SO MUCH has been written over the years about Chris Bangle’s influence on BMW design. He was roundly criticised for the 7 Series and 5 Series, and then castigated because the new 3 Series, a model that carries the weight of the Munich company’s sales volumes on its shoulders, was too timid, representing a kind of “dumbing down” of his new design direction. So let’s say it straight out: this new 3 Series Touring is one of the most beautiful, yet purposeful, vehicles in the entire BMW line-up.
The chiselled, truncated wagonstyle tail is a perfect foil for the sculpted nose, balancing it much better than the compromised notchback rear and oddly-shaped tail-lights of the saloon.
Of course, styling is always a matter of opinion, handsome being as handsome does. And the new 325i Touring really does. It sets standards in fit and finish for the category, and its performance and handling show yet again that what BMW calls a Touring is no compromised load-hauler, but a sports saloon with some extra usable luggage space.
Nevertheless, that loadability is improved in the E90 version. Thanks largely to the adoption of run-flat tyre technology and the elimination of the need for a spare, luggage space is up on the previous model’s. There are also a number of practical improvements, like the storage compartment below the luggage compartment floor (also courtesy of the eliminated spare), whose lid may be turned around, the one side finished in a hard-wearing washable film. Whenever the handy, separately opening rear window is raised, the luggage compartment cover slides up into a convenient loading position. At this price level, load nets and blinds are de riguer, and the Touring also offers a watertight folding box, an umbrella holder, bag holders, and a 12-volt powersocket in the load compartment.
That’s the loading facilities out of the way, then, allowing us to concentrate on what the 325i Touring really is: a luxury, family sportscar… With its wide stance, 17-inch alloy wheels, and differentprofile tyres front and rear, the car signals “performance” in no uncertain terms. Our test unit came fitted with Bridgestone Potenza 255/40 run-flats at the rear, with 225/45s in front.
The front wheels are suspended on the same double-joint springstrut system as the saloon. Rear suspension also mirrors the saloon’s, with the same five-arm independent set-up. Brakes are 300 mm vented discs in front, with 300 mm solid discs at the rear. The braking system and engine are linked into a bewildering array of driving electronics. The list includes ABS, the very latest DSC system, ASC (automatic stability control), AYC (automatic yaw control), EDFC (engine drag force control, which counters the tendency of the drive wheels to lock when shifting down), CBC (cornering brake control), EBFD (electronic brake-force distribution), DBC (dynamic brake control – BMW’s version of brake assist), DTC (dynamic traction control, effective on loose ground), and trailer stability control, which recognises a pendulum action and applies the brakes individually to counter it. Active Steering is available as an option.
Under the bonnet is a 2 497 cm³ version of BMW’s new Valvetronic double-VANOS six, with maximum outputs of 160 kW at 6 500 r/min and 250 N.m across the range between 2 750 and 4 250 r/min. It is a lightweight unit, thanks to the use of magnesium for the crankcase, crankshaft mounts, and cylinder head cover. On the test car, it drove the rear wheels through a slick-shifting six-speed manual gearbox, but there is a six-speed auto option.
Inside, there’s the iDrive-style facia with the large central display, and the comparatively uncluttered control panel that the muchmaligned system does manage to achieve. There’s a binnacle with analogue instruments (interestingly, there’s no temperature gauge), a multi-function steering wheel (with controls for sound, computer and Bluetooth telephone), remote central locking with a wireless key that you only need to have in your pocket to unlock the car, electric mirrors, electric windows (with one-touch), cruise control, and all the other items you’d expect on a luxury car, including climate control, a radio/CD player, navigation and a computer, all working through the iDrive controller.
The quality of materials is impeccable, with soft-touch plastics for the minor controls, and first-grade leather on the seats. The front chairs feature a comprehensive range of adjustment possibilities, enabling drivers of all sizes to get comfy at the wheel. But we would have preferred a crank-up lever for height adjustment rather than the “release-and-use-your-back-to-raiseyourself” set-up that’s been adopted on new BMWs with manual seat adjustment.
Slip the wireless key into its slot (located, unusually, to the left of the steering column), press the “Start” button, and the Valvetronic engine whirrs into life, idling with the smoothness one has come to expect of a BMW six. The test car’s clutch action lacked the “springiness” we have come to expect from manual-shift Beemers, and it was decidedly the better for it, allowing smooth take-offs without having to make that conscious effort to “get the revs up”. It’s an easy car to drive in traffic, the flexibility of that low-rev torque peak making for relaxed progress.
But, when used in anger, the six really gets in a shove. Out on the test strip, with the electronic stability systems switched out, the 1 653 kg 325i Touring chirped off the mark before surging to 100 km/h in 8,53 seconds, and on to a top speed of 236 km/h, achieved at just on 5 600 r/min in top gear. The gearshift proved slick and precise, allowing snap changes during acceleration runs. And stopping power was first class, the car averaging 2,66 seconds in our 100- to-zero emergency stopping test.
In more normal driving, the car proved a consummate cruiser, holding the driver’s chosen gait up hill and down dale with no tendency to drop off. Fuel thirst is low for a powerful six-cylinder, the CAR fuel index (our estimate of overall consumption in enthusiastic driving) working out to 10,58 litres/100 km. This means that, in regular use, owners won’t have much difficulty in achieving a range of 600 km on a 63-litre tankful of unleaded.
Away from the straight, smooth stuff, the Touring was a revelation, proving every bit as sure-footed as its saloon counterparts. Steering is light and precise, the ride is cosseting but well-controlled, and the electronics have the car cornering on rails, even with the right foot planted on the pedal in situations where one might have expected the front to run wide, requiring a throttle- lift. Injudicious application of the accelerator exiting a bend will produce the faintest trace of a rear-end wiggle before the electronic safety net intervenes. BMW testers report that the car’s lap-time at the Nürburgring is identical to a saloon version with the same engine.
More balanced looking than the saloon, and just as capable dynamically, but with better loading options, the new 325i Touring is truly a family sportscar. It’s premium- priced by comparison with a whole range of compact sportswagon rivals, but its level of performance and economy, as well as the sheer quality of build and materials, ensure sales success. This is truly the best E90 3 Series we have sampled.