Few car classifications attract the ardent fan support of the luxury sport wagon. While some previously trickled in from Japanese and U.S. makers, the elongated sport sedan body style normally gets sourced from European premium brands like BMW and its rivals.
The 3 Series Touring is a niche offering compared to the venerable 3 Series sedan, and therefore not available with as many powertrain variants. Choices include a direct-injected, turbocharged 2.0L 4-cylinder gasoline engine (328i) and a miserly 4-cylinder turbo-diesel (328d), while an 8-speed automatic transmission with xDrive all-wheel drive puts power down to the road no matter the engine.
Last year, I tested a 328d xDrive Touring that moved along quickly enough and provided superb fuel economy. This time around, BMW gave me a 328i xDrive Touring, which was hardly a slowpoke thanks to 241 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, the latter arriving at just 1,250 rpm to aid this rather hefty 1,735kg wagon in sprinting from 0-100 km/h in 6.3 seconds.
Like most BMW models, the 3 Series Touring hides its weight well. The autobox with manual mode does a great job of maximizing the engine’s sweet spot while shifting smoothly and quickly. Engineers recalibrated the unit with wider-spaced ratios for 2016, no doubt to improve fuel economy, but it doesn’t seem to negatively affect performance. Meanwhile, paddle shifters increase enjoyment through the curves―an arena that quickly proves this wagon doesn’t give much if anything up to the sedan.
The mildly updated Touring received the same undercarriage tweaks as the similarly restyled 4-door model, including revised electric power steering for quicker response to turn-in and better overall feel. A massaged chassis adds more rear-wheel bias than the outgoing design without compromising comfort.
That compliant ride continues to coddle with Sport mode engaged, the 3 Series Touring getting BMW’s console-mounted Driving Experience Control rocker switch that allows for Sport and even a more aggressive Sport Plus setting. There are also Comfort and Eco Pro modes, the latter dulling response times while utilizing all BMW EfficientDynamics technologies including auto start-stop and regenerative braking. In such a relaxed state, the 328i xDrive Touring proves to be a sublime driving companion, delivering silky-smooth operation for a thoroughly comfortable experience.
It didn’t hurt matters that my tester was fitted with two of the best front seats I’ve experienced all year. The upgraded driver’s seat truly takes comfort to new levels, ultimately lovable in the way it hugs one’s backside with soft, body-forming padding, yet as supportive as most wagon owners would ever expect a driver’s seat needs to be thanks to power-adjustable side bolsters that can be cinched up to lock the backside firmly into position.
A BMW Individual upgrade resulted in one of the warmest, most inviting cabins in the compact luxury segment. The seats were trimmed in beautiful light Cashmere Beige fine-grain Merino leather, while the instrument panel and doors were highlighted with high-gloss hardwood inlays and satin-silver accents.
Standard features in the 2016 BMW 328i xDrive Touring ($48,200) include 18” alloy wheels, auto on-off partial LED headlamps, LED fog lamps, roof rails, push-button ignition, rain-sensing wipers, a leather-wrapped, multifunction sport steering wheel, adaptive cruise control, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, dual-zone automatic HVAC, navigation, heated front seats with power adjustments and driver’s memory, emergency telematics, a panoramic sunroof, and much more.
Additional options included the Premium Package Enhanced ($5,400) featuring proximity access, auto-dimming side mirrors, a heated steering wheel, head-up display, a backup camera, a great-sounding Harmon/Kardon surround audio system, satellite radio, BMW’s ConnectedDrive services, front and rear parking sensors, a garage door opener, and more. BMW even added a set of M Sport brakes that significantly increased stopping power.
Personally, I would also upgrade to the M Sport Line ($3,000) if only for the 19” alloys and M Aero package, although its M Leather steering wheel and Sport seats are enticing, as well. There are many more options available, a sign that BMW clearly understands its faithful Touring owners’ appreciation for individuality.
One way the Bavarian brand earns loyalty is with better than average interior refinement and material selection. From the fabric that was chosen to wrap each roof pillar to the level of premium synthetics used to cover nearly every other surface that’s not leather, wood or metal, it’s all a cut above. What’s more, the switchgear is amongst the best in the segment, while the classic 4-dial primary gauge cluster seems to float within a fully encompassing TFT display.
At least as impressive, BMW’s upright, tablet-style infotainment display glows with sharp resolution, rich colours, and deep contrast, while the console-mounted iDrive controller is comfortably within reach and easy to modulate whether rotating the dial, using its joystick-style side movements, pressing downward for selection, or applying any of its seven surrounding buttons. It’s a fully featured interface incorporating split-screen multitasking capability, with excellent route guidance and a superb parking camera.
I found the row of radio presets and quick-access controls below the centre vents to be particularly useful, too, not to mention the redundant buttons on the steering wheel.
There were no climate controls or heated seats in the back, however, but the rear bench felt almost as comfortable as the front buckets, and space should be ample for most body types. The centre armrest with dual cup holders can be folded down, or alternatively the entire middle section of the 40/20/40 seatback can be laid flat for longer cargo like skis. Once fully folded, the cargo area expands from 496 litres to a very useful 1,500 litres.
Now that we’re talking practicalities, the 328d Touring I drove last year was wonderfully thrifty at a claimed 6.7L/100km combined city-highway. The 2016 BMW 328i xDrive Touring is nowhere near as efficient with 9.1L/100km average, and its thirst for mid-grade 89-octane gas is another negative.
I doubt anyone preferring the regular model’s performance gains will be turned off by this information, but I’d opt for the savings along with the luxury of filling up less often.
The wagon-buying demographic is usually a more pragmatic lot than sports sedan enthusiasts, which is reason enough for BMW not to offer a 340i Touring or M3 Touring, let alone a manual transmission or rear-wheel drive.
Still, both the 328i xDrive and 328d xDrive Touring models are hard to fault. My well-equipped tester provided a wonderful combination of resplendent luxury and rewarding performance.