3 Series Touring a most practical wagon
I reckon it's even better to look at than the sedan. The long, glassy profile has more logic about its lines than the four-door, although among three-box sedans, the 3-series in its latest guise is one of the prettiest.
It's just that the load carrying or, as BMW elegantly puts it, the Touring version of the range has a gentle rearwards taper about its silhouette, where the sedan goes through that inevitable step down to the boot lid.
The latest Touring is 97mm longer than the model it replaces, sitting on a wheelbase that has been extended by 50mm, and with the roof taper that little bit gentler than before, rear head room is improved, as well as leg room and load volume.
The seats-up load capacity is increased by 35 litres, bringing it to 495 litres, which is 5 litres up on the Audi A4 Avant and 10 litres more than the C-class Mercedes-Benz. When the seats are folded flat, maximum load volume grows to 1500 litres, the same as the Benz and 70 litres more than the Audi.
As well as being larger and more capacious than the old car, the new-generation 3 Series Touring is also lighter, and its versatility is improved by the use of 40/20/40 split fold rear seats.
Having said that, the Touring is 50kg heavier than the sedan, and the new xDrive all-wheel-drive option adds another 80kg.
BMW has sold 3-series wagons in New Zealand before, starting in 1990 with the E30 model (the last of the square ones) and every version since has been offered with a load-carrying version here.
However, this time, the Touring variation is applied to every drivetrain BMW offers in the 3-series and, later in the year, some models will be offered with the same xDrive all-wheel-drive setup used by the X-series Sports Activity Vehicles on the BMW manifest.
Again, all-wheel-drive wagons have been available from BMW here before, but that's almost 20 years ago with the 525 iX Touring.
Occasionally, one or two used ones come up for sale, but they're snapped up very quickly, so well respected were they during a very short period on sale here as new cars.
The addition of xDrive models to the 3 Series Touring range was inspired after considerable feedback from BMW fans around the country, among them probably those who have been missing out on snaring those very rare old 525iX models.
"The availability of xDrive will see [the Touring] become the ultimate all-wheel-drive sports wagon," says BMW New Zealand managing director Nina Englert.
It's hard not to disagree with that. As we already know, it looks good and has class-leading space.
"The inclusion of an all-wheel drive option makes the new model even more perfect for the Kiwi lifestyle, as BMW xDrive is the most advanced all-wheel drive system available, making it ideal for New Zealand roads and driving conditions," Englert adds.
The F30 3-series Touring is only just out in Europe, and the xDrive versions - on only 320i, 320d and 330d models for the time being - are only just entering the British market.
The BMW xDrive is a clever and effective system which, in usual operating conditions, splits the drive 60:40 in favour of the rear wheels, so that the brand's trademark rear-wheel-drive balance and poise is retained.
However, the system is capable of delivering nearly 100 per cent of the car's output to just one axle should its wheel and yaw sensors decide such allocation of torque is required.
This is designed to provide control and safety in all conditions and enhances in-curve stability by picking up the tiniest erring to under or oversteer, and issuing the distribution of torque most appropriate to returning to the status quo.
The New Zealand specification BMW Touring models have the same specification as the sedans, with a standard fixed 6.5-inch high resolution monitor, in all models.
This displays information from the on-board computer and all models boast USB and Bluetooth connectivity and in higher specification models acts as the satellite-navigation screen.
We're not really sure about having a fixed screen when you don't need it, as it does rather dominate the dashtop.
However, the design and execution of the rest of the cabin - and that extends right back into the well-shaped load area - is clean, well crafted and of excellent quality and, with decorative fillets and several grades of finish using BMW's sport, modern and luxury options, asking $3000 in the 318 and 320 models and $2000 in the 328, 330 and 335 models, your Touring does not need to look like anyone else's.
My test car was the cheapest diesel 318d model available, finished in black, with charcoal leather luxury line trim, and while I would have liked the 320d xDrive had it been available, until all-wheel-drive drops into New Zealand showrooms, this car would be my choice.
All Tourings' rear springs and dampers are slightly firmer, compared with the sedans. This is to cope the slightly heavier standard weight, as well as the larger loads the car was designed for. However, the Touring drives much like the 3 Series saloon. Low-speed ride quality is firmish but by no-means harsh and over bumps and rills it absorbs shock with real aplomb.
You can have any of the Tourings with the same M sport package that is available in the sedans, but I probably wouldn't, because even though you might get slightly sharper steering and more body control, I'm not sure the $5500 is worth the bother.
I would spend the money on other things if I lived in a rural area, and adding such a tag on to the 318d's $77,800 asking sticker would put you within cooee of the $84,400 320d with xDrive, 30 additional kilowatts and 60 more newton metres. It's probably a car worth waiting for, what with its Prius-like fuel economy, 245kmh top speed and 7.7-second zero to 100kmh.
That top speed is maybe irrelevant, but it does mean that in eighth gear at 100kmh the 318d and 320d barely draw breath at well under 1800rpm, and you can hardly hear them.
As it is, the range-runt 318d is a lot brisker than its hatch badge would suggest and, if no-one had told you that it was the least powerful of the lineup, hand on heart you wouldn't have picked it, trust me.
With 320i, with and without xDrive, and 328i petrol Tourings also on tap with, respectively, 135kW and 180kW, you can avoid diesel if you want too, while at the top of the Touring tree, the 190kW 330d xDrive and 225kW 335i sixes sound like fun, but that's when the sticker gets up to $112,500 before add-ons.
You don't need to add much to be fair, for all Tourings take the usual airbags, chassis electronics and things like seatbelt pre-tensioners, which help to secure its five-star Euro NCAP safety rating, while some versions of the car get automatic tailgate opening, front and rear park distance control, a rear-view camera and electric seat adjustment with memory function.
Such options have in the past added to the final price of a new BMW, but "we have worked hard to build these features into the car which has, in turn, significantly enhanced the value proposition", Englert says.
One extra cost item I would opt for is the Touring's Smart Opener system, which means you can open the boot simply by waggling your foot under the rear bumper as long as you have the key with you. Any shopper laden with purchases could benefit from this.
The F-30 BMW 3 Series Touring is the most practical stationwagon version of the 3 Series since that old E30 of 25 years ago.
The extra length gives it the load space it needed to become a genuine Audi Avant and Benz estate challenger and, with xDrive on tap in three models from May, it could become the best-selling premium wagon in the market.
Now if only they could get rid of that fixed screen!