The BMW 320d Touring is a car that removes ambiguity from life. In a market filled with baffling micro-niching, it resolves the frantic marketing into one dense point of goodness. If there ever was a mathematical Answer To Everything, then victory would be handed to the 320d Touring, and the competition would simply shrug and agree. It really is bafflingly good.
When the first E30 Touring appeared (albeit with a 2.4-litre turbodiesel) in 1987, the small wagon body style was popular right up until it died in 1994. Compact but spacious, it caught the attention of a buying public who needed occasional space, rather than towing around a huge boot they only used now and again. But it wasn't until the E46 Touring in 1999 that we finally got a 320d (the E36 had a 318tds and a 325d, but no 2.0-litre), and the car that rounds off the corners of most motoring pub arguments.
The secret to the 320d Touring's success has been that BMW hasn't simply kicked back and rested on its laurels. Every time the 320d Touring has been refreshed, BMW engineers have wrestled the details into more agreeable shapes without losing sight of the basic premise. In fact, every time the 320d has been reborn since 1999, the car the 320d Touring had to beat was... the 320d Touring.
And it has done. These days, the 320d Touring is bigger and more spacious than before, but lighter too. Thanks to BMW's EfficientDynamics tech, it can be had with a sprightly 184bhp but 124g/km of CO2, which means over 60mpg. It drives exceptionally well - you'll forget you're in an estate body entirely - is surprisingly fast and yet has 495 litres of bootspace (1,500 seats down) and daily useful details like the rear glass that opens independently of the tailgate.
Forget mini-MPVs or small SUVs or any of the other random initialisms designed to tempt you into new ways of thinking about the same problems. All you need for 99 per cent of the time is a BMW 320d Touring. Job done. And that's why it's the TopGear magazine Family Car of the Year.
This article originally appeared in the December 2012 edition of Top Gear magazine