"The BMW 3 Series Touring mixes performance, economy and practicality in a safe and well-built package."
There's a reason that the BMW 3 Series has been leading its class for more than two decades – its mix of performance, handling, ride comfort and economy is wrapped up in a stylish and upmarket exterior that really does create something a bit special.
If you need a bit more space but don’t want to sacrifice the daily thrill of being behind the wheel of a 3 Series, then the Touring estate models has all the excitement, but with added space and improved practicality, including a bigger boot that makes transporting the whole family on long motorway journeys a real doddle. Our recommendation is the extremely capable BMW 320d diesel for offering the best of all worlds.
MPG, running costs & CO2 emissions
First off, if you’re watching your pennies, the least efficient engine on offer is the 335i petrol, which returns 34.9mpg and emits 189g/km of CO2 – which is still quite good considering it gets 302bhp. This is because all the engines in the range are fitted with stop-start to boost fuel economy. But it's the diesels that you should really go for if you keep running costs to a minimum. The 330d has great performance on long distance journeys, but still manages to return 55.4mpg while emitting 135g/km of CO2. However, our recommendation is the 320d EfficientDynamics – which returns 60mpg and emits just 123g/km of CO2 – for the best combination of performance and economy. Most models are available with xDrive four-wheel drive but adding that will increase your fuel bills considerably – so it's best avoided unless you plan to take your car to the French Alps every winter. BMW also offers a range of fixed-price service plans, as well, so once you get past the slightly high purchase price, all 3 Series Tourings should actually end up being relatively affordable to run.
Interior & comfort
Normally, any car that's as good to drive as the 3 Series Touring tends to give its passengers a slightly bumpy ride as the price to be paid for the superior handling and great performance. Luckily for anyone looking at the Touring, this isn’t the case, thanks to a selection of driving modes on offer that adjust the car's suspension settings to create a relaxed and composed drive on even the roughest roads. Set it to Comfort and the Touring absorbs bumps and lumps with relative ease, while Sport mode hardens up the suspensions to give a tighter, more dynamic set-up. You also get a great driving position, with a seat and steering wheel that can be easily adjusted, so getting comfortable behind the wheel is very easy indeed.
Practicality & boot space
With the standard-fit 40:20:40 split-folding rear seats in place, the 3 Series Touring offers a generous 495 litres of boot space – which is more than Audi A4 Avant and the Mercedes C-Class estate. Fold down the back seats and the boot space expands to an impressive 1,500 litres, so it will easily handle virtually any item that your average family throws at it or in it. You also get a split-opening electric tailgate boot lid that proves to be very handy indeed if you’ve got your hands full of shopping. It lets you to get easy access without having to open the whole hatch, the rear glass opening separately from the rest. Other useful additions include lashing hooks on the boot floor, bag hooks, a folding floor divider, a cargo net and extra hooks that allow you to divide the boot from the interior when you fold the seats down. Inside, there are loads of storage bins and cubbies dotted around the interior, which make the Touring a very practical place for a family to be during long journeys.
Reliability & safety
Strangely for a premium car manufacturer, BMW always seems to hover around the middle of the manufacturers rankings in the Driver Power customer satisfaction survey. In the 2013 poll, that meant landing squarely at 15th out of 32 car makers, down one place from its 2012 ranking. This doesn’t really throw BMW's proven track record into doubt, but it does raise questions about what you should expect for your money when you buy a premium car. Both Audi and Mercedes rank higher, with Mercedes highest at fifth. But when you look at the 3 Series itself, well, the fourth generation car is right up in the top 10 of the top 100 cars in the survey, ranking ninth. And you won’t find a single Audi or a Merc above it, that's for sure. As the 3 Series has been on the market for some time now, electrical or mechanical hiccups have proven to be very rare – so the Touring won’t be any different. Naturally, it was also awarded the full five-star rating in the Euro NCAP crash safety tests, coming fitted with electronic stability control, tyre pressure warnings and a full range of airbags as standard safety equipment. You can also add further accessories to make it even safer, such as lane keep assist and blind spot warning.
Engines, drive & performance
Not a lot comes close to the brilliant drive of the BMW 3 Series Touring in terms of sheer enjoyment for keen drivers. Using a typical BMW rear-wheel-drive set-up combined with powerful brakes, it feels both fast and very safe. The 320d is the best overall engine on offer, delivering excellent performance balanced by brilliant economy, while the high-powered petrol motors also offer incredible speed wrapped up in a practical package. You can even add grippy xDrive four-wheel drive if you don't want to get stuck and stranded during the winter months – but this will increase your fuel bills so make sure you think carefully before you select it on the options list. Put simply, there isn't an estate car on the market that is as much fun to drive as the BMW 3 Series Touring.
Price, value for money & options
It's a BMW, so the 3 Series Touring comes with lots of equipment and is made from high-quality materials, from entry-level right through to the top-spec. But whether the starting price of nearly is good value could be up for debate, especially as it's more expensive that its main rivals from Mercedes and Audi. One thing that does balance it out is the strong resale value on the used car market, where BMWs traditionally do well, so you are very likely to see a large proportion of your money come back your way when you make a second-hand deal. There's a variety of models available, ranging from SE to performance-focused M Sport, with all versions coming fitted with alloy wheels, a 6.5-inch colour display and an electric boot lid as standard equipment.