- What is it?
- Why has this car created such a fuss?
- How fast is it?
- Tell me more key numbers.
- Surely there’s one you’ve forgotten?
- What’s the verdict?
- Audi RS4 Avant
- Mercedes-Benz AMG C63
- Porsche Taycan Sport Turismo
- What is it like to drive?
- What does it do well?
- What’s it not so good at?
- What is it like on the inside?
- Has BMW ruined the 3 Series’ cabin?
- What should I be paying?
What is it?
The first ever BMW M3 Touring: the really fast version of BMW’s class-leading 3 Series, now with an estate bodyshell. To give it its full name, it’s the BMW M3 Touring Competition xDrive: in English that means the estate is only available with BMW’s superb all-wheel drive system. ‘Competition’ is just a trim level, and all M3s in the UK of any shape are Comps. It means you get over 500bhp and an automatic gearbox as standard.
Why has this car created such a fuss?
There’s a coolness about fast estate cars. Even though they are at heart a bit of an odd concoction: if you’ve got a dog or a lawnmower or bags of garden waste in the big 500-litre boot, you tend not to drive very quickly. And if it’s empty and the road looks inviting, you’re in an estate car, which is naturally heavier and less stiff than a coupe. Like, say, a BMW M4. Hold that thought…
But people who like cars tend to really get off on the idea of a superwagon, because it’s a ready-for-anything, all-season, all-occasion device, and they tend to be a bit more subtle than an out-and-out sports coupe. In an M4, you broadcast an image of thrusting power. In an estate, you’re just taking the kids to school, or off to the hardware store.
And while BMW has delivered two M5 Tourings in years gone by (both recording pretty tragic sales figures dwarfed by their cult appreciation), there’s never been an M3 Touring sold to the public… until now.
How fast is it?
BMW claims it’ll get you from 0-62mph in 3.7 seconds and go on to a top speed of 174mph, and even that’s limited. We’d wager it’d be quicker still, after an M3 xDrive saloon we timed against the clock managed 0-60 in 3.2 seconds. The Touring’s a bit heavier, but it still feels brutally, ruthlessly quick.
Tell me more key numbers.
Just remember one: five hundred. At the front, the M3’s 3.0-litre twin-turbo straight six delivers just over 500 horsepower to all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic gearbox. At the back, you get a smidge over 500 litres of boot space. That’s it. That’s the recipe. Party at the front and in the rear.
Surely there’s one you’ve forgotten?
Ah yes. Price. It’s not cheap to own more car than anyone could ever possibly want or need. M3 Tourings start at £85,000 and it’s terrifyingly easy to propel that beyond six figures if you lob some carbon fibre-laced option packs at yours. And if you do that, well, you’re hardly likely to be filling it with unsheared sheep or bags of cement.
So is the M3 Touring a pointless endeavour that merely panders to the fantasies of those who have no intention – or means – of buying one? Or is it in fact one of the coolest cars made by BMW today? There is of course the possibility that the M3 Touring is in fact both of those things simultaneously, and still a pretty glorious bit of kit.
What’s the verdict?
“The bottom line is this: the M3 Touring is eye-wateringly, cheek-pufflingly good to drive fast”
Folks who’ve yearned for BMW to build an M3 Touring for rears – to be all the car they could ever want – might be dismayed to learn the result isn’t in fact perfect. It’s flawed. The fuel tank is on the small side. The gearbox still has moments in which it behaves like it’s a regular transmission that accidentally stowed away in an M car. And there’s no getting away from the fact that if you can afford to buy one, you are certainly not in the position where you need one car to cover all bases. You probably have a couple of sporty toys for the weekend already, and a more humdrum shopping car.
But don’t get hung up on the semantics. The bottom line is this: the M3 Touring is eye-wateringly, cheek-pufflingly good to drive fast, and because it shares a body with the excellent 3 Series Touring, it’s also an incredibly competent, well-made family car. No, it’s not going to cause an overnight collapse in BMW X3 or Audi Q5 sales. It isn’t supposed to. You get the feeling BMW will be happy with a few steady sales, while basking in the reflected glow of appreciation for having built a small fast estate at last.
