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First drive: BMW launches low-slung SUV alternative

Carrying the corners: The new 3 Series Touring has 495 litres of cargo space with the seats up, making it nearly as roomy as a medium SUV but with sportier dynamics.

New-gen BMW 3 Series Touring aimed at practical people who think beyond SUVs


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26 Mar 2013

THE BMW 3 Series Touring wagon has rolled into Australian showrooms, with a pair of economy-focused variants leading the charge before the arrival of the swifter 328i by May.

BMW has pitched its newest load-lugger as a sharper handling yet still spacious alternative to a range of in-vogue small and medium premium SUVs including its own X3 – sales of which are up more than 58 per cent this year.

The launch range kicks off with the 105kW/320Nm 318d diesel, priced from $58,900 plus on-road costs. A petrol-powered 320i with 135kW/270Nm is also available, priced from $62,600.

These figures are $2500 and $4000 respectively more expensive than sedan versions with the same engine. By comparison, the base X3 – the xDrive 20i petrol – starts at $59,000, while the base diesel version, the more powerful xDrive 20d, costs $63,100.

Both engines are matched as standard with an eight-speed automatic transmission – a six-speed manual is a no-cost option on special order – with the 318d’s fuel use rated at a claimed 4.7 litres per 100km on the combined cycle. The 320i uses a claimed 6.2L/100km.

The 318d’s power and fuel use figures compare favourably to the 100kW/330Nm Mercedes-Benz C200 CDI Estate (5.5L/100km), while the 320i matches the petrol-engined Benz C200 Estate but uses 0.7L/100km less fuel.

A more powerful 328i variant, featuring a more highly tuned version of the 320i’s engine producing 180kW/350Nm, will join the range from May priced from $69,900 – again, $4000 more than the 328i sedan. BMW claims the 328i is capable of a 0-100km/h sprint of 6.0 seconds.

For now, the 328i will be the swiftest member of the 3 Series wagon stable, with no plans for a hardcore rival for the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG wagon or Audi RS4 Avant.

The previous-generation Touring was outsold by its sedan stablemate by more than nine-to-one in Australia, and BMW projects the new one will make up a similar proportion of sales.

It will also face tougher competition from within, with the 3 Series GT – a half coupe, half wagon-style 3 Series derivative conceptually similar to the larger (and slow-selling) 5 Series GT – due to touch down here within a few months.

Naturally, the extra outlay for the Touring over the sedan buys extra practicality – with claimed best-in-class cargo capacity of 495 litres with the rear seats in place (up 35L over the old model), expanding to 1500L when the 40:20:40 seats are folded flat.

This figure compares to 550L/1600L for the taller X3.

The boot lip is lower at 62mm above ground, while an automatic tailgate and a separately opening glass rear window are standard. A hands-free automatic tailgate that operates via foot movement under the bumper is an $846 option.

As with the sedan, the new Touring is larger than its predecessor (97mm longer with a 50mm longer wheelbase), and is said to offer 17mm more kneeroom and easier access for back-seat passengers thanks to larger door apertures and a marginally higher roof.

The new-generation 3 Series wagon launches here a little more than a year after its sedan counterpart, which is engaged in a tight tussle with the Mercedes-Benz C-Class for segment sales leadership.

The range is said to retain the uncompromised ride and handling of the sedan. Underneath sits the same platform with a longitudinal engine layout and rear-drive configuration. The wider track (up by 37mm at the front and 48mm down the rear compared with the old model) is said to improve roadholding.

BMW has also lopped 40kg from the kerb weight over the previous model, and increased torsional rigidity by a claimed 10 per cent.

Standard equipment on all variants includes climate-control air-conditioning, USB and Bluetooth connectivity a leather-wrapped steering wheel, 6.5-inch display, cruise control with brake function and rear parking sensors.

The 320i adds extras including a sports steering wheel with paddle shifters, larger 17-inch alloy wheels (the 318d gets 16s), electric seats with driver’s memory, a lighting package including LED lights in the cabin and loading areas, front parking sensors and a reversing camera.

The flagship 328i will feature leather trim, satellite navigation, an upgraded nine-speaker sound system and electric folding ‘anti-dazzle’ wing mirrors.

As with the sedan, four optional ‘lines’ are available – Sport (between $2000 and $4900, costing the most on the 318d and the least on the 328i), Modern (again between $2000 and $4900), Luxury ($4100 to $4900) and M Sport ($8900 on all three variants).

Each pack adds equipment such as unique alloy wheel designs and cabin trim, leather seats and various exterior detailing. The M Sport adds extras including, but limited to, 19-inch alloy wheels, suspension and M-themed leather steering wheel.

Around two-thirds of all 3 Series sedan buyers opt for one of these four packages – a figure projected to carry over to the Touring.

BMW 3 Series Touring pricing*
318d (a)$58,900
320i (a)$62,600
328i (a)$69,900
*Excludes on-road costs.

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