BMW 3 Series Touring review

Our Rating: 
5
5.0/5.0
2011 model
By Auto Express Test TeamComments

The BMW 3 Series estate takes the saloon's winning formula of performance, handling and economy and adds a large dose of practicality

For: 
Versatile boot, sharp handling, low emissions
Against: 
Expensive options, no self-levelling suspension

BMW’s brilliant 3 Series is our reigning compact executive champ, thanks to its blend of fun driving dynamics, strong performance, low running costs and rock-solid build quality.

In Touring form, the desirable German machine adds family-friendly practicality - it's BMW's response to the Audi A4 Avant and Mercedes C-Class estate.

As with the 3 Series saloon, the Touring is the sharpest handling compact executive estate you can buy, but it doesn’t sacrifice economy in the process. Most versions are rear wheel drive, which is the enthusiast's choice for best handling, but the impressively smooth BMW xDrive four-wheel drive system is a £1,500 optional extra on some models. We reckon xDrive turns the 3 Series Touring into a serious rival for the Porsche Macan and Range Rover Evoque

Our Choice: 
BMW 320d SE Touring

The Touring version of the iconic BMW 3 Series looks the same as the saloon at the front, but features an extended roof line at the rear that’s very similar in appearance to the larger 5 Series Touring.

Best estate cars

The result is a handsome estate car with the best boot space by volume in the compact executive class, with up to 1,500 litres available when the rear seats are folded. This is a marked improvement on previous generation Tourings, which were often criticised for not being practical enough. There are a number of large family cars from less premium brands that can beat the Touring’s boot space, of course, but none share its rear-drive chassis or the BMW’s upmarket aspirations.

The Touring is part of BMW’s sixth generation of the 3 Series, and while the saloon version went on sale in 2012 we had to wait a year for the estate version to arrive.

It duly arrived with a choice of powerful but efficient four- and six-cylinder petrol and diesel engines. Petrols range from the entry-level 318i to the 330i M Sport, while the diesel line-up kicks off with the 316d and runs through to the 335d unit in the xDrive M Sport Touring. Most cars are rear-wheel drive, but the BMW xDrive system adds a 4x4 option for drivers who need more all-weather traction. The plug-in hybrid 3 Series 330E PHEV, meanwhile, is only available as a saloon.

The Touring is available in SE, Sport, M Sport, and Luxury trims, and there are also a couple of ED (Efficient Dynamics) models designed to maximise fuel efficiency and reduce emissions.

SE trim is justifiably popular, as the car comes equipped with 17-inch alloy wheels, cruise control, air-con, electric windows, Bluetooth phone connectivity and a 6.5-inch colour infotainment screen with DAB radio and sat-nav.

The Sport trim adds various cosmetic embellishments inside and out, including gloss-black grille and air intakes, special wheels, plus sporty seats and red stitching on the leather steering wheel.

Luxury models also get their own alloys plus chrome exterior detailing and leather interiors, while the M Sport features improved aerodynamics, up to 19-inch alloys and uprated suspension settings – as well as an M Sport multi-function steering wheel.

Engines, performance and drive

4.5
Punchy engines and a well-balanced rear-drive chassis make for excellent driving dynamics

This is where the BMW 3 Series Touring excels. The front-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout is designed to entertain drivers, while BMW’s Drive Performance Control system allows you to set up the steering, throttle response and stability control settings as desired.

The six-cylinder 330d diesel engine delivers huge performance, but the 2.0-litre diesel is still a decent performer and returns better fuel economy. It'll manage over 60mpg yet do everything a 3 Series should, and is our pick of the range.

No matter which engine you choose, you can be assured that you're driving one of the finest-handling family cars on sale.

If you ski, or regularly drive in inclement weather, the xDrive four-wheel drive system is worth looking at. It's a £1,500 option that primarily sends drive to the rear wheels.

However, if a slip is detected, it can send almost 100 per cent of power to the front axle very smoothly. The only downsides are an increase in weight and slight loss of steering feel.

As you’d expect, the BMW backs up its punchy performance with class-leading handling. In fact, thanks to its combination of small wheels and softer SE suspension, the Efficient Dynamics versions deliver the best ride and handling balance of the entire 3 Series line-up. The steering is sharp and well weighted, while the rear-wheel-drive layout provides balanced and progressive handling.