It doesn’t dilute the M3 lineage and it does bring something new and fresh to this little niche of the car world. Life for the next Audi RS4 Avant and the hybrid-powered AMG C63 just got a lot trickier.
Audi RS4 Avant
£63,265 – £85,725
Mercedes-Benz AMG C63
Porsche Taycan Sport Turismo
Continue reading: Driving
What is it like to drive?
We could be rude here and simply leave the page blank, save for a link to our M3 saloon review. Because that’s how sorted the Touring is. Yes, it’s 85kg heavier than the equivalent four-door. Yes, it needs 25kg of bracing out back to maintain some body stiffness. And what with the extra glass and the roof being made of metal rather than the saloon’s carbon fibre, the centre of gravity’s been upset.
You’d never know. The Touring has all the poise, aggression and pace we’re used to from the existing M3. So you quickly forget it’s a wagon and get absorbed in the business of driving it. Could be bad news for the dog, that.
What does it do well?
Steering, for a start. The M3 goes against the groove for light, hyper-fast steering. It’s weighty, deliberate and sensibly geared. You feel like you’re moving big lumps of rubber and metal, not operating an Xbox, but it doesn’t fall into the trap some M cars have of being too overwrought and hefty.
The body control and damping is superb. BMW’s had to add extra support to the Touring’s rear suspension because of its intended role as a load-lugger, but it remains brilliantly keyed into the road. Firm, sure. It’s taut even in the Comfort setting. Sport is tolerable on smooth roads, but Sport Plus is a track-only zone. But even on the standard staggered wheels (19-inch rims up front, 20s at the back) it’s a great set-up. We’ve only tested the car with lighter ceramic brakes (a massive £7,995 option) so beware the heavier steel discs harming the ride.
BMW’s xDrive AWD set-up is so well-suited to a fast estate car, you curse the company for not creating it earlier. Being a heavily rear-biased set-up that only sends a maximum of 50 per cent of power to the front in the most extreme circumstances, you get the balance and sensation of a rear-wheel drive car, with a safety net of improved traction. That means exploiting 503bhp and 479lb ft is a much less fraught affair than it was in the spiky old M3, which arguably wouldn’t have suited life as a Touring.
You can of course delve into the set-up screen and disconnect the M3’s front driveshafts, allowing it to be rear-drive only with ten stages of stability control guardian angel. It’s a helluva party trick, but we suspect 99 per cent of people will revel in the factory 4WD setting 99 per cent of the time.
Special mention should go to the ceramic brakes. A ludicrously pricey option, and the gold calipers are horribly gauche, but the feel and progression you get from the pedal is top-class and the stopping power feels like it could peel the tyres from the rims. It’s details like this that an Audi RS4 is absolutely nowhere near, as a drive.
What’s it not so good at?
The M3’s drivetrain is a means to an end, but not an all-time great. You’ll never want for torque and the throttle response is freakishly good, but the M3’s engine does lack some charisma and there’s a sense its overdubbed engine note is trying very hard to shout over any criticism. Does that matter so much now the AMG equivalent has lost its V8 for an electrified four-pot, and the ageing Audi RS4 might as well have a vacuum cleaner under the bonnet? Arguably not. In a decade or less having an engine at all will be a novelty, remember…
It’s connected to an eight-speed automatic gearbox, which does its absolute best to fill the void left by the old seven-speed DCT. Occasionally, on a full-bore upshift, it’s flawless. Most of the time, it’s fine. But sometimes it’ll baulk at a downchange and the throttle blip will leave the revs hanging, and no matter what setting you move the lever or shift speed rocker into, it’s just not quite as satisfying as one of Porsche or AMG’s twin-clutch gearboxes. The upshot is that when left to its own devices in town, or when parking, it is indeed more polite about its manners than a DCT.
Continue reading: Interior
What is it like on the inside?
You’re expecting this to be more of the same, aren’t you? Well, wrong! The M3 Touring arrives with the interior from the facelifted BMW 3 Series, which is worse than before in several small but annoyingly important ways.
