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Car reviews - BMW - 3 Series - 323i Touring wagon

Our Opinion

We like
A true BMW six-cylinder sedan to drive, style, wagon versatility and practicality
Room for improvement
Detuned 2.5-litre petrol six not the way forward when brilliant BMW diesels abound

BMW logo28 Jun 2006

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

WITH only a single model, it seems strange that BMW elects not provide more of a choice in the 3 Series Touring range.

Some may argue that the X3, based on the old E46 3 Series platform, performs much the same duty as a wagon version of Australia’s best-selling compact luxury sedan would.

However,others disagree, pointing to the X3’s divisive styling, wavering cabin quality and very-SUV proportions.

Sometimes all people want is a good old-fashioned station wagon, albeit one with the sort of dynamic, safety and hi-tech levels that only a BMW 3 Series can deliver.

If this is you then the 323i Touring should impress, even if its 130kW 2.5-litre six-cylinder engine is really only a chip away from becoming the 160kW number the considerably more expensive 325i sedan enjoys.

In reality the differences are not really obvious if you do not drive 323i and 325i back-to-back.

A smooth-pinning, sweet-ounding and punchy-only-at-higher-revs BMW in-line six is still there for the taking. It is the very picture of refinement and grace.

Combined with either the weighty but satisfying six-speed manual gearbox or the silky six-speed automatic, the 323i Touring’s performance is very acceptable, if not anywhere near as captivating as the astoundingly good 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel 320d sedan.

Now if only BMW would marry parsimonious and powerful diesel with practical and pretty wagon.

Speaking of economy potential, a 12.1 to 12.3L/100km reading was the average over some very hard-driven country roads, when a series of 320d sedans also along the same driving route battled to break past 6.9L/100km barrier.

Nevermind, because – once you find a favourite ribbon of road – the 323i Touring conforms to all BMW sports sedan requirements, delivering sharp and involving handling, superb body control, outstanding grip and security and first-class engineering enjoyment.

This should come as no surprise whatsoever, since there is a real BMW 3 Series lurking underneath.

Be careful though – the M Sport’s larger and lower-profile wheel and tyre package hardened the otherwise supple-riding Touring to an alarming degree.

Being a Touring also raises cargo-carrying expectations, and here – again – the 323i wagon is a BMW blueblood by not being overly cavernous (who would want to ruin the lovely trim anyway, even if a rubberised floor cover is available), but still more practical (and some say handsome) than the E90 sedan.

The detailing also is worth mentioning, with the trick luggage cover/opening rear window disappearing act an entertaining feature. A plethora of cubbyholes should also add to the Touring’s (small) family appeal.

Annoyingly for BMW Australia, releasing the perfectly fine and dazzlingly dynamic 323i Touring at the same time as the diesel sedan simply enhances the latter and raises questions about the former’s place in an increasingly diesel-driven world.

Get past all that, however, and BMW’s latest wagon is a worthy wearer of the Bavarian badge, and the most driver-orientated load carrier this side of the $100,000-plus 530i Touring.

Against the patchy, though far-more extensive and affordable, A4 Avant and ageing C-class rivals, the 323i Touring is definitely the choice.

Still, a memo to BMW: bring the 320d Touring on!

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