First Drive: Is the updated BMW 3 Series Touring still the supreme estate car leader?

BMW has tweaked its well-loved 3 Series estate. Ted Welford tries it in Munich to see what it’s like.

First Drive: Is the updated BMW 3 Series Touring still the supreme estate car leader?

What is it?

The 3 Series is one of BMW’s most popular models. (BMW)

In a day and age where SUVs dominate the new car market, you might think there’s little room for the humble estate car.

But these models aren’t forgotten just yet, particularly by the likes of BMW, which is this year celebrating 35 years of its 3 Series Touring – the brand’s very first estate car, which continues to prove particularly popular, even outselling the regular saloon model in several markets.

The current model has barely been around for three years, but BMW knows the importance of this market, so an updated car is here already. Let’s find out what it’s like.

What’s new?

The 3 Series gets a reworked nose as part of this update. (BMW)

Truly adopting the ‘if it ain’t broke, why fix it’ approach, the changes as part of this 3 Series update aren’t the most extensive, at least from the outside.

There’s the same 3 Series silhouette that is well known and loved, with slight redesigns at the front and rear, which we’ll explore in further detail later. But the inside gets the bulk of the revisions, with the main one being the addition of BMW’s futuristic ‘Curved Display’, which merges a large digital dial display and touchscreen into one crisp piece of glass. It’s the same setup as we’ve seen on new BMWs recently, such as the electric iX and i4.

What’s under the bonnet?

The engine choice on the 3 Series Touring largely remains the same as before, other than BMW axing the entry-level 318i and 318d options here in the UK. There are petrol, diesel and plug-in hybrid options, with the latter proving particularly popular.

But it’s the humble 320d we’re trying here, which has been a favourite of those doing big motorway miles for years. Using a turbocharged 2.0-litre diesel engine, it puts out 187bhp and 400Nm of torque, and drives through an eight-speed Steptronic Sport automatic gearbox – as do all 3 Series’ these days. Our test car is the standard rear-wheel-drive model, but you can spend an extra £1,500 for an all-wheel-drive xDrive car; likely a good investment in the UK.

Getting to 60mph takes seven seconds, and it’s capable of a top speed of 143mph. Perhaps of more interest is the efficiency, however, with BMW claiming around 55mpg, and CO2 emissions of 134g/km.

What’s it like to drive?

Even the standard diesel 320d is fantastic to drive. (BMW)

The 3 Series has always been one of, if not the best driving cars in this class, and we’re happy to report nothing has changed here in that respect.

There’s a wonderfully linear and smooth feel to the way the 3 Series Touring goes about its business, with plenty of feel through the steering wheel that inspires you to drive that bit harder than you would in many of its rivals.

And though diesel might not be the most ‘in’ thing right now, this 320d is a wonderfully competent thing, effortlessly passing the miles by on a motorway while delivering impressive efficiency in the process. If you do a lot of miles a year, it’s the 3 Series to go for.

How does it look?

Subtle design changes only enhance the way the 3 Series looks. (BMW)

The 3 Series has become one of BMW’s more elegant-looking products, and though the firm has aimed to inject a bit of added sportiness to it, it remains a very stylish, if quite subtle choice.

The front end sees some new LED headlights introduced, boasting a new signature, while the grille (which thankfully bucks BMW’s current trend of enlarging the grille) gets a new pattern. There are some new gloss black elements too, which is repeated for the rear bumper too. Aside from this and a couple of new colours, this is where the visual changes end.

What’s it like inside?

The 3 Series offers a particularly upmarket interior. (BMW)

The 3 Series Touring’s cabin has become synonymous with its quality and spaciousness and this latest version is only an extension of that. The 495-litre boot seems almost bigger than the numbers suggest, while other practical touches such as individually folding rear seats and a split opening boot (meaning the glass can open independently to the metal) are particularly useful.

But the main change on the latest 3 Series’ interior concerns the introduction of BMW’s new ‘Curved Display’. Being rolled out across the brand’s range, it sees a 12.3-inch digital dial display and 14.9-inch touchscreen merge together to create a particularly modern feel. There are fewer buttons cluttering the cabin (not that there were loads before), but BMW has kept the traditional iDrive rotary controller – unlike the latest BMWs – which is easier to use on the move than the touchscreen itself.

What’s the spec like?

The 3 Series Touring’s boot offers 495 litres of space. (BMW)

BMW has slimmed down the trim line-up on the latest 3 Series, with the entry-level SE version being binned, and the line-up now consisting of the Sport, M Sport and ‘M Performance’ models.

Standard equipment is generous across the board, with the aforementioned Curved Display, 17-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, front and rear parking sensors and climate control included as a minimum. M Sport versions bring 18-inch alloy wheels, more aggressive styling and sports suspension.

In terms of 3 Series Touring pricing, it starts from £39,810 for a 320i petrol in Sport trim, with M Sport versions starting from £41,060. You’ll pay a few thousand pounds more for this 320d model.

Verdict

The new Curved Display has really enhanced the 3 Series’ interior. (BMW)

If there’s a car that can truly do it all, the BMW 3 Series Touring is that car. It might not be the largest estate car on the market, but its combination of a sporty driving experience, quality and practicality make it hard to beat.

The addition of the more upmarket interior and fantastic Curved Display have only enhanced this wagon further. We don’t do numerical ratings but rest assured the 3 Series Touring would be getting the full five stars if we did.

  • Model: BMW 320d M Sport Touring
  • Price as tested: £43,540
  • Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged diesel
  • Power: 187bhp
  • Torque: 400Nm
  • 0-60mph: 7.0 seconds
  • Top speed: 143mph
  • Economy: 52.3-55.4mpg
  • Emissions: 133-142g/km CO2

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