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First Drive: BMW 3 Series 320d SE 5dr (2013-2015)

£31,620 when new

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The world used to be full of cars like this. Plenty of space in the back, a hatchback and a big boot. Remember the Rover 800, Saab 9000 and Ford Scorpio? When people stopped wanting them, a few manufacturers decided that by building taller bodywork, they’d do better. We give you the Vauxhall Signum, Fiat Croma and Renault Vel Satis. See where this is going? Via hopeless sales and minicab inglory, they all bombed out.

Hang on. What if they weren’t actually a crap idea, they were just crap cars? If you meld a generous cabin and a hatchback with the things BMW is good at - style, quality, engines, chassis - then the result ought to be OK. Oughtn’t it?

See more pics of the new BMW 3-Series Gran Turismo

Which brings us to the 3-series Gran Turismo. It uses the longer wheelbase of the Chinese-market 3 saloon, and has a fastback hatch so as not to scare off people who think estates are a bit common. And though you sit as high as you do in an X1 and you will soon be able to get a 4WD option, it doesn’t look like an SUV.

Still with us? The suspension is slightly softer than the saloon and Touring, and there’s lots of rear-seat space and a versatile boot with handy hidden storage. So it’s a useful family car.

But to drive, it lacks the full dose of 3-series magic. The longer wheelbase slows down the steering responses. It also rolls onto the front tyres in corners, and it weighs about 140kg more than a saloon or Touring, which is hard for the engineers to hide.

There are some options that help, though. The sports steering rack, adaptive dampers and big wheels all do their bit, without harming comfort much.

That weight also means the four-cylinder diesel has to work harder, throwing more noise at you. Again BMW allows you to spend your way out of trouble via the tempting 328i…

But let’s be fair: it still drives better than the crossover you might have been considering instead. Really though, we’d suggest you pick from the Tourings. The 3GT is priced between the 3-Series and 5-Series wagons. Either crush your kids and baggage a bit so they can fit into a 3-Touring, or get a 5-Touring and forego some of the options.

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