Browse over 9,000 car reviews

It takes a quantum mind shift to accept a station wagon as a lifestyle accessory rather than life's grim necessity — a symbol, indeed, that your life is essentially over.

Never mind that such a vehicle is just what you require to cart about the fruits of your loins, it's difficult to project an aura of virility or availability in what is essentially an advertisement for prophylactics.

Or so it was with wagons.

It helps that they're now known by all manner of marketing euphemisms: sportwagon, touring, estate, avant. Anything other than "station wagon", with its attendant images of suburban suffocation.

With this grim mantle having been inherited by the SUV, wagons in the entry-level prestige segment are becoming perilously close to fashionable.

The newest executive iterations from Europe and Japan are as departed from the Falcodore hacks given to fleet and taxi drivers as a Bally loafer is from a Blundstone boot. Moreover, they're often more pleasing to the eye than their sedan siblings.

One such is the recently released BMW 3 Series Touring.

The late, lamented E46 3 Series range also had but one Touring model: an automatic whose old 2.2-litre engine behaved more like a four-cylinder than one of Bimmer's brilliant inline sixes.

Its E90 successor — for which the lapsed 323i designation has been revived — gets a choice of six-speed auto or manual (which no one will buy) transmissions and a detuned version of the 2.5 straight six from the 325i sedan.

Detuned, in fact, from all of 160kW/250Nm to a distinctly four-ish figure of 130kW and 230Nm. It hasn't been so much neutered as urbanised, but if you forked over $71,500 (for the auto, $2600 off for the manual no one's going to buy) you'd be entitled to feel aggrieved.

Reaching 100km/h in a claimed nine seconds — with the kilometre coming up in 29.7 — the auto Touring is respectable rather than rapid.

And you'll need to make use of the ZF gearbox's sport mode to approximate those times — the Touring's 1500kg is never more in evidence than when getting off the mark in Drive.

More significantly, this heft doesn't cause garment-rending at the petrol pump — both the claimed open-road and urban-consumption figures of 6.9 and 13.2 litres per 100km are, if anything, slightly pessimistic.

The Touring has all the 3Series's inherent handling excellence, with BMW's trademark near-50/50 weight distribution coupled with rear-wheel drive.

It can be both a benign daily drive and an incisive handler, able to deal with any sharp manoeuvre this side of sanity (enhanced by the Dynamic Stability Control and a vast array of electronic safety aids) while feeling exceptionally planted.

It's a BMW — so one expects no less.

Even ride quality on the 323i's standard-issue run-flat tyres is better than tolerable on 16- inch rubber. Bigger wheels are one item on the typically long and expensive options list that you needn't tick.

Touring ownership is, of course, about facility, and this the 323i has. The tailgate, for example, splits so access can be had by way of the glass pane without the "effort" of opening the whole thing.

Nice. So too are the provisions for secure oddment storage, not least beneath the floor — where, in most comparable cars, resides a full-size spare.

Not sure if those cubbyholes are included in the total luggage space figure of 1385 litres (with rear seats folded), but it's such a comfort to know there's room in the boot for another few bots, what?

Standard kit is comparable with that in the 320i Executive sedan. It includes leather trim, retractable centre armrests in both front and rear (quite good, these), storage nets on the backs of the front seats and an anti-dazzle rear-view mirror.

The near roof-length sunroof, which brightens the lot of rear-seat travellers (but diminishes the driver's head space) adds $2900. Dip further into the optionals, let alone the $5200 MSports kit, and you're looking at an easy $80K on the road.

Whether or not you consider such a sum just a bit silly depends entirely on the store you set by the fabled blue-and-white roundel.

Some other prestige wagons offer much more equipment and performance for a lot less money, but none of them boast that badge.

So if 3 Series ownership isn't purely a matter of dollars and cents, the stylish, practical Touring makes at least a degree of sense.

See the picture gallery above for a wider view of the market.

Paul Pottinger
Contributing Journalist
Paul Pottinger is a former CarsGuide contributor and News Limited Editor. An automotive expert with decades of experience under his belt, Pottinger now is a senior automotive PR operative.
About Author
Trending News