BMW 3 Series Touring through the ages
For BMW aficionados, the 3 Series Touring is something of a legend. To outsiders it might seem like just another estate, but over the years it has built a reputation as the thinking man’s 3 Series, packing style and practicality into a great-to-drive package.
What’s more, while you might expect the birth of such a model to come from boring business people poring over sales statistics to decide whether a load-lugging version of the popular saloon would be a good idea, its story starts in a much more interesting way…
BMW bosses had not planned to offer an estate version of the second-generation 3 Series because no rival models did, and none offered enough practicality for the 3 Series to be left behind. However, a prototype engineer called Max Reisböck was getting frustrated at the lack of space in the saloon for his family.
He bought a wrecked saloon and set about creating a wagon version in just six months. Friends encouraged him to show the BMW board, and they loved it so much they asked to keep the prototype to study it. Within three years, a production model was on the market.
Over 100,000 were sold, with both petrol and diesel, and rear- and all-wheel drive options.
Following the warm reception of the previous generation, BMW knew it was on to a winner with the 3 Series estate. The E30 might not have been a huge sales success, but it showed there was appetite for the body shape, and it was simply ahead of its time.
With the 1990s and the third-generation 3 Series, BMW’s rivals had caught on. Both Audi and Mercedes-Benz now offered estates, so the E36 had to be good.
Fortunately, it was. Unlike huge modern estates, the E36 was more like a big hatchback, offering lightweight construction and a focus on being fun for the driver. Many enthusiasts consider the wagon to be the best-looking body style for the E36, even over the coupe and convertible versions.
Arguably the prettiest generation of 3 Series, the Touring was a given now that it had established itself as a market leader. Now well-established, BMW considered creating a high-performance version.
The M3, one of the most iconic and best-loved performance cars of the past few decades, had only been offered in saloon and coupe form, but BMW built a prototype M3 Touring to see if everything would fit together.
It was so far advanced that journalists were invited to drive it, pitched as a PR exercise but almost certainly to also gauge customer interest. Sadly, despite a seemingly positive reception, the E46 M3 Touring never made production.
Based on the E90 saloon that debuted in 2005, the E91 was not the biggest or most practical estate at its price point. However, it still earned admiration and drew customers, thanks in part to BMW’s class-leading chassis dynamics, and the prestige of the badge.
While the E46 was once considered for the M3 treatment, there was never any true, well-founded speculation for the E91. However, the twin-turbo 3.0-litre engine in the 335i delivered 306bhp, and could accelerate from 0-60mph in 5.5 seconds.
Not enough for you? Fortunately, BMW tuning experts Alpina made an estate variant of its B3, which is the closest thing you can get to a factory-built M3 Touring.
By time the F31 generation Touring came into being, it wasn’t lacking competition from within its own model range.
Not only was the saloon version on the market, but there was also the newly-introduced 3 Series Gran Turismo, as well as the coupe and convertible variants, marketed as the 4 Series. The 3 Series Touring was a little closer to some less premium rivals in the practicality stakes, but was still not the most practical estate out there.
The newly-revealed estate version of the current 3 Series is unlikely to provide many surprises. It will drive superbly and be a little down on space relative to some rivals, while still managing to be one of the best estate options out there courtesy of its other abilities.
Of course, the speculation for an M3 variant is bubbling under as always, but it seems unlikely; of course, keeping your fingers crossed won’t hurt!