Engines

The entry-level 318i petrol has a 135bhp and a 0-62mph time of 9.2 secs. Step up to the 320i and you get 182bhp and a 7.5 second sprint to 62mph – or 7.7 seconds with optional xDrive. The 330i petrol has 249bhp and cracks the sprint in 6.0 seconds dead, while the 322bhp engine in the cracking 340i M Sport does it in 5.1 seconds.

The 115bhp entry-level 316d is the slowest of the 2 Series Touring models, with a 0-62 time of 11.2 seconds. Things improve on the diesel front with the 148bhp 318d, which can manage the sprint on 8.9 seconds, but the 188bhp 320d does it in 7.6 seconds.

The 255bhp 330d with xDrive uses its extra traction to shave two tenths off the two-wheel-drive 330d’s 5.6 second 0-62mph time, while the 309bhp xDrive M Sport does it in 4.9 seconds.

MPG, CO2 and running costs

4.2
The Touring offers decent economy across the range, in spite of its performance potential

Every engine in the BMW 3 Series Touring range comes with stop-start, which boosts fuel economy.

The cheapest car in the line-up is the 318i petrol, and while it’s not the most efficient it still returns an impressive 47.9mpg on the combined cycle with CO2 emissions of as little as 133 g/km. 

The 320i offers economy of 44.8mpg and 147 g/km CO2, but these figures worsen to 38.7mpg and 169 g/km if you opt for xDrive.

The 316d is the cheapest diesel, offering up to 64.2mpg and 116 g/km. The 320d diesel is once again the engine to go for though, as it delivers stronger performance, yet still manages to keep emissions down to as little as 118 g/km of CO2, and economy up to a potential 62.8mpg. If you select the optional eight-speed automatic gearbox, the fuel consumption increases to 60.1mpg.

Pick the 320d ED Plus – which has almost 30bhp less than the regular 320d – and you can eke economy out to 68.9mpg with CO2 of 107 g/km which will be of considerable benefit to company car tax payers, if less relevant to private buyers as the performance trade-off is not really worth it. 

Even the 335d xDrive M Sport can manage 49.6mpg on the combined cycle, but it’s less efficient on the tax front thanks to a CO2 output of 151 g/km. 

Insurance groups

All the 3 Series Touring models offer a decent level of performance, and with the prospect of premium rates charged for repairs at dealers it’s no surprise that insurance isn’t the cheapest around. Even the basic 316d falls into group 20, while the 335i is in group 38.

Depreciation

The estate carries a £1,300 premium over the 3 Series saloon, although it’s not available with as many engines or trims. It is priced similarly to the Audi A4 Avant, but is slightly cheaper than the Mercedes C-Class Estate. The drop in used value over time for all cars in the class is not catastrophic compared to less premium models, but even so a predicted 43 per cent residual value after three years for the cheapest 316d is not brilliant. 

Interior, design and technology

3.9
Classic BMW design cues give the Touring a classy look, while the technology package feels bang up to date

We reckon the 3 Series fails to attract as much attention as its sleeker rivals such as the Mercedes C-Class Estate or even the Volvo V60. Even so, the well-proportioned and neatly finished Touring is still a handsome, classy-looking machine that is, to our eyes, more attractive than the standard four-door saloon.

While it’s noticeably more practical than earlier generations of the 3 Series Touring, the larger luggage area hasn’t affected the car’s ‘lifestyle’ image.  That said, the kerbside appeal of some models is lost thanks to small 16-inch alloy wheels, although ironically the smaller wheels give the 3 Series chassis the most agile and engaging handling.

Buyers looking for more visual aggression will migrate towards the M Sport model, which gets a subtle bodykit, 18-inch alloy wheels and chrome-tipped tailpipes.

Inside, the Touring looks and feels identical to the saloon model. That means you get a logically laid-out dashboard which is angled towards the driver, plus plenty of high-grade materials and impeccable fit and finish. Further highlights include the intuitive iDrive infotainment controller and the comfortable, low-set driving position.

And while the BMW’s interior can’t match the latest Mercedes C-Class for style, it is beautifully built and thoughtfully designed. The 3 Series also comes with a decent amount of standard kit. Climate control, a DAB radio and parking sensors are all included, as is a sat-nav.

Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment

All 3 Series Touring models come with BMW Business navigation, working from the excellent iDrive controller between the seats and with mapping presented on a 6.5 inch colour display on top of the dashboard. There’s a DAB tuner too, while the online entertainment function gives you access to millions of streamed tracks via Napster. Other apps will connect you to your emails and social media accounts. 

