What Car? says...
Before SUVs took over the world, estate cars were the luggage kings, and the BMW 3 Series Touring is one that appeals to drivers while remaining unfazed by the prospect of wardrobe transportation.
This latest generation of the 3 Series Touring hasn’t strayed far from the time-proven formula for building a sporty estate car. BMW has added some exterior styling tweaks and revamped technology to keep its contender fresh next to the competition.
Like that car, it has a wide range of engine options to suit most tastes and budgets, with strong yet efficient petrols and diesels, plus a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) that can travel more than 30 miles on electricity alone and could slice chunks off your company car tax bill.
Tried and tested rear-wheel drive is standard, or there's the option of four-wheel drive (xDrive in BMW speak). Meanwhile, if performance is your thing, there’s a hot petrol M340i or diesel M340d, or the even more powerful BMW M3 Touring.
Inside, you’ll find all the quality and sophistication you might expect of a BMW, so this should be a slam-dunk choice, right? Well, the 3 Series Touring doesn’t exactly have the market to itself.
For a start, it faces direct competition from the Audi A4 Avant, the Mercedes C-Class Estate and the Volvo V60. More practical yet less expensive family haulers such as the Skoda Superb Estate and the VW Passat Estate are also well worth considering if you can live without a premium badge.
Over the next few pages of this review, we'll tell you what the 3 Series Touring is like to drive, what it’s like inside and how much it’ll cost to run. We'll also rate it in all the important areas and tell you which engine and trim we recommend.
But whichever car you decide is the right one for you, make sure you get it for the best price by checking out the free What Car? New Car Deals pages for big savings without any hassle, including lots of new estate car deals.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
Diesel power has proved popular in the BMW 3 Series Touring over the years, and the 320d in today’s line-up is a fine choice. This strong 187bhp 2.0-litre engine is more than gutsy enough, getting the car from 0-62mph in just over seven seconds – around the same time as the rival Audi A4 Avant 40 TDI.
If you’re not planning on doing a massive mileage, we’d point you in the direction of the 181bhp 320i. This 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine is perky enough for most situations, including overtaking on country roads, and its rev-happy nature sits well with the car’s sporty character.
If you need some extra punch, we’d recommend you take a look at the 330e. With 288bhp, this plug-in hybrid (PHEV) has plenty of performance and adds an official electric-only range of up to 37 miles, although it should be noted that the Mercedes C-Class Estate in C300e form does considerably better, with an electric range of more than 50 miles.
What if straight-line performance is your main concern, though? Well, we'd suggest checking out the range-toppers, both of which have six-cylinder engines. The M340i xDrive petrol has a salivating 369bhp that chops the 0-62mph sprint down to just 4.6sec, while the grunt-laden M340d diesel is only just behind (4.7sec). Still not enough? There’s always the 503bhp BMW M3 Touring.
Suspension and ride comfort
How smoothly the BMW 3 Series Touring rides depends on which suspension set-up you choose: the standard system, stiffer M Sport or M adaptive suspension. We’ve yet to sample a 3 Series Touring on its standard suspension, but if the saloon is anything to go by, it should offer a good balance between comfort and control, although you'll be more aware of the bumps than in an A4 Avant.
M Sport models have a stiffer set-up that means you'll feel every bump as it passes beneath the car. Still, while the ride is on the firm side in this guise, body movements are neatly controlled, so there's no unwanted bounciness over crests and dips.
M adaptive suspension is standard with top-spec M models or on M Sport models as part of the M Sport Pro Package. It’s not cheap, but the benefit is that you can stiffen or soften it at the touch of a button. Set to Comfort mode, this set-up helps the 3 Series Touring to smother big bumps with ease while remaining controlled over undulating roads. The A4 Avant is still the comfort king in this class, though.
On the stiffer M Sport suspension and optional adaptive suspension that we've tried so far, the 3 Series Touring will put a far bigger smile on your face than an A4 Avant or a Volvo V60 when it comes to handling. It feels more agile and better balanced through corners than those rivals, with little in the way of body lean. The sweet-handling M340i and M340d cement this estate’s class-leading status when it comes to handling, easily beating the rival Audi S4 Avant and Mercedes C43 Estate for thrills.
No matter which suspension or engine option you go for, all 3 Series Touring models have brilliant steering. It’s really good at telling you exactly how much grip the front wheels have, helping you to instinctively judge how much steering lock to apply.
The heavy battery in the 330e PHEV makes it the least alert version of the 3 Series Touring, but only by a small margin, and it's much better to drive than the equivalent V60 Recharge.
Noise and vibration
Thanks to foam-filled front pillars and a standard acoustic windshield, there’s hardly any wind noise at motorway speeds in the 3 Series Touring, although you might hear a faint whistle from the side mirrors when the stereo is muted.
