BMW 3 Series estate performance
The 318i’s 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol engine is surprisingly willing, but needs to be revved hard to give its best. Move up to the 320i and there’s pace to rival plenty of hot hatches; but for those not satisfied with that, the 330i and 340i are real sports cars.
We prefer the diesels, though, with the exception of the 316d, which feels rather underpowered. We’d choose the 318d or the 320d; the latter’s 2.0-litre engine has plenty of low-end shove for effortless everyday pace and has the measure of rivals’ equivalent engines. Or, better still, pick the 320d ED; it's a bit slower than the standard 320d, but still serves up good pace for satisfying everyday progress and is a good option for company car buyers, too. Like the larger petrol engines, the 330d and particularly 335d are very quick indeed.
In general, specifying the eight-speed automatic gearbox (it’s standard on top-spec versions) improves performance. Where fitted, the heavy xDrive four-wheel drive system tempers the car’s pace, although not by much.
BMW 3 Series estate ride
Considering how well the 3 Series Touring drives, it rides very well, too – at least when fitted with the optional adaptive M Sport suspension. In Comfort mode, you can plod around town over speed bumps and patchy surfaces, and not feel too ruffled. It’s the same story on faster roads, where the car remains wonderfully settled over rippled surfaces, with only a deep pothole likely to make you wince. That said, some versions of the Audi A4 Avant on Comfort Dynamic suspension are even smoother.
Switch to Sport mode in the 3 Series Touring and the extra stiffness means you feel more movement, since the car stays pinned to the road, but it’s still tolerable. The caveat is that we haven’t yet driven the car on the standard non-adaptive suspension, which is likely to be a little firmer.
Ultimately, the 3 Series Touring is at its best with smaller wheels fitted, but even 19in ones don’t spoil the ride.
BMW 3 Series estate handling
We’ve only driven cars with the adaptive M Sport suspension. This offers a choice of settings controlled by a button on the dashboard. They cover steering weight, accelerator response and, if fitted, the automatic gearbox.
Even in the softer Comfort setting, the 3 Series Touring feels well controlled and easy to handle. Switching to Sport stiffens the dampers and gives it real poise, making it a better driver’s car than just about any rival. The wonderfully balanced rear-wheel drive chassis gives you lots of confidence, with very little body lean in corners.
The only problem area is the steering; the weight isn’t consistent as you turn the wheel, although it is at least accurate. The optional Servotronic system doesn’t fully resolve, this so we’d recommend ignoring this, as well as the more expensive variable sport steering option.
For those concerned about traction in the winter months, the xDrive four-wheel drive system makes a lot of sense. It does take the edge off the more playful-feeling handling in rear-wheel-drive models, but for most drivers that’s likely to be a small penalty to pay for the car’s better all-weather ability.
BMW 3 Series estate refinement
The petrol engines are the most refined. The 318i can be a little raspy but it’s still reasonably muted, and the larger petrols – especially the six-cylinder 340i – are very smooth.
The diesels are quick and efficient but they’re not as refined as those in the Audi A4. Vibrations are well suppressed, but there’s too much engine noise when you’re trying to build speed, particularly around town. The exception to this is the 335d, which is much quieter but still not the equal of the A4 Avant 3.0 TDI.
Once settled into a motorway cruise, the engine noise does fade away, but then you’re bothered by wind noise from around the door mirrors, along with excessive road noise that’s most apparent when the larger wheels are fitted.
On the plus side, the manual versions have nice control weights which means they’re easy to drive smoothly in stop-start traffic, while the eight-speed automatic (optional on lower-end models, standard on six-cylinder engines) is one of the slickest gearboxes on the market.