The West

BMW Touring in class of its own
The BMW 3 Series Touring is now longer with a muscular- looking bonnet.

In the lexicon of marketing departments, none of the German makers can bring themselves to use the word "wagon" for their car models.

Far too common.

Audi calls its wagons "Avant," meaning "culturally or stylistically advanced", according to Mr Webster.

Mercedes-Benz uses the very British "Estate," hoping to attract buyers who see their suburban pad as a country manor.

BMW prefers its cars to be seen as driver's cars, so they use the term "Touring." But they're all station wagons.

However, BMW's latest version of its 3 Series Touring is in a class of its own as far as ride and handling goes. Compared with the Audi A4, Mercedes-Benz C Class and the Volvo V40, the compact Bimmer sets a standard for suspension and steering performance that the others can only view with envy.

There are three models in the range: the diesel 318d, and two petrol versions, the 320i and the 328i.

All are 2.0-litre four-cylinders with what BMW calls TwinPower turbos. In the case of the petrol engines it means both Double- Vanos variable camshaft timing and Valvetronic variable valve timing. Thankfully, the engine ECU looks after that lot.

And very effectively too - during my drive of the 320i (the 328i won't be available until next month) there was never a time when the engine felt like it was taking a nap, as many turbocharged fours often do. It was the same in the diesel as well, though that uses a variable geometry turbo to fiddle the boost depending on engine revs and power required.

A big part of the superb driving responsiveness was the ability of the eight-speed auto transmission to select an ideal gear for any conditions. Additionally, when you're exploiting the driving mode selector and switch to Sport mode everything tightens up, adding a crispness to the driving experience that rewards instantly.

Unfortunately, the Australian cities where this car will spend most of its life suffer traffic conditions that mean much of the business commute is in heavy traffic. So BMW has ensured that the interior of the Touring is as attractive to the eye of the style conscious as the dynamics are to the enthusiastic driver. The test car was a balanced mix of (optional) leather and brushed aluminium, with soft colours that evoke a blend of quality and comfort. Except for the tacky red band across the dash when you select the M sport option.

Connectivity for busy people is there but, for the price, sat nav and parking assist should be standard. From a driver's point of view the seats are exceptional, with side bolsters well up to the job of keeping you in place when the car is busy straightening out bends.

The Touring is now longer, has a wider track and a longer wheelbase, and the front fenders are lowered so the bonnet bulges and looks muscular. It has a three- way rear seat split and the rear window can open separately from the hatch.

There are lots of storage nooks and crannies, plus some very necessary tie-down points for loose stuff in the rear.

The 318i starts at $58,900. The 320i is $62,600 and the 328i, with an extra 35kW of power will retail for $69,900. A wide range of attractive options will make sure you spend more than the base price. The 3 Series Touring is a wagon that will perform like a thoroughbred sports car the minute you ask it to.

The West Australian

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