Try naming a car with more plates to spin than the poor 3 Series Touring. Graceful long-distance manners, genuine driving satisfaction, comfort, space: since 1987, it has needed all these things.

The estate derivative of BMW’s not so junior saloon is also a bit of a middle-class status symbol, so while it needs to be at least moderately good-looking, it has to match that with substance. Performance needn’t be Herculean but it can’t ever feel weak, and yet the engine must not glug fuel like it’s going out of fashion.

Here we have the fifth-generation 3 Series Touring, whose direct predecessor was already regarded as a phenomenally good all-rounder. The engine line-up starts with the 148bhp 318d four-cylinder diesel and culminates with the M340i xDrive, which uses a twin-turbocharged 369bhp straight six petrol.

Alas, for now there is still greater chance of BMW reinventing the i3 as a diesel pick-up than there is of an M3 Touring coming our way (Alpina’s B3 Touring will plug that particular gap), but there is for the first time a plug-in hybrid with an electric range of more than 40 miles.

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In general, the more powerful engines come with an eight-speed automatic and four-wheel drive, although it is possible to get certain models with three pedals and without front driveshafts – not least the ever-popular 320d. 

Focusing more on the practical element of the Touring, the boot floor can now be equipped with the option of highly grippy rubber slats that rise up 3mm when you're on the move, and the rear seats – which split 40/20/40 – now have an electric release. Finally, the tailgate window opens independently of the tailgate itself. BMW very nearly canned this feature because, apparently, so few owners know about it. 

How does the 3 Series Touring perform on the road?

Whichever model you buy, the 3 Series Touring brings a lot to the table. We awarded the saloon five road test stars largely for its exceptional blend of handling, performance and frugality, and the estate asks only that you exchange a small portion of dynamism for a class-leading 1510-litre load bay with the rear seats folded flat (if not perfectly so). 

Other than the general effects of the extra weight, you feel the difference between the two bodystyles most keenly through the steering. BMW uses softer front suspension bushes for the Touring because they temper direction changes that might otherwise destabilise the bulky rear end. Along with stiffer anti-roll bars, the more leisurely result is nevertheless well judged, the 330d flowing very quickly and easily along almost any road down which you care to point it.

Strangely, our press car is fitted not with the 19in wheels that will in the UK come as standard with the adaptive M Sport suspension, but with 18s, and the result is a car whose blend of pliancy and body control is nothing short of superb. However, we’d swap out the Pirelli Cinturato P7 tyres. On the straight-ahead, they’re quiet, but they don’t grip with the security required by a fast, sweet-handling estate such as this. This is especially true given that the new car – longer, wider and taller before – no longer feels quite as intuitive to place within the white lines at speed. In fact, it’s wider than the E39-generation 530d Touring of the millennium.

Elsewhere, the 3 Series Touring continues to impress. On the autobahn, the 2993cc engine, in its smooth but monotone way, propels the car to 130mph without drama, where it remains serene enough for casual conversation. Thank the improved windscreen glazing and new foam-filled A-pillars, which along with the sealed underbody have made considerable contributions to rolling refinement. Blindfolded, you might even mistake its confines for those of the larger, more expensive 5 Series, although that car’s supremely comfy broad-backed seats still give it a meaningful edge.

The 330d also gets the larger, 59-litre fuel tank as standard, giving it a leggy motorway range of around 730 miles. For the even more frugal 320d, reckon on closer to 820 miles with the same-sized tank – or a round trip from London to Le Mans.

Does the Touring make a case for itself over the standard 3 Series?

Ultimately, the 3 Series saloon is better to drive than the Touring. It’s more precise and agile, in a way that you notice not after a few miles but a single corner.

The Touring has its own character, though: different, but no less likeable. The effortless performance of this six-cylinder 330d xDrive isn't strictly necessary, but if you need the additional space over a typical saloon, some form of 3 Series estate should be near the top of your shortlist.

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - BMW 3 Series Touring

BMW 3 Series Touring

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