BMW M3 Touring review: The dream family car
Is the new M3 Touring BMW M’s love letter back to its fans? I suppose you could say it is because this was the car that fans have always wanted, but never got. In the 37-year history of the M3, BMW never made an estate version. They occasionally lobbed us the odd M5 Touring, but for whatever reason, the company has never made an estate version of its fast compact 3 Series. They have always been happy to cede the market for compact estates to their rivals from Stuttgart and Ingolstadt. But not anymore.
The TL;DR version:Proof that fun and practicality are not mutually exclusive For the well-heeled family man (or woman), this could be all the car you’d ever need.
In turning from a saloon to an estate, the M3 Touring gains about 85kg, but the weight penalty is negligible because the powertrain and drivetrain are so potent. It has the same S58 3-litre twin-turbo straight-six as the M3 Competition saloon, which puts out 510hp and 650nm of torque. But it feels like more because the way the M3 Touring gains speed will leave your jaw on the floor. Every time you prod the accelerator, you wonder how something this large can cover ground so rapidly. It sounds quite good too when you open the exhaust valves.
The ZF 8-speed auto transmission is equally impressive. Some might lament the loss of the old 7-speed dual-clutch unit and the immediacy and crispness of gear shifts that it offered – and rightly so – but there’s no denying that the ZF is almost as fast and is far more adept at start-stop city traffic. The tall 8th gear also helps with fuel consumption at highway speeds. I travelled over 350km during my weekend with the car and managed 8 km/l. Granted, much of it was highway cruising but it's still quite remarkable in the context of a car with over 500hp and can keep bona fide sports cars honest.
The M3 Touring will only be available with xDrive – BMW’s all-wheel drive system. Purists might baulk at this, but I think the decision is justified given that it needs to go up against Audi’s Quattro-equipped RS4 Avant. The type of customer that buys an estate likely values practicality and safety and the sure-footedness of xDrive guarantees that.
Furthermore, any fears that xDrive might corrupt the driving experience and dynamics of the car are unfoundedbecause the M3 Touring still feels rear-wheel driven. The front feels uncorrupted and the turn-in is sharp, and you get the sense that the car is rotating around your hips as you hit the apex. You are only really aware that it has an all-wheel drive system because whenever you mash the accelerator the car just hooks up and goes, even in the wet. Past M3s would have squirmed, spun its rear tyres, and lit up its traction control light on the dashboard like a Christmas tree.
And if you really want a taste of old-school BMW M, you can disengage the traction control completely and put the car in pure rear-wheel-drive mode – something Audi’s RS4 cannot do. But if you do so, you better be awake because you are entirely on your own. Any rear-wheel drive car with over 500hp and 650nm of torque must be treated with an appropriate amount of respect.
What’s most impressive about the way it drives is the level of ride comfort. This may ostensibly be a sports car, but put the chassis in comfort mode and it’s only slightlyless cushy than a regular 3 Series. Even in its firmest setting, the ride remains sufficiently pliant on all but the most poorly-paved roads. Wind and road noise are well-controlled too, I reckon road trips up north will be a joy. Though the smallish fuel tank – just 59L – would mean you’d likely have to stop and refuel every 400km or so. But the disappointing range is really the only knock against the M3 Touring’s overall levels of practicality.
The cabin is good. Rear leg and headroom are sufficient even for quite large adults, and the boot will happily swallow a family of four’s luggage on a road trip. Should the need to transport larger objects arise, the rear seats fold flat to reveal 1,500 litres of capacity – that’s the same as the RS4 Avant and big enough to fit a bicycle or a large dog.
Passengers in front are not forgotten. The standard sports seats offer ample support and get really low, and the driver is cocooned by a massive 14.9-inch curved display that stretches from the centre console to the driver-side air-con vents. It looks futuristic and runs BMW’s latest iDrive 8 software, which is as confusing to use as it is cool to look at. In sports mode, the heads-up display shows your speed, the gear you are in, and – crucially – the speed limit of the road you are on. This is immensely helpful.
The styling remains controversial, because even now, some three years after we first laid eyes on the G80 M3, some continue to grieve over BMW’s decision to fit such large front grilles. I was one of those people but I’ve come around to it over the last year. I still think the last-generation F80 M3 looks better, but it looks less offensive to me now and there’s no denying that the G80 series M3s have loads of road presence. And in estate form, the view from the rear, with its swollen rear arches and mammoth quad exhausts, is absolutely seductive.
If you can’t tell by now, the M3 Touring is a fantastic family car. Its blend of effortless performance and sensible practicality is the stuff of a family man’s (or woman’s) petrolhead dreams. Why it took BMW this long to make and sell us one is puzzling. If I needed a family car that was engaging to drive and could do everything, I’d buy one in a heartbeat. Now, if only I had S$661,888 lying around.
|Loads of performanceExciting and fun to driveSurprisingly pliant rideRemarkable tractionReally practicalExcellent heads-up displayMuscular-looking rear-end
|ExpensiveiDrive 8 is complicatedDivisive styling8-speed auto not the most engagingSmall fuel tank
Pricing and availability
The BMW M3 is available now and prices start at S$661,888.
Note: Prices are correct at the time of publishing.
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