The day BMW revealed its £115,900, 542bhp G80 M3 CS, my pulse wasn’t raised all that much. The thing is, as far as I was concerned, I already had the ultimate M3 sitting outside my house, ready for another day of high-power silliness. That car was the new M3 Touring.
You can keep your festooning of carbon fibre tat, CSL-matching power output and chassis tweaks, Mister CS, as it simply isn’t possible to make a better M3 than the wagon version.
To drive, the Touring is much the same as the M3 xDrive saloon, which is to say excellent. Yes, it does have an extra 85kg to haul around, but since the four-door all-wheel drive M3 is a bit of a fatty to begin with, proportionately that’s not a massive increase. Thus, you don’t notice it. In any case, all versions of the M3 are very good at hiding their weight.
As such, the M3 wagon changes direction with the kind of enthusiasm that doesn’t seem quite right for a car tipping the scales at nearly 1800kg. It appears to almost dance along your favourite bit of road, the xDrive system providing heaps of confidence in the frankly disgusting January weather conditions that coincided with my loan of the car while giving off a noticeable rear bias. For nicer times of year, there’s an even more rearward ‘4WD Sport’ mode and a 2WD setting, just as there is in the saloon.
In the two years that have followed since first experiencing the ‘S58’ inline-six, my opinion of it hasn’t changed. It lacks the top-end aggression of the old S55 found in the F80 M3 and doesn’t sound anything like as good. But it’s brutally effective in the mid-range, and although there’s now a conventional torque converter automatic gearbox in place of the old dual-clutch transmission, there’s still a nice amount of aggression to the upshifts.
You only need to drive a few metres in it to get a sense of how firmly set up the car is, with things like speed bumps and potholes proving rather jarring. This gives the wrong impression of what the M3 T is going to be like, though - go quicker, and it settles, flowing beautifully with undulating road surfaces while providing plenty of composure in the corners. That is, provided you keep the adaptive dampers in Comfort - Sport and Sport Plus are too stiff for all but the smoothest of roads.
Again, this is all as per the regular M3. It should come as no surprise that the driving experience is so damn similar, as part of that 85kg weight gain can be attributed to extra bracing BMW added to make sure the Touring is just as stiff. The real difference is in how the car makes you feel as you look in the rear-view mirror and see that expanse of space and wonder what you might fill it with. The idea of a car that can be so exciting yet so practical while not being yet another extremely powerful SUV is enormously satisfying.
What BMW has made isn’t unique, but it’s almost certainly the best-driving machine in fast estate lore. An Audi RS4, for instance, doesn’t come close. There are also plenty of more practical quick wagons out there, particularly of the less powerful variety like the Skoda Octavia vRS, which has 160 more litres of boot space and a better tailgate opening. But I’ll happily take the hit for the additional thrills the M3 provides. And in any case, I still managed to fit a large washing machine in it, and some mountain bikes.
It’s not all perfect. Being based on a facelifted 3-series Touring, you get the updated iDrive 8 system which is fiddlier than the old setup, not least because you have to use it for the climate functions. Meanwhile, the optional bucket seats, the rear of which are finished in glossy carbon fibre, are a dumb thing to have in an estate car, and the carbon fibre lumps between your legs are stupid.
And, of course, there’s that front end, which I’ve somehow gone around 600 words without mentioning. I thought I’d have gotten used to it by now, but I still cringe a little each time I see those two large nostrils. Finally, the M3 Touring is expensive - the car you see here is specced to £103,135. But I can forgive it for all these things.
What I like about the M3 Touring most isn’t what it can do, but its mere existence. The last time BMW flirted with the idea of such a car was two decades ago, and in that case, as far as the company got was making an E46 M3-based prototype. In these premium SUV-obsessed times, which BMW is all too happy to take advantage of, the M3 Touring seems so improbable. And yet, it’s here, and it’s chuffing brilliant.