BMW 325i M Sport Touring

Just as the 3-Series saloon defines the compact executive sector, the Touring is the archetypal small premium load-lugger.

  • Excellent driving position and great rear accommodation, plus sharpest handling, keenest steering and best chassis composure in the class.
  • Boot is smaller than C-Class's, while around town the clutch is slightly awkward, the steering is heavier and rear visibility is poorer. The ride is more fidgety, too.

That summary is only fair, since the BMW can claim to have launched the whole lifestyle estate market back in 1989. Today’s fourth-generation model may not be the most dynamic or attractive car in the class, but it must be said that M Sport trim with blue paintwork does wonders for its visual appeal.

It’s 76mm shorter and 41mm lower than the Merc, which has restricted the amount of space BMW’s packaging experts have been able to create inside. Open the boot, and if the load cover is pulled across, it slides up the D-pillars automatically. However, this neat trick can’t hide the fact that whether you’re using litres or millimetres to measure the boot, it’s not as big as the C-Class’s. Moreover, the load sill is 60mm higher and has a lip to it as well.

After that, things improve. There’s a large well under the boot floor, created by the fact the run-flat tyre-equipped 3-Series no longer has a spare wheel. Whether you think this is a good thing or not, there’s no denying that the BMW also has more useful hooks, straps and nets than its rival.

More impressively, although both cars share an identical 2,760mm wheelbase, it’s the 325i’s rear occupants who enjoy an extra 20mm of legroom – which helps explain why the boot is smaller. There’s no mystery as to why the driving environment is more cramped, either.

The slabby centre console, lack of stowage and small steering wheel all serve to make the driver feel restricted – particularly those with larger frames, who will struggle to get comfortable in the narrow, if supportive, seats. Compared to the C-Class, it’s not an elegant cockpit, but the BMW is well constructed and easy to get on with.

It also has a wonderfully smooth engine that, thanks to Efficient Dynamics stop-start technology and brake energy regeneration, gives the diesel C220 a run for its money in terms of economy. But you don’t buy a 3.0-litre petrol model with fuel saving in mind – you choose it for its power.

There’s no denying the straight-six sounds great, but on first impressions it’s hard to believe the engine is as big and beefy as the statistics suggest. Why? Because it simply doesn’t have that much torque, so on motorways you frequently find yourself changing down. This isn’t a problem for two reasons. Firstly, the gearchange is great, and secondly the engine is so smooth, refined and free from vibration that using high revs is no hardship – quite the opposite, in fact.

At the limit, the 325i is swift, but as the in-gear figures show, in most day-to-day driving situations, there’s less to choose between these two. The BMW’s brakes are more responsive, too, and on a favourite road the 3-Series remains the more satisfying and enjoyable car to drive, changing direction immaculately well and exhibiting excellent body control.

The penalty for this is a fidgety ride. It’s not hard, but unlike the Merc, it fails to be relaxing and was a little louder at speed, too. Nor was it as good around town. The clutch can be slightly awkward, the steering is heavier and rear visibility is poorer.

And although it’s £500 cheaper than the C-Class, the BMW’s standard kit is equally thin on the ground. So could the 3-Series lose its crown?

Details

Price: £30,295Model tested: BMW 325i M Sport TouringChart position: 2WHY: Our current class leader is tested here in petrol guise, which should give it a performance edge.

Economy

Here’s a surprise for diesel fans. Drive the petrol 325i for 12,000 miles, and it will cost only £109 more in fuel than the C-Class CDI – partly thanks to Efficient Dynamics.

Residuals

While a figure of 48.6 per cent over three years and 36,000 miles is good, it means the 325i falls short of its rival. Owners should expect to lose about £5,000 in value annually.

Servicing

As with most BMWs, the Service Inclusive deal is tempting. You get 36,000 miles of cover – likely to be two services – for less than £500. Yet add maintenance and it tops £1,000.

Tax

Before Efficient Dynamics arrived last year, the 325i put out 208g/km of CO2. But now, it emits 35g/km less. So tax costs have tumbled – higher-rate users pay £2,548 a year.

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