This four-star rating is everything to do with the core 3 Series Touring and nothing to do with the 328i variant tested. BMW's premium estate is bigger than ever, more practical than ever and more efficient too. To us that makes it highly desirable - even more so than the accomplished saloon. A diesel version might be a five-star car...
In the Metal:
BMW's new 3 Series Touring shares its wheelbase and overall length with the saloon, which means more room all-round, especially in the rear seats and boot. Along with a 35-litre increase in luggage volume over the previous model the loading sill has been lowered to ease, well, loading. To that end automatic boot opening and closing is standard now as well.
As ever the appearance of the 3 Series now depends on which of the trim levels you opt for. The test cars were all Luxury models, lending them a high-quality air with large alloy wheels and plenty of chrome on the outside to make them stand out.
As mentioned at the top of this article, a diesel engine is by far the preferred choice for the 3 Series Touring when you're talking about the Irish market. It's a shame there were none to test at the launch... Nonetheless the 328i model is technically very impressive. A combination of the twin-scroll turbocharger, direct injection and variable valve timing means peak power of 245hp and maximum torque of 350Nm. It'll hit 100km/h from rest in 6.0 seconds dead and needs its 250km/h electronic limiter. That's not too far shy of the (more expensive) 330d Touring and while the 328i's emissions and economy can't touch the best-selling 320d model, they're not at all bad for a petrol car with this performance. It's quiet too. Despite all that we found the engine lacking in personality. On the test route we pined for the rumble of a six-cylinder unit instead. What price progress?
As you'd expect there's precious little difference between the ride/handling balance of the estate and the saloon. A thorough back-to-back comparison might reveal something, but given the wide breadth of options, including wheel sizes and sports suspension, that's pretty irrelevant. Put simply, the 3 Series is the best car in its class to drive, and the Touring maintains that reputation.
What you get for your Money:
By far the most popular variant of the new Touring will be the 320d model, which starts at €42,940. That represents a premium of about €3,600 over the saloon, with which it shares its line-up of ES, SE, Sport, Modern, Luxury and M Sport options. Entry-level cars include 17-inch alloys, automatic boot opening, climate control, a 6.5-inch colour screen and iDrive system, cruise control, keyless start and a USB interface.
SE adds Parking Distance Control all-round, dual-zone climate control, an auto-dimming mirror along with auto lights and wipers. The Sport, Modern and Luxury lines add their own colour and trim themes, while M Sport cars gain 18-inch alloys, a more aggressive body kit, firmer suspension, leather sports seats and other aesthetic changes inside and out.
BMW has been banging on about its EfficientDynamics measures for some time now, but it's worth looking a little closer at how it is continually ramping up performance while also enhancing efficiency. The list of such measures on the 320d Touring for instance includes brake energy regeneration and stop-start; a gear shift indicator on manual cars and the ECO PRO mode to encourage more economical driving; on-demand operation of ancillaries, including the air conditioning compressor and an oil pump controlled according to the engine map; air flap control at the front; and low rolling resistance tyres. Most buyers of these cars are blissfully unaware of the lengths gone to.
It's not too radical to suggest that a BMW 320d Touring might gain close to the full five stars. It does everything we already love about the 3 Series saloon, with debatably more style and more space. As ever it makes life very hard for the Audi and Mercedes-Benz alternatives. The petrol-fuelled 328i model doesn't work for us, technically brilliant as it might be.