Fleet News

BMW 3-series Touring

BMW

Review

FOR a car which blends style and practicality, it is surprising that the BMW 3-series Touring doesn’t sell in greater numbers.

In the UK, it is eclipsed by its saloon, coupe and convertible stablemates in the 3-series line-up, selling 7,150 units in 2004 compared with 21,462 saloon sales.

And the new Touring isn’t going to sell in much greater numbers. BMW expects to sell 8,500 models during its first full year in 2006, with more than half (55%) going to corporate buyers.

It seems a shame that more fleet buyers don’t get behind the wheel, because the new Touring, on sale in the UK this September carrying a price premium of less than £1,000 over the saloon, does everything as well as its four-door sibling, only with more load space, greater practicality, and better looks.

While it may not be able to challenge Audi’s A4 Avant in terms of clean, elegant lines, the new 3-series Touring certainly looks a lot better than the saloon thanks to more cohesive rear-end styling which banishes the ugly rump of the four-door.

As well as improved styling, there’s more space behind the rear seats for storage, and the two-part tailgate makes loading and unloading easy.

The tailgate can either be opened in the conventional manner, revealing a low loading sill and flat load floor with up to 1,385 litres of luggage space with the rear seats folded flat (an increase of 40 litres over the previous generation and 200 litres more than the Audi A4 Avant), or the glass section can be opened independently to allow you to drop lighter items in.

And as all cars come fitted with run-flat tyres, there is additional storage space under the load floor in the area vacated by the spare wheel.

Other than the changed rear end, the rest is pure 3-series, which means a well-built and roomy cabin and a fairly decent list of equipment.

ES models come with a six-speed manual gearbox, air conditioning, CD player, six airbags, electric windows and on-board computer, as well as a host of driving assistance functions, including Dynamic Stability Control and Rain Brake Support, the latter a system which gingerly applies the brakes to dry them in wet weather before they are needed, ensuring safe stopping in rainy conditions.

SE cars add a different alloy wheel design, multi-function steering wheel, parking sensors and cruise control.

At launch there will be two engine choices – 320d and 325i, although 320i and 330i petrols will join the range from September. The 330d also joins at the same time, but BMW hasn’t confirmed if the 318d will come to the UK, especially since the 320d remains the biggest-selling variant by a long margin (during 2004 53% of 3-series Tourings sold were 320ds).

Judging by our initial drive (see right), that seems certain to remain the case.

Behind the wheel

THE 3-series Touring will initially only be available with two engines – the familiar 2.0-litre diesel in the 320d and the new 2.5-litre six-cylinder petrol unit in the 325i. Our first drive was in the 320d, a familiar car to us as we run a saloon version on our long-term test fleet. As with the four-door, this Touring offers a hard-to-beat combination of power and economy.

While it loses out to petrol models in standing start acceleration, it more than makes up for it with an abundance of power in the mid-range. The tide starts from just 2,000rpm, and once the engine’s spinning at a smidgen over 3,000rpm you’re right in the heart of the power band.

There’s no point revving the engine to the red line though. Changing up a gear at 3,500rpm ensures you continue to ride the wave of torque. And once you’ve selected sixth gear, you can cruise pretty much all day at high speed. We saw more than 130mph on a thrash down a German autobahn, yet the 320d was cruising with little engine noise and low revs. Factor in fuel economy in the high 40s mpg and you can’t really fault it. Other, that is, than the engine note.

Which is where the new 325i comes in. As a practical fleet car it can’t put up much of an argument against the 320d but, my goodness, it sounds so much better. Its 2.5-litre straight-six engine thrives on revs and it sounds great when it’s being pushed along.

The engine note starts to build at 3,000rpm and by the time the rev counter is honing in on the 7,000rpm red line it is emitting a glorious howl.

Diesels are great for the economy and mid-range performance, but sometimes you forget how dull they sound. This petrol engine is a brilliant reminder of the character of six-cylinder units. Both cars handle in the same way as the saloon, which means they’re brilliant. According to BMW, the Touring lapped the notorious Nurburgring Nordschleife in exactly the same time as the equivalent-engined saloon, which shows just what a great base the 3-series chassis is that it copes with more metalwork out over the rear axle.

And as with the saloon, the Touring has beautifully weighted steering which, although on the heavy side at all times, offers plenty of feedback through the wheel.

Driving verdict

JUST as good to drive as the saloon, the Touring brings extra versatility and, to my eyes, better rear-end styling than the saloon. As we recently labelled the 320d saloon the best car in the world, I guess this makes the 320d Touring better than brilliant.

Model: 320d 325i
Engine (cc): 1,995 2,497
Max power (bhp/rpm): 163/4,000 218/6,500
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 251/2,000 184/2,750
Max speed (mph): 139 151
0-62mph (sec): 8.6 7.2
Fuel consumption (mpg): 47.9 32.8
CO2 emissions (g/km): 158 208
On sale: September
Prices (OTR): £24,540–£26,340

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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