With the right six-cylinder engine, the BMW 3-series Touring has always been one of the best automotive all-rounders. Fast, spacious, practical and fun to drive, they’re also great value for money these days, which is why I bought my very own high-mileage E46 330i Touring for only £140 (no, that’s not a typo!).
The Touring’s impressive resumé is also why we selected an E46 330d as our platform to transform into an unlikely track car, whose mission it was to beat an E92 M3 around a lap. The result was a stripped family estate with 300hp, 500lb ft of torque and a marginally quicker time than the V8-powered coupe. So again…six-cylinder Tourings rule.
But I’m not here to wax lyrical about old BMW wagons, because there’s now a new, sixth generation model that I was invited to drive in Germany last week.
The Touring in question was a 330d xDrive (there’s a choice of six petrol and diesel engines with either four or six cylinders). Like the RWD 330d, it’s powered by a turbocharged 3.0-litre, straight-six with 265hp and 428lb ft of torque. In the xDrive, that means 0-62mph in 5.4 seconds, with the rear-driven 330d taking fractionally longer at 5.6 seconds.
Now before I get into the nitty gritty of what the 330d xDrive is like to drive, let me first tell you what’s actually new about it.
For starters, the Touring is 76mm longer, 16mm wider and 8mm taller than the car it replaces. The slim rear lights and 20mm wider rear glass give the new car a beefier look, and roof rails are now standard fitment.
Dynamically, body rigidity is up by 25 per cent, and the front and rear track are wider by 43mm and 21mm respectively, for improved stability.
In the back, you might be as excited to hear - as BMW was to tell us - about the Touring’s new party piece, called ‘anti-slip rails’. Essentially, they’re strips of rubber that detect weight and automatically raise by a few millimetres to stop objects from shifting about. I think they’re a cool feature, but bear in mind that they’re part of an £890 package that includes a heated steering wheel and extended storage.
In more geeky news, the new 3-series now features ‘BMW Operating System 7.0 and BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant’, where you can ask it questions or change the radio station, a bit like a dumbed-down Alexa. I won’t waste much time talking about that, other to say that for me, on the day, it was very slow to respond, failed to recognise 95 per cent of what I was asking, and when it did understand, it would answer with something unrelated to the topic.
Since being back in the UK after the launch of the Touring, I’ve had a new 330i for a week of testing, and can confirm that the Personal Assistant works well, so the issues I was having in Germany were either a one off, or related to lack of signal.
Anyway, time to hit the road in the new 330d xDrive to find out if it’s any good…
And first impressions do not disappoint. The 3.0-litre straight six fires up with a satisfying and brawny diesel tone, which is an increasingly rare treat these days.
Heading out of the BMW centre en route to our lunch stop, the next thing of note is the weighty steering, thick-rimmed steering wheel, and attractive digital displays. But at the back of my mind, all I’m thinking is ‘I really want to pin the throttle to feel how potently the 330d’s xDrive and 428lb ft of torque are able to launch 1745kg (3847lbs) of German muscle towards the horizon.
Luckily, I don’t have to wait too long. After negotiating dribs and drabs of Munich traffic, the road opens up and Sport mode is engaged.
The eight-speed Steptronic gearbox kicks down three speeds, the big six roars faintly, and before I know it the speed limit has been and gone in an effortless wave of buttery smooth torque and slick gear changes; just like the dawn of the E46 330d, these mighty diesel engines never fail to impress.
Another of the 330d xDrive’s features that get a big thumbs up is the handling. Now sure, you feel the weight of the Touring through the corners (as do the Pirelli tyres that scream out even when moderately pushed), but on the whole, the ride is neutral and settled, while the balanced handling inspires you to push the throttle pedal harder into the carpet.
It’s not what you’d call nimble, but like its forbears, it hides its weight well and continues BMW’s mantra of being one of the most effective ways to cover ground quickly and efficiently. And despite being an xDrive, this 330d still feels largely rear-driven with assistance at the front only noticeable on really tight sections.
The steering, meanwhile, is what you’d call ‘meaty’ in Sport mode and ‘vegan’ in Comfort. What I mean here is that Sport mode’s set up feels more natural to me; it’s weighty, quick and well suited to the car’s brawn, while in Comfort mode, there’s an unnatural lightness at the centre point that just feels a little at odds.
With Germany’s attractive country roads behind us, the next driving situation to tick off the list is the Autobahn where the 330d xDrive should feel most at home.
With the familiar derestricted gantry signs now in sight, it’s time to bury the throttle once more and keep it there. And keep it there I do until the display reads 225kph (140mph), at which point traffic ahead halts the twin-scroll turbo diesel’s swift and seemingly effortless progress to the Touring’s 250kph (155mph) limiter. Like earlier on in the drive, high-speed stability is the Touring’s trump card, and this is never more noticeable than at the kind of speeds these cars will see in Germany.
In summary, then, the new, sixth-generation 330d xDrive Touring is every bit as accomplished that we’ve come to expect.
It’s smart, muscular and practical, and offers a driