The improved version of the seventh generation BMW's 3 Series Touring holds no great surprises to those who understand the narrative of this model. It's not the most accomplished load lugger in its class but it's the best drive and offers the most efficiency. That'll be enough to clinch the deal for most who just hanker after a 3 Series with a bit more versatility. In this enhanced form, it's smarter and gets a much more sophisticated cabin. Plus the diesels now feature 48V mild hybrid tech and there's a big step forward in media connectivity. All the things you'd expect from a facelift really.
Conventional wisdom dictates that estate cars are designed for people who can't fit all the paraphernalia of modern life inside a conventional saloon or hatchback model. You'd certainly imagine that an estate would require a lot more space than the saloon on which it is based in order to justify its own existence but, particularly in the compact executive sector where BMW's 3 Series Touring competes, it isn't always that straightforward. It might be a surprise for some people to learn that many mid-sized executive estate cars are only fractionally roomier than their saloon equivalents - and some even have less space out back. Estate buyers in this sector are typically also asked to pay around £2,000 more for the privilege over the cost of the alternative saloon. That's extra money for extra space. How much extra space in this case? With the rear seats in place, just 20-litres over the saloon. You don't, in other words, buy this car for its luggage cramming talents. You buy it because you want the capability in hand and also because it's a little more 'lifestyle' and a little less 'field sales' than the standard 3 Series saloon.
The well-versed themes of the 3 Series are present and correct in this improved version of the sixth generation Touring model. BMW has refined its engine selection as part of this facelift: the previous entry-level 318i (petrol) and 318d (diesel) units are no longer listed. So the range begins with the 184hp 320i petrol model or the 190hp 320d diesel, the latter gaining 48V mild hybrid tech. Eight-speed Steptronic auto transmission is now standard on all versions as before but is now upgraded to 'Sport' status which means that there's a gearshiftpaddle-activated 'Sprint' function for quick overtraking. If you can spend more with a mainstream powerplant, then the four cylinder 330e Plug-in variant with 292hp offers a tempting combination of speed and frugality. Across the line-up, rear wheel drive is still this 3 Series model's calling card of course; for mainstream models, xDrive 4WD is only now available (optionally) on the 330e. You have to have it on top M340i (374hp 48V petrol) and M340d (340hp 48V diesel) variants. The road-burning M3 Competition Touring tops the range, with its 510hp 3.0-litre twin turbo six cylinder engine and xDrive system. Otherwise, much is familiar here. All 3 Series Touring models get the front engine, rear wheel drive formula with near perfect 50:50 weight distribution that has defined the 3 Series to date: this seventh generation model doesn't deviate too far from that script. Still notable are the standard 'lift-related' dampers. These clever shock absorbers incorporate structures that provide extra damping at the extremes of wheel travel, allowing quite a firm sporting set-up to be adopted, but also one able to deliver a fluent ride over tarmac imperfections. Thanks to that, this car's able to combine a set-up for Silverstone with something that works equally well on the North Circular.
It won't surprise you to learn that from the front bumper to the B-pillar, the 3 Series Touring is identical to the saloon model. Compared to the old pre-2018 'F30'-series Touring model, this seventh generation 'G20'-series version grew by 76mm to 4,709mm in length, by 16mm to 1,827mm in width and by 11mm to 1,440mm in height. So it's usefully more spacious - and with the facelift updates, the revised model is slightly better looking too. If you know this MK7 model, you'll notice the updated front end, which offers slimmer LED headlights, a resculpted grille and gloss black brake cooling vents. M Sport variants get a distinctive hexagonal lower air intake too. There are reshaped bumpers at the rear and colour-coded trim elements, plus M Sport models feature a chunky diffuser. The major changes though, have taken place inside, where this improved 3 Series Touring gets the new-look curved instrument panel that we first saw on the iX luxury EV. this incorporates a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster and a 14.9-inch infotainment screen with the brand's latest eighth generation iDrive interface. This all allows for a big step forward in media functionality, with things like real-time mapping, a parking space locator and wireless smartphone-mirroring. Other cabin updates include slimmer air vents, a redesigned gear shifter, standardised gear shift paddles and new touch-sensitive buttons for the centre console. Otherwise, things are much as before. As a Touring customer, you'll want to know about the boot, accessed via a standard powered tailgate. It's 500-litres inside (20-litres bigger than the boot of a 3 Series saloon model). The capacity falls a bit (to 410-litres) with the 330e PHEV Touring variant, due to the battery placement beneath the floor. Fold the seats flat and there's a maximum capacity of 1,500-litres (1,420-litres with the 330e).