Firstly, all of the heater buttons are gone. Dead. Their ghosts lurk in the 14.9-inch Curved Display touchscreen, which can (mostly) still be operated with the iDrive clickwheel. Handy, since zooming into a map or scrolling through a list is a horrid experience on the touchscreen.
The heater controls stay present all the time, which is useful, but if you want the heated seats on, you need a sub-menu. Change the fan speed? Sub-menu. Fumey old banger pulls out ahead, and you want to block the air from being pumped into the cabin? Sub-menu. It’s now two, three or more prods of a screen, where there used to be one button push and done. So, well done BMW. An epic fail: common sense and usability sacrificed at the altar of minimalism. You’d have thought they’d learn from VW’s recent interior design implosion.
There are other problems too. The digital dials are a mess, being tricky to read and completely lacking the expensive clockface design we got in M cars of the 1990s and 2000s. That’s a huge piece of heritage lost, though BMW attempts to redeem itself by making the tyre pressure gauge graphic a helicopter view of the M1 supercar, which is quite cool.
Has BMW ruined the 3 Series’ cabin?
Happily, no. Not yet. The fundamentals are great: the driving position is spot on, materials feel very expensive (and so they should for £80k+) and the carbon shelled seats are phenomenally comfortable, though climbing in and out is a bit of a gauntlet for blokes. And the glossy carbon backrests hardly scream ‘load me with dirty stuff for the tip’.
Speaking of the back end, let’s get to it. You get just over 500 litres of boot space, or with the rear seats easily folded flat, three times that. There’s useful underfloor stowage, loops to lash stuff to, and the split tailgate with the separate folding rear window remains a slither of genius when you can’t be bothered to wait for the standard electric tailgate. We wish the parcel shelf load cover thingamajig wasn’t so cumbersome, but that’s a constant across all such cars, not exclusively a BMW issue.
Continue reading: Buying
What should I be paying?
There’ll be a furore around the M3 Touring throughout 2023, but once the launch hype dies down and it settles into life among the BMW range, it’ll be fascinating to see if its popularity endures, or if it becomes the third rare, cult BMW M Touring.
Prices start at just over £85,000, and as you’d imagine, it comes well equipped for such a hefty outlay. Standard kit includes the 14.9-inch super-wide display, heated electric seats with memory, a Harmon/Kardon hi-fi and wireless phone charging. You can’t really pick and choose your options: everything is grouped into hefty packs.
So if you’d like keyless entry, then you’ll be talked into ticking the Ultimate Pack, which also adds a heated steering wheel, superb laser-infused headlights, the carbon fibre seats, carbon fibre exterior nonsense, and a ‘drive recorder’ which definitely won’t end in a bum-puckering moment as you attempt a personal best to share on the forums. Our test car was equipped to the tune of £103,000, which is quite a lot for a 3 Series. Even if it is a very special one.
With a 59-litre fuel tank and fuel economy never much above 25mpg, you’ll be refuelling every 320 miles or so. BMW claims 27.4mpg, but we found an average of 23.5 more realistic. CO2 emissions are officially 231g/km.
Rivals? Not many to shop between, at the moment. The Audi RS4 Avant is ageing, and frankly not in the M3’s league as a driving experience. We haven’t yet had chance to directly compare the new 2.0-litre hybrid C63 AMG, but that’s sure to be a titanic battle. The Benz has a 160bhp advantage and lots more torque, but it’s also a third of a tonne heavier, and its batteries badly compromise the rear load bay.
You could look to go electric, with a Porsche Taycan Sport Turismo 4S providing the closest parity on price and performance. It’ll be faster point to point, but needs to stop for a charge every 240 miles or so. The M3’s range is almost 100 miles superior.
What about an Alpina B3, might we suggest? BMW has recently swallowed up its storied tuner, which means the in-house rivalry won’t be as rich as years gone by. An Alpina Touring is just as quick, has more heritage, and you don’t have to drive around with two giant beaver teeth on the front of your £85k car. Just a thought.
Keyword: BMW M3 Touring review