Shout it from the rooftops – wagons are back!
Be it an estate, station wagon, Avant, break, kombi or Touring, like our BMW 318d here, the sedan-based load hauler is seeing somewhat of a buyer renaissance.
More practical and arguably better looking than their sedan or hatch siblings, small wagon variants are being offered by most European manufacturers and, judging by the stunning Kia Sportspace shown at this year’s Geneva motor show, other brands are getting in on the game.
BMW have built a 3 Series-based touring variant since the 1988 E30. Australia’s first taste was in 2000 with the arrival of the E46, and popularity has slowly increased to the current F31 generation.
We drove the entry point of the range, and the line-up’s only diesel option, the $60,800 318d Touring.
Before I go on, I need to note that our test car features the 2014 specification. In February this year, BMW announced that pricing and equipment would be adjusted across the range, and as such a 318d now starts at $63,900.
The 2015-spec car now includes adaptive suspension, heads up display, and front and rear parking sensors with top-view camera. It makes the value equation and level of standard equipment a lot more attractive, but there are still ‘new’ 2014 trim cars available, should you be in the mood for a haggle.
The extended roofline of the Touring sees the side glass stretch to a relatively thin D-pillar near the boot, though, the model’s trademark rear quarter glass ‘hoffmeister kink’ remains.
The power tailgate can open as a complete unit or, for some added convenience, the glass section can be opened independently.
Taking up exactly the same footprint as the 3 Series sedan, the 318d Touring is 65kg heavier than a 320d saloon and a smidge less slippery, this results in a marginally higher claimed consumption figure of 4.7 litres per 100km – the more powerful 320d sedan claiming 4.6L/100km.
The 105kW/320Nm 2.0-litre turbo-diesel is shared with the smaller 118d and is actually the cheapest way to get behind the wheel of an oil-burning 3 Series (a 2014 320d sedan starting at $62,800).
Matched with an eight-speed automatic transmission, the little 3 Series wagon is smooth, economical and easy to drive. It’s no rocket ship, but even in the default ‘Comfort’ mode, the little wagon feels responsive enough at city speeds and kept within urban confines.
Switch to ‘Sport’ and the throttle feels lighter and the car more willing to zip through traffic. It’s never ‘fast’ but it still feels fun.
Erring towards the ‘sportier’ end of the dial as many BMWs do, the ride is firm but not uncomfortable, the steering direct but not twitchy. Wagon or not, the 318d basically drives like most other 3 Series variants.
Pairing an optional Mineral White metallic exterior ($1415) with BMW’s Everest Grey leather interior ($2328), our test car’s combination may not be ideal for those with potentially messy children but it does brighten up the cabin.
Up front is typical BMW and identical to the 3 Series sedan. Ergonomics are great, and while it generally has a smart and premium feel, the arrival of the new Mercedes-Benz C-Class shows how far the benchmark has shifted.
The standard iDrive system has a 6.5-inch screen and includes navigation. And though our test car had a camera fitted (a $769 option), that’s now a welcome inclusion on updated 2015 models.
Rear seat room is good and offers 40:20:40 split-fold seats and a centre armrest. There are also vents and bottle holders for passengers, plus ISOFIX anchorage points and top-tether mounts for three baby seats.
Being the Touring model, the wagon’s boot is what you are interested in, and the BMW serves up a very practical load bay with a couple of cool tricks.
With the rear seats up, there is 495 litres of space – five litres up on the Mercedes-Benz C-Class wagon. As the hatch opens, the cargo blind automatically lifts out of the way, but if you need to, it can be removed and stored in a compartment below the floor.
For more space, the cargo net cassette can be removed and the seats folded flat, giving 1500L of space. Where to put the cargo net? The 3 Series Touring has clips on the back of the second-row seats where the cassette can be attached and secure points in the roof to allow the net to be re-extended to provide a secure load area.
It’s unlikely to be something you’ll use every day, but it’s a great solution to an issue that hasn’t been addressed by other family focused models such as BMW’s own X5 SUV.
The little wagon isn’t restricted to just family duties though, and even in 318d guise, the BMW 3 Series Touring presents a sporty and stylish alternative to an executive sedan. It isn’t cheap, but the revised 2015 specifications make the whole package far more attractive.
Like most 3 Series variants, the Touring is easy to drive and even easier to like. Forget 2015 as being year of the goat, at CarAdvice we are calling it now, 2015 is the year of the wagon.
Click the Photos tab for more images by Tom Fraser.