It seems like only yesterday that we proclaimed 2015 as ‘Year of the Wagon’. A celebration of the sometimes overlooked box-backed body style that always manages to win favour around the CarAdvice office.
We started the year with a retrospective look at half a century of Holden station wagons, and have published over 40 wagon reviews and comparisons over the past 12-months, so it seems fitting that we end the year with a look at one of our current favourite load-luggers.
The 2016 BMW 330i M-Sport Touring is one of the current crop of small European estates winning the hearts and garages of Australian buyers. Most pertinent though, particularly in the spec of our test car, it represents everything we want and like from our wagons.
We aren’t the only ‘wagonistas’ on the road either, the ‘Year of the Wagon’ resonated on the sales charts.
Traditional wagon-brand Volvo maintained headway with sales of the V60 Estate tracking to near identical levels as 2014. Peugeot exceeded expectation with 308-Touring models accounting for more than 30 percent of all 308 sales. Hell, even my Dad bought one!
Mercedes-Benz saw significant growth of Estate and Shooting Brake sales, to almost double 2014’s result, and Subaru knocked the lights out with the Outback, shifting more of the crossover wagon than Lexus sold cars in total!
So with station wagons more hot than not, and the ‘Year of the Wagon’ drawing to a close, hitting the road in the Touring seemed like the right thing to do.
And since we’re doing the right thing, we might as well do it very right.
The 330i Touring starts from $73,300 (plus on road costs) but our test car features the $2,600 M-Sport package which not only lifts the visual appeal of the 3er, it bundles in elements that enhance the luxurious nature of the BMW to a level that impressed every passenger, big and small.
Yes, the ambient light function is cool, and the aluminium hexagon trim is smart, but the quilted ‘Dakota’ leather, especially in the ‘Oyster’ white, is just excellent. The leather-topped dash and dark roof lining continue the premium theme and make the interior of the 330i a pleasant and rewarding place to be.
The outside is just as striking.
Estoril Blue ($1,840 option), named after the Autódromo do Estoril race circuit in Portugal, made its debut on the 1994 E36 M3. The light-metallic blue paint that almost seems to reflect a reddish glow has become a signature of sporting BMW’s ever since. It looks fantastic on the Touring and is only available in conjunction with the M-Sport package.
As a complete car, it just works. The extended roofline, the way it sits on the 19-inch M-Sport star-spoke wheels, it is a picture-perfect example of why sporting-oriented wagons are growing in appeal. Especially to ‘once cool’ middle-aged dads!
The 3-Touring’s tailgate splits to allow the glass window to be opened separately. This is very handy for throwing stuff in the back, but keep in mind you need to move the parcel blind to get access to the load area. We found the blind would flip up to its ‘open’ position very willingly but would often forget to fold it back down, resulting in an obscured rearward view once you got back in to drive.
As we saw with the 318d Touring back in March, the load area of 495-litres can be easily configured with the 40:20:40 split rear seats and clever storage for the blind and cargo net when the full 1500-litre cabin is needed.
‘Santa’ was able to fit a bike in easily without having to remove the barrier cassettes and by just folding one of the seats down.
The rear seats are comfortable and roomy for adults. There are cup holders, vents and twin ISOFIX mount points for family duties too. There is a 12-volt socket but sadly no dedicated USB points for the rear riders.
The F30/31 3-Series saw a mid-life update in October this year, and while you’d have to be on your game to pick any changes from the outside, the revisions under the skin have made this arguably the best BMW 3-Series generation yet.
The 2016 330i receives a retuned version of the 2-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder engine from the 328i it effectively replaces. Power is up 5kW to 185kW at 6,500rpm, while the torque remains at 350Nm.
Around town, the new ‘30 is punchy and feels like it has just the right amount of ‘sportiness’ on hand. It gets off the line sharply (enough for a sub six-second 0-100km/h sprint) and handles urban dashing as well as it does more restrained pottering.