For audiophiles, a Harman Kardon installation is available featuring a 600W amplifier and 16 loudspeakers.

Practicality, comfort and boot space

4.3
The Touring's comfortable accommodation makes it a superb long-distance express-hauler

The driving position and front passenger space in the Touring is naturally identical to other 3 Series models, so that means it’s easy to get comfortable. The seats and steering wheel have masses of adjustment, and although the driving position is low-ish that only adds to the sporty feel.

The layout of the controls is intuitive as BMWs always are, and there are plenty of storage spaces dotted around for the family’s bit and pieces – it’s an ideal recipe for long-distance family holidays if you don’t want to drive an MPV or SUV.

Size

The 3 Series Touring has two very obvious rivals in the Audi A4 Avant and the Mercedes C-Class Estate. As the BMW has the most luggage space, it’s perhaps a little surprising that it’s the shortest of the three at 4,624mm – the A4 is 4,717mm and the C-Class 4,702mm. The trio are almost identical for width, and only a few cms apart for roof height. 

Leg room, head room & passenger space

The picture isn’t quite as rosy for rear-seat passengers as it is for the two up front. Space is quite tight, although you should be able to get a couple of adults in with minimal complaint . Young family members will have no problems at all.

There are ISOFIX mounting points for a pair of child seats, which you can access quite easily as the doors are reasonably sized.

Boot

Compact executive estates aren’t designed for maximum carrying capacity, but the BMW 3 Series Touring performs well. The 495-litre boot is five litres bigger than the Audi A4 Avant’s and 10 litres bigger than the Mercedes C-Class’s.

Unlike the 3 Series saloon, the Touring has a folding rear seat that splits 40:20:40, so the boot is very versatile. With everything folded down, the load space grows to a very decent 1,500 litres.

Other useful items include lashing hooks in the floor, bag hooks, a folding floor divider, cargo net, plus extra hooks so you can divide the boot from the interior whether in five-seat or two-seat modes.

All cars come with a powered boot lid as standard. Another neat feature is the opening glass tailgate – useful for loading small items. And as the BMW comes with run-flat tyres, the space that would be taken up by the spare can be liberated to create a deep hidden compartment beneath the hinged boot floor.

Reliability and Safety

4.1
The Touring has all the bells and whistles for five-star safety, but reliability has slipped in our Driver Power poll

Finishing an impressive 14th, the 3 Series topped the compact executive car rankings in our Driver Power 2014 satisfaction survey, but things took a turn for the worse in the 2015 survey.

The 2015 results put the 3 Series range in 51st place out of 200 cars, while the reliability ranking dropped to 54th. Build quality was rated 75th, so we’ll be watching the direction of travel closely in 2016. The Lexus IS scored first place overall, with a 3rd placing for reliability and build quality.

As a manufacturer, BMW only scored a middling result in the 2015 satisfaction survey – its 14th placing out of 30 rivals puts the ownership experience behind rivals such as Lexus (1st place), Jaguar (2nd), Mercedes (10th) and Audi (13th).

The safety picture is much more positive, as although the Touring model hasn’t been independently tested, the 3 Series saloon on which it is based has been awarded a five-star Euro NCAP rating. Like the saloon, the Touring has a full suite of airbags, plus stability control and tyre pressure warnings as standard. The useful rear parking sensors are standard, too.

A full range of safety-related extras is on offer via the comprehensive options list. However while lane-keeping assistance and blind spot warnings are not to be sniffed at, it’s worth asking yourself if you really need them as they can quickly bump up the price.

In contrast, the optional head-up display, which projects key driver info into the windscreen, is very useful and means you never need to take your eyes off the road.

Warranty

While the standard BMW warranty cover is only three years, the company offers it with the major benefit of unlimited mileage. Audis are limited to 60,000 miles over the same three year period, but Mercedes offers three years/unlimited mileage cover on its cars, just like BMW.

Servicing

With a range of fixed-price servicing plans, the 3 Series Touring should be relatively affordable to maintain. However the jury is out on the variable service intervals, which mean you can go up to two years without an oil change. While ideal for fleet managers who only keep cars for two or three years, we’d understand private owners wanting more frequent changes.

Last updated: 13 Jan, 2016
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