The six-cylinder engines (M340d and M340i) sound sweet, while the less powerful four-cylinder petrol has a gruffer but still perfectly acceptable tone. The big-selling 320d diesel is also fine, but not quite as hushed as the equivalent A4 40 TDI. That said, the 3 Series Touring's automatic gearbox is much quicker to react than the equivalents in the A4 and V60.
Most 3 Series Touring models have strong brakes and are easy to bring to a halt smoothly, but the 330e PHEV’s feel a bit weird. That’s because they're linked to a regenerative braking system that harvests energy when you slow down to top up the battery. Still, they're more confidence-inspiring than the brakes of many other hybrid cars. Also on the plus side, there's no engine noise when the 330e is running on electric power alone.
The interior layout, fit and finish
Driving position and dashboard
The driver’s seat in the BMW 3 Series Touring is comfy enough for long journeys yet has enough bolstering to hold you in place during quick direction changes. It’s a shame, though, that adjustable lumbar support costs extra even on top-spec models. It's not that pricey, though, and definitely worth adding.
Thanks to extensive adjustment in the steering wheel and seat, you’ll find a decent driving position in a matter of seconds. In fact, as you sit there with a large, well-padded armrest for each elbow to rest upon, you might think ‘perfect’ sums up the 3 Series Touring’s driving position. However, it's not quite as good as that of the Volvo V60 for one key reason: the pedals are offset slightly to the right. The same is true in the Audi A4 Avant and Mercedes C-Class Estate but it's not a major blight.
The dashboard layout is very good for the most part. Most functions are simple to use, but it’s a shame that adjusting the climate control is now done via the infotainment touchscreen rather than by pressing physical buttons. Physical controls – which BMW used to fit – were far simpler to use while driving. The 12.3in digital instrument panel that's standard with all trim levels is clear and shows lots of information, but some drivers might find the steering wheel blocks the upper part of the screen. The optional Technology Pack adds a head-up display.
Visibility, parking sensors and cameras
The fact that you sit fairly low in the 3 Series Touring adds to its sporty feel, but forward visibility is still excellent, thanks to comparatively slim windscreen pillars. By contrast, the rearmost pillars are fairly thick, restricting your over-the-shoulder view.
Not to worry, though, because you get front and rear parking sensors, a rear-view camera and BMW's Parking Assistant system, which can identify a suitable space and steer you into it, all as standard. There's also an optional 360-degree camera that offers multiple views around the car.
All 3 Series Touring models get powerful full LED headlights, and you can go one step further by upgrading to adaptive laser lights. Not only are these even brighter, but they can also automatically change the shape of the light pattern they cast, to avoid dazzling oncoming drivers, even with high beam on.
Sat nav and infotainment
All 3 Series Touring trims come with a pin-sharp 14.9in infotainment touchscreen. Standard features include sat-nav, Bluetooth, a DAB radio, and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring (so you can run phone apps through the screen).
The optional Technology Pack adds wireless phone-charging, a wi-fi hotspot, a Harman Kardon premium sound system and gesture control, which allows you to control some functions by making hand gestures in the air. There are a lot of menus and sub-menus, but this system is more responsive than what you'll find in the C-Class Estate.
You can control the system using a rotary controller between the front seats; this is far less distracting than prodding the touchscreen when you're driving. It's one of the main reasons why we prefer the 3 Series Touring's infotainment to the touchscreen-only set-up in the A4 Avant (and those of any other rival, for that matter).
There isn’t much to complain about when it comes to quality in the 3 Series Touring. The dashboard is nice and squidgy, and the metal-effect buttons feel pleasingly solid when you press them. There’s also a good choice of interior trim choices, including a futuristic-looking metal mesh effect or more traditional open-pore wood.
If we're nitpicking, there are certain areas, such as around the gear selector, where you don’t get the same classy finish as you’ll find in an A4 Avant or V60. The 3 Series Touring's interior still beats the C-Class Estate's for build quality, though.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
The BMW 3 Series Touring has a bit more leg room up front than the Audi A4 Avant. There's not a huge difference, but it might be a deciding factor if you’re particularly long-legged. Head room shouldn't be a worry even if you’re tall, and the generous interior width means there’s no risk of rubbing elbows with your passenger.
Storage space in the 3 Series Touring is reasonable. There’s a useful cubby under the centre armrest that has a USB-C socket inside, as well as partitioned door bins that help to prevent loose items from rolling around.
There’s as much rear seat space in the 3 Series Touring as most passengers will need – a six-footer can sit behind someone of similar stature and still have space in all directions. The optional panoramic glass roof reduces head room slightly, though, and a substantial hump in the floor makes life a bit uncomfortable for the middle rear passenger.
If you regularly need to carry three adults in the back, consider the Volvo V60. Or, if you're not fussed about a premium badge, the Skoda Superb Estate offers limo-like rear leg room for a lot less money.
