The new BMW 3 Series Touring has a big role to play. It needs to offer more space and functionality than the saloon, yet be just as good to drive. And on paper, it gets off to a flying start.
The car is 97mm longer than its predecessor overall, and 50mm of this has come from the longer wheelbase. That means 17mm more knee room and 9mm extra headroom for rear passengers.
The boot is 35 litres bigger, too; it now has 495 litres of space with the 40:20:40 split-fold rear seats in place, or 1,500 litres with them down. Plus, the loading lip is a few millimetres wider and set lower, and there are now more features designed to make life that bit easier. The tailgate, for example, is powered as standard and drivers can open it when their hands are full simply by waving their foot under the back bumper. Plus, the rear screen opens separately – ideal if you just want to sling some shopping bags in the back.
Three versions will be available from launch in September – the 320d, 330d and 328i – and our first taste of the Touring was with the 328i. This features a 242bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine, and our test car was fitted with the £1,660 optional eight-speed automatic gearbox.
The engine does everything you ask of it, pulling hard from low revs with barely any lag from the twin-scroll turbocharger. The eight-speed auto is as close to perfection as it gets, fading into the background in auto mode and firing through the gears when you use the paddles like a twin-clutch box.
The sound it makes, though, is a little flat, and when the stop-start system kicks in it sends a judder through the car. So while the impressive fuel economy and effortless performance are hard to ignore, the 328i can’t match Audi’s 2.0 TFSI for smoothness.
The only significant chassis change over the 3 Series saloon is the introduction of firmer rear dampers, to deal with the extra 70kg of weight. But on a blind test you’d be hard pressed to notice any difference in the way the two cars drive.
While the new Touring is no sportier to drive than before, high-speed refinement has taken a step up, and so long as you order the £750 optional adaptive dampers, the ride is supple in all but the firmest setting and body control is superb.
As with all electro-mechanical set-ups, the steering is light and doesn’t have a hydraulic system’s feel, but toggle through the four driving modes (Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Sport+) and it weights up nicely without becoming too artificial. Throw the car into a few corners and it’s no sports car, but you’ll walk away with a bigger grin than an Audi A4 Avant owner.
The model line-up is the same as for the saloon, so the Touring comes in ES, SE or M Sport trims. There are also three ‘styling lines’ based on SE – Modern (for £1,000 extra), Luxury (£2,500) and Sport (£1,000) – which tinker with the trim colours and cabin materials to create different themes. We’d stick with the well equipped SE and add a few options, or if you like to be noticed save up £3,000 for the road-hugging M Sport.