I own a 1989 BMW 320i Touring. I love it, despite its foibles. Sitting at the helm somehow makes you feel that little bit special. Sitting in the cabin of the latest 3 Series Touring gives me more of the same. It’s great how BMW has a sense of heritage that you rarely see these days; there’s a definite evolution here, from the familiar dash layout and dials to the ergonomics of the switchgear, that automatically lets a 3 Series owner know where they are.
The Touring is definitely the best looking version of the new 3 Series. The overall impression of the saloon-style version isn’t great: it’s dull and it just looks plain wrong from certain angles, especially around the headlights and rear quarters. The coupé looks OK, but the convertible is bizarre. The Touring, however, makes all the strange lines work very well, unless you opt for a white paint job, which makes it look, well, Essex.
The M Sport version, which the Lint had on test, has a nice bodykit, chunky alloys and the subtle M-Tech badges, styling hints and detailing that make the sportier BMW models look even better. You do pay a premium, though, which pushes the Touring up near the £30k mark if you want leather as well.
Along the door sills and dotted around the interior, the M badges serve to heighten the pleasure of sitting inside a new 3 Series. For anyone who’s been inside one of the newer Bimmers, nothing will come as a surprise. It’s slabby, functional and undersated. But with the quality materials BMW chooses, it’s extremely smart. The orange dash lights remain hideous, unfortunately, and I’m beginning to think I should write a letter demanding BMW provide owners the option of choosing their own display lighting colour. I’d go for puce.
The lack of automatic seat controls as standard is a right pain the arse – literally. No matter how hard the wife and I tried, we couldn’t get comfortable. The leather is great but the seats are a tad on the hard side, too.
The brilliantly tiny steering wheel on the M Sport version really makes you appreciate how well the Touring handles – it’s point and shoot all the way in and out of the corners. But with the harsh ride and rock hard tyres, road manners do go somewhat AWOL at times, usually just after you’ve set off and the rubber is cold. You lose confidence in a car that feels like it’s always searching out the flattest piece of tarmac when all you want to do is just drive in a straight line.
A rather leaden, vague clutch is right pain in the ankle. The gearbox, like on most modern BMWs, is wonderful but without a better clutch it’s a major annoyance. And the situation isn’t helped by the lack of grunt the 2.0 diesel provides. There’s just no urgency off the mark and higher up the power band, it’s a similar story for motorway overtaking. It does feel lively on the twisty stuff, thankfully. It’s still worth looking at the petrol alternatives in the range, especially as diesel doesn’t offer particularly strong economy.
If you’re a 3 Series Touring fan, then there’s no real reason you won’t like the latest version because most of the current problems are echoed throughout the car’s past. No matter who you are, you will feel special in one, but you’ll also question the price tag. Sure, it’s a quality machine but you can get more space, more power and possibly more fun for less elsewhere – the Honda Accord Tourer, or the Skoda Octavia Estate, perhaps.
In the meantime, I’ll happily potter about in my old 320i. It’s a classic, after all. Will be people be saying that about the latest Touring in 18 years’ time? I doubt it.
Engine: Inline four-cylinder common rail turbodiesel
Transmission: Six-speed manual (six-speed auto optional)
Max power: 163bhp
Top speed: 139mph
Economy: 47.9mpg combined