optioned with an additional opening solution that requires an air kick under the rear valence to activate, which is hugely convenient if you’re loaded up with dozens of grocery bags.
Even the load cover blind can be conveniently stored under the floor, replacing the spare wheel - although the 3 Series Touring is shod with run-flat tyres.
It’s a spacious cabin and the rear bench will seat three adults (two comfortably) with just enough leg and headroom for an acceptable pass mark for longer journeys.
Our test sample was equipped with the Sports line package, which includes superbly comfortable front sports seats that never fail to hold you in place during the most demanding driving.
Adding some character to BMW’s usual austere facia was a blend of high-gloss black plastic and brushed-metal, which at least made it interesting, but it still can’t match Audi or Benz in this regard.
The $58,900 entry-level 318d is also no straight-line firecracker. Its four-cylinder turbo-diesel manages a 0-100km/h sprint in 9.2 seconds when you stand on it.
That’s not to say that it doesn’t kick out the stops, because it surely does, especially along some of the finest, curviest and less-travelled roads Adelaide has to offer.
With 320Nm of torque coming on-song from 1750rpm, there’s more than enough twist to keep the 318d from ever feeling properly tardy. The standard eight-speed auto assists in this regard.
It’s also pleasantly refined and engine noise is remarkably well insulated from the cockpit.
We also sampled the $62,600 320i petrol version, equipped with a 135kW/270Nm 2.0-litre twin-scroll turbocharged petrol engine, which is a step up from the 318d in the performance stakes.
Throttle response is excellent, thanks to a combination of direct injection, variable valve management and variable camshaft control systems – providing enough oomph to go from 100km/h in a sprightly 7.5 seconds.
It’s more fun than the diesel too, as both petrol models get steering wheel mounted paddleshifters that put the driver in control of the shift points – especially good while in the Sport+ mode.
If that’s not enough juice for the family chariot, there’s also the range-topping BMW 328i, priced from $69,900, which will arrive here in May. Featuring the same 2.0-litre turbo petrol as its 320i sibling, but tuned to deliver 180kW and 350Nm of power, it can sprint from 0-100km/h is 6.0 seconds flat.
But it’s not just the pace that causes this reviewer to smile so broadly; it’s the 3 Series Touring’s handling and ride that deserves applause. But with a caveat.
The Adaptive M Suspension has proved to be a must-have option, boosting the new 3 Series’ handling beyond some dynamic issues with the standard suspension (which wasn’t available to test on launch) for an additional $1400 to the final sales price.
The electronically controlled damping system continuously adjusts the damper mapping to the road surface and driving style, allowing drivers to switch between three settings: comfort, sport and sport+. The wagon turns in sharply with plenty of front end bite from the tyres, and it sits flat through corners.
The electric steering is quick (though it lacks real feedback) and the car is completely untroubled over any road surface.
That also translates into excellent ride quality.
Regardless of road surface, the 3 Series wagon deals adeptly with all compressions and bumps.
With sharper handling, better efficiency and cleaner power delivery compared with – all with comparable levels of storage – the BMW 3 Series Touring does beg the question of how long buyers can remain transfixed by the lure of a lofty ride height and a set of underused tractor tyres.