The 3 Series Touring range mainly occupies the £42,000 to £60,000 bracket and comes in two trim levels: 'Sport' and 'M Sport'. All models now include the 'BMW Live Cockpit Plus' screen set-up, which includes cloud-based BMW Maps, over-the-air updates and an improved version of the brand's 'Intelligent Personal Assistant' voice control system. The company's 'Parking assistant' is now standard, steering you automatically into spaces. And yoiu can upgrade it with Park View, Panorama View and 3D View functions. M Sport customers are being offered a choice of exterior upgrades, including a carbonfibre rear diffuser, a large rear spoiler for the saloon and individual wheel designs of up to 20-inches in size. As for safety, well as before, an optional across the range is the brand's 'Driving Assistant Professional' pack, which includes Active Cruise Control with a Stop&Go function. There's also a 'Steering and Lane Control Assistant', which helps the driver maintain their position on motorways where the lane narrows. The 'Active Navigation' function detects when a lane change for a motorway exit is required and prepares to steer the car into that lane. The system also comprises a 'Lane Keeping Assistant' with active side collision protection and an 'Evasion Assistant'.
Although the upfront price might be a bit of a hurdle for some, the 3 Series Touring looks as if it will prove a fairly cost-effective car to own. They're no longer the cast iron financial prospect they used to be - the laws of supply and demand have seen to that - but if residuals have softened a bit, then the improved efficiency of the latest cars make up for it. The addition of mild hybrid 48V tech for the diesels has usefully improved efficiency. the 320d diesel many will want now manages up to 58.9mpg on the combined cycle and up to 127g/km of CO2, readings which are difficult to better in this class. The M340d, which also gets the 48V technology, manages up to 48.7mpg and up to 153g/km. Otherwise, things are much as before. The 320i petrol variant manages up to 44.1mpg and up to 145g/km of CO2. For the 330i petrol model, the combined cycle figure is up to 43.5mpg and the CO2 reading is up to 148g/km. If you want to do better, you can ask about the 330e petrol/electric Plug-in hybrid which can deliver up to 217mpg on the combined cycle and a CO2 return of as little as 30g/km.. What else? Well the Steptronic automatic transmission features a coasting mode so that when the driver lifts off the throttle at higher speeds, for example on a gentle downhill grade on the motorway, the engine is automatically decoupled from the powertrain. It then simply ticks over in neutral, which saves fuel and ensures there is no unwanted engine braking at high speed. An additional fuel-saving feature, which also improves driving comfort, is the Proactive Driving Assistant, which uses information from the navigation system to "anticipate" upcoming roundabouts, corners and junctions and select exactly the right time to change gear.
This 3 Series station wagon has long been one of the quiet achievers in BMW's model range. There's a reason for that. Look behind the low-key styling and you find a car that does so much so well. This improved model has become quite expensive, but thanks to the updated hi-tech cabin, at least you now feel you're getting a very complete benchmark-standard product for that not-inconsiderable outlay. You might rarely use the added dynamic dimension it has over its rivals, but it'll always be good to know you have it. True, this car still isn't vastly practical, but the changes BMW made to the cargo area when this 'G20'-series model was first launched have had more of a real word impact than the stats suggest. And pragmatic estate buyers will appreciate the fact that this car is the most efficient choice you can make in the premium part of the mid-sized estate sector. A lot to like them, which is just as well given the premium prices being asked. Still, if you're shopping in this sector, we think you'll find this contender even more difficult to ignore.