You can sense that it will run out of legs when pushed too hard, but keep the 330 within its comfort zone of 3-4000rpm and it responds with adequate enthusiasm.
The eight-speed ZF automatic transmission deals well with day-to-day running but isn’t as fast or smooth as some of the dual-clutch units when it comes to performance or self-shifting operation. It is a trade-off, but not a huge concern given the BMW tends to out-dynamise most if not all its competitors. Luckily, if gear-change feel is a potential deal breaker, the 3-Series can still be ordered with a manual transmission.
The artificial engine noise that is piped into the cabin seems less prominent in the 2016 spec car (or maybe it’s the extra volume of the Touring) but it only seems to become pronounced under load and isn’t actually a bad noise at all. All part of the sensory experience that makes you feel more involved with the driving experience as a whole.
Also part of the LCI (Life Cycle Impulse) update, BMW’s claimed fuel consumption is down from 6.5L/100km to 6.1L/100km. We saw rates in the high 5L/100km range for extended highway touring but ultimately blew any claimed figures out the window with decidedly more ‘enthusiastic’ use of the manual-shift modes and finished the week at 11.1L/100km. Oops.
The 2016 3-Series now has adaptive suspension as standard equipment, so switching between COMFORT and SPORT does change the behaviour of the car on the road. The mix works well, and even SPORT isn’t too firm to live with, although big bumps and sharp edges will result in a solid ‘thump’ in any mode.
Still not present in the 3-Series though is an INDIVIDUAL mode that allows you to run ‘dad-spec’ of SPORT power and COMFORT suspension. Mercedes-Benz and Audi offer this, so time to come to the party BMW.
Our car had the optional variable sport steering fitted, and to be honest, we didn't notice any difference. You might when punting at 10-10ths through the hills, but if you spend most of your time around town, save the $400.
As always, the iDrive Infotainment system was easy and intuitive to use. The ConnectedDrive Freedom package ($429 option) and live traffic updates are really a must-have though. The accuracy of the traffic analysis is getting better, and the back-street re-routing to avoid congestion is still the best on the market.
Our car was fitted with BMW’s adaptive cruise control system ($1,600 option) that allows the car to slow to a complete stop in queuing traffic, then move off again – all without touching the pedals. It’s not a perfect party trick though, as the system is more aggressive than the DISTRONIC product from Mercedes-Benz, and results in later braking and less fluid speed changes while on the go.
While speaking of options, the car also had a $2,920 panoramic sunroof, $940 adaptive LED headlamps with $320 high-beam assist, $675 automatic parking and $640 electric lumbar support, that along with some others (complete list below) saw the ‘before on roads’ price rise to $86,864.
That’s a $90k 3-Series that still doesn’t have heated seats nor a SYNC button on the climate controls!
While the 3’s value has improved, seeing the heads-up display and keyless entry now part of the standard equipment list, BMW options boxes should always be well and truly thought through before being ticked.
Is this car without fault? No. Would I recommend it? Absolutely.
The 2016 BMW 330i M-Sport Touring is the pick of the bunch in so many ways. You get the best drivetrain with the best body style, and in Estoril over Oyster (which still sounds yuck), the best colour combo to boot.
2016 might be the year of many things, but with the Touring in your driveway, the 'Year of the Wagon' will roll on.
2016 BMW 330i Touring - list price (before on-road costs): $73,300
- M-Sport Package: $2,600
- Metallic paint (Estoril Blue): $1,840
- Variable Sport Steering: $400
- Panorama glass sunroof: $2,920
- HiFi Loudspeaker system: $700
- Adaptive LED headlights: $940
- Lumbar support for Driver and Passenger: $640
- High-Beam assist: $320
- ConnectedDrive Freedom: $429
- Extended Smartphone Connectivity: $500
- Active Cruise Control: $1,600
- Parking Assistant: $675
Price as tested: $86,864
Click on the Photos tab for more images by Tom Fraser and James Ward.