It's finally here! This is the new 503bhp BMW M3 Touring
After a lifetime of waiting, M Division rolls out the hardcore 3 Series estate. Still want that RS4?
A BMW M3 Touring. At last. How long have we been pestering BMW M to give us one of these? So long that the overwhelming feeling is one of relief. But doesn’t the timing feel right? Not to mention the package.
Let’s start there. 500 litres at one end, 503bhp at the other. Both are good numbers. We probably find it easier to contextualise the latter, so let’s have a closer look at the former first. It’s unchanged from the regular 3 Series Touring. No reduction to make way for a bigger exhaust back box, 4WD or redesigned suspension, and it’s just as feature packed. There’s underfloor storage, hooks, magnetic rails to hold kit in place and the ever-useful opening rear window. Fold the seats and you’ve got 1,500 litres. Tip runs ahoy.
Unsurprisingly it’s almost identically sized and shaped to the Audi RS4's load bay. It’s also – in case it’s helpful – usefully bigger and better shaped than a Porsche Taycan Sport Turismo back there. Bigger in the back seats, too. It’ll cope with family matters.
But more importantly, it looks bloody awesome. The stance, the proportion, the fact we can justifiably focus on the rear three-quarter and not have to venture round the front of the car… invaluable stuff. Yeah, Bugs Bunny’s imprint is still there and while the shock value has lessened, the feeling that BMW could have done so much better hasn’t. But the estate back end draws the attention, rebalancing the visuals.
It has presence, that’s for sure, and BMW's colour palette department has been playing a blinder recently – two facts that combine to ensure the unassuming, underwhelming Audi RS4 will remain the forgotten option, and the forthcoming Merc-AMG C63 wagon (as yet unannounced but surely inevitable) will have its work cut out to keep up.
This has the potential to hit a bulls-eye everything else misses
That will play a tech card that BMW has assiduously avoided. We’ll see the C63 saloon shortly and learn more about its full hybrid powertrain. But we’re not convinced about electric or hybrid for performance cars yet, are we? There’s no texture or tone to an electric motor. But a twin turbocharged 3.0-litre straight six? Now we’re talking. 503bhp and 479lb ft with the torque available everywhere from 2,750-5,500rpm. The mid-range will be thunderous, even though it works through an eight speed automatic gearbox. Nope, not even in an estate is it the right answer.
There’s only one model available, but it’s emphatically the right one. Competition-spec for the higher power output, and xDrive 4WD for year-round security. No manual option. It’s an estate, no-one would have it. 0-62mph takes 3.7secs, claims BMW. Bet it doesn’t. I timed an xDrive M3 to 60mph in 3.2secs, 100mph in 7.4secs. This won’t be any slower.
Weight has climbed 85kg from the 1,780kg saloon with AWD xDrive. Around 25kg of that comes not from bodywork changes, but extra strengthening put in to keep the chassis as rigid as the saloon’s.
So what else has changed? Well, since the modest weight gain is at the rear, the suspension at that end has been given more support: fractionally stiffer springs and dampers. The carbon roof has gone, your choices are body colour or gloss black, while at the trailing edge there’s a new roof spoiler. 3D printed for boastability.
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Body alterations are costly, so have been kept to a minimum. The rear doors are shared with the saloon. Surely the designers would have preferred a more voluptuous door skin to lead in to the swollen rear arch. Instead we have a rather sudden kink. Ahead of the B-pillars the estate is identical to the saloon.
The cabin’s identical, with the small proviso that this (and all M3s built now) is fitted with the newly upgraded infotainment shared with iX and i4. A combined 27.2-inches of glass across the dash, Best of luck driving that, although BMW does (thankfully) still include a rotary controller with the touchscreen. Seats, driving position, material quality and button-to-screen ratio is all on point.
It’ll be a rip-roarer, that much is clear. Capable I suspect, not only of seeing off the threat of the Audi RS4, but taking the fight to the next class up. The current RS6 and E63 are mighty machines, but they’re also too big to punt down B-roads. And heavy. We’ve all had a pop at the M3's weight increase, but it’s still quarter of a tonne lighter than an RS6 or E63. They’re also £100k motors these days when the M3 Touring will pitch up at £80,550 – the equivalent M3 saloon is £78,425.
Yeah, it’s still a mad amount of money for a 3 Series, but don’t even let the phrase ‘super-SUV’ into your head right now. Yes, an X3M or a GLC63 or a Macan Turbo or an F-Pace SVR or an RS Q8 (there’s enough of them out there) does the speed and space stuff, but it’s always going to be inferior to drive, with stilted dynamics and poor efficiency. I know people still buy them, and maybe it’s good they do as it keeps them away from cars we know are inherently cooler – cars that we nod approvingly at and quietly lust after and have since the OG arrived back in 1994. Audi’s RS2, lest we forget.
The question is why it’s taken BMW so long to get round to it. Audi’s never given up on the hot estate, made the niche its own for many years in fact, despite Mercedes-AMG being nearly as quick on the uptake with its first, a C43, landing in 1998. But BMW? Well, it had a go at an M3 wagon prototype back in 2001, but the E46 M3 was coupe-only (the only generation since the E30 not to have spawned a saloon) and the complexity of putting a Touring into production would have meant changes right back to chassis level. Any other generation and it might have got the go-ahead. But it didn’t so we’ve been deprived until now.
36 years of M3 until one with a fifth door. There have been two M5 wagons, first an E34 in 1992, then again with 2007's E61. For whatever reason BMW has chosen not to repeat the experience for 15 years now. That reason is easy to deduce: there’s no need for a hot wagon when the fast-family-car audience is demanding SUVs. And BMW has shovelled them out as frantically as a coal stoker, M versions of the X3, X4, X5, X6 and even the X7, to an audience greedier for them than the Flying Scotsman’s furnace.
Against that backdrop, doesn’t the M3 look like a sophisticated choice? Lower, leaner, crisper, it’ll be an all-weather, any condition car. Not without a couple of minor drawbacks, though. Sorry America, this one’s not for you. The standard 3 Series Touring isn’t homologated for sale over there, so neither is this. It joins the Toyota GR Yaris on the list of ‘cool stuff we get that our cousins don’t’. The big markets will be the UK and Germany, followed by Japan and Australia. Find a towbar useful? Sorry, you can’t have one on this M3 or any other. I find that irritating, know already it’ll cost BMW a few sales.
We’ve criticised the saloon and coupe for their weight, the slightly blunt steering and gearbox, but we’ll cut the estate some slack because its brief is different. On paper there’s very little to complain about here. I honestly think this has the potential to hit a bulls-eye everything else misses. It’s the right size and shape, the right badge and image, the right performance and technical package. I can’t think of another fast family machine I’d have over it. 50 years of M means a lot of noise coming out of Munich right now, much of it the result of the CSL’s return, but for me it’s this, rather than that, that’s the ultimate M3.