Seat folding and flexibility
The 3 Series Touring's standard 40/20/40 split-folding rear seats offer greater flexibility than the regular 60/40 ones you’ll find in the V60. They allow you to juggle luggage and passenger space with ease, and you can reach the levers to do this from the boot.
The folding process can be made even easier if you opt for the electric setback release, which replaces the levers with a couple of small buttons on the inside of the boot. Rivals including the Mercedes C-Class Estate offer a similar feature.
The 3 Series Touring has a reasonable boot that's roughly on a par with the A4 Avant's, but smaller than the Volvo V60's. Just bear in mind that while both the A4 Avant and 3 Series Touring can swallow seven carry-on suitcases beneath their load covers, the latter is rather narrow between the rear wheel arches.
That can be problematic for Ikea runs, and even getting a bike in the back can be troublesome. If the reason you're choosing an estate is that you want the biggest boot possible, consider the cheaper Superb Estate (which can swallow a whopping 11 carry-on cases).
What might sway you in favour of the Touring, though, is that its rear window can open independently of the tailgate. This handy feature allows you to stow light items, such as shopping bags, without opening the entire tailgate. You can specify rubber strips that run the length of the boot floor to help prevent things from sliding around, and there’s a space beneath the floor for stowing the tonneau cover when it isn't being used.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
Costs, insurance groups, MPG and CO2
Broadly speaking, the BMW 3 Series Touring is priced between the slightly cheaper Audi A4 Avant and the slightly more expensive Mercedes C-Class Estate and Volvo V60. Resale values are quite strong by class standards, and that bodes well if you’re looking to buy one using PCP finance.
If you’re a company car driver, you should look at the 330e plug-in hybrid (PHEV) because its low CO2 emissions keep it in the lower company car tax bands. To get the best fuel economy out of the 330e, you need to keep the battery charged, otherwise you’re carrying dead weight around while running on its 2.0-litre petrol engine. Even so, we’d advise company car drivers to also consider the C300e PHEV version of the C-Class Estate, which has lower emissions and therefore sits in an even lower tax band. The C-Class Estate can also travel almost twice as far from a full charge as the 3 Series Touring.
If you opt for the 330e, charging takes six hours from empty if you plug into a regular domestic three-pin socket, or about three and a half hours if you plug into an electric car charging point using the optional Type 2 lead.
The 320d will feature on many company car lists too, and is RDE2 compliant, so it won’t incur the 4% diesel surcharge. Its mild-hybrid assistance makes it very economical in real-world driving, as it proved in our True MPG test, with an overall figure of 47.2mpg in mixed driving.
Equipment, options and extras
The entry-level Sport is the cheapest 3 Series trim, but it still comes with plenty of kit, including 17in alloy wheels, LED headlights, heated front seats, three-zone air conditioning and cruise control.
Stepping up to M Sport will put you in our favourite version and introduces 18in wheels, sportier exterior styling and the chance to add the optional M Sport Pro Pack, bringing the desirable adaptive suspension we mentioned earlier (along with lots of other goodies). It's well worth the money for the plusher ride it provides.
The range-topping M340i and M340d models get the M Sport Pro Pack as standard and have bespoke adaptive suspension that's more performance-orientated.
BMW as a brand finished 16th out of 32 manufacturers in the 2022 What Car? Reliability Survey. That's behind Lexus (which topped the table), but ahead of Audi (21st), Mercedes (23rd) and Jaguar (26th).
BMW provides a three-year warranty with no mileage cap. That's good by class standards, because many rivals have a mileage limit. You can extend the warranty for an extra cost if you intend to keep the car for longer.
The 330e PHEV has cover for the battery extended to six years (capped at 60,000 miles for the last three).
Safety and security
The 3 Series Touring landed a five-star safety rating from Euro NCAP, outperforming the V60 tested around the same time in the adult, child, and vulnerable road user categories. Comparisons between major rivals such as the A4 Avant and C-Class Estate are tricky, because the A4 was tested so long ago that its rating has expired, while the C-Class was tested under the far more stringent current regime.
All versions come with a healthy roster of active and passive safety systems. The list includes automatic emergency braking (AEB) that looks out for pedestrians as well as cars, plus lane-departure warning and traffic-sign recognition.
The optional Driving Assistant Professional pack further reduces your chances of an incident with the addition of lane-keeping assistance, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.
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|RRP price range||£42,395 - £61,580|
|Number of trims (see all)||8|
|Number of engines (see all)||5|
|Available fuel types (which is best for you?)||diesel, petrol, hybrid|
|MPG range across all versions||176.6 - 56.5|
|Available doors options||5|
|Company car tax at 20% (min/max)||£1,072 / £4,477|
|Company car tax at 40% (min/max)||£2,144 / £8,953|