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Driven: BMW 3-series Touring 320d - on sale September

BMW

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Review

Using the 3-series saloon as a base was always going to be a good start, and BMW’s new E91 3-series Touring doesn’t disappoint. Lighter, faster and roomier than its predecessor, BMW has big plans for its new load-lugger.

Ever since the original E30 Touring hit the roads back in 1988, BMW has been consistently honing and refining its benchmark station wagon. The fourth generation, to be launched on September 17 comes at a time when both the 3-series in general, and the estate sector in particular, are enjoying buoyant sales.

The company is aiming to sell a record number of 3-series Tourings in its first full year (2006) in the UK. Retail sales are expected to account for 45% of the anticipated 8,500-plus figure.

BMW 3-series models accounted for 53% of BMW UK’s record-breaking annual registrations of 102,200 in 2004. The introduction of new models such as X3 and 1-series was expected to impact on 3-series market dominance, but the carmaker feels the 3-series will continue to be the model that defines the brand.

Obvious rivals come in the form of the A4, X-type and C-class. BMW is facing the competition head on, claiming that compared to competitor models, principally from Audi, Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz, both diesel and petrol BMWs are: faster from 0–62mph and 50–75mph; more fuel efficient; less expensive to own and run. The company also states that “on virtually all counts” the new Touring offers greater room for rear passengers and more loading space than its main rivals.

Two models will be available at launch: the 163bhp 320d, starting at £24,875, and the 218bhp petrol 325i, from £26,905. The range will be extended in autumn to include the four-cylinder 320i and the six-cylinder 330i and 330d.

Two spec levels will be offered: ES and SE. All new ES models feature, as standard, a six-speed manual gearbox, air-con, 16in alloy wheels with run-flat tyres, CD player and six airbags (including curtain head airbag covering entire side window area).

SE customers get 17in alloys (on six-cylinder cars, an alternative 16in alloy wheel design on four-cylinder models), automatic air-con, cruise control (with braking function on six-cylinder models), multi-function steering wheel and rear Park Distance Control.

M Sport models will cost a premium of between £2,530 to £3,320 – the extra money buying exterior styling enhancements, 18in alloys (17in on four-cylinder models), M Sport suspension and sports seats.

The UK market’s appetite for estates is slowly but surely starting to mirror that of the rest of Europe. With innovative design features, good performance and the promise of strong residuals, the new 3-series Touring looks set to place BMW in a strong position to compete in this sector of the market.

Strengths:Cost of ownership, residuals, saloon-derived handling
Weakness: Options add significantly to cost
Opportunity: Consolidate on outgoing car’s success
USP: Ultimate driving machine gets 1,385 litres of load space
Price: £24,874-28,195
Engine: 1995cc, 16V common rail four-cylinder diesel
Transmission: Six-speed manual, or six-speed automatic
Performance: Top speed: 139mph; 0-60mph: 8.3sec; 163bhp @ 6000rpm 251lb ft torque@2000rpm
Efficiency: 47.9mpg; 158kg/km CO2
CAP 3yr/30k: £9,450 (39%)
Rivals: Audi A4, Jaguar X-type, Mercedes C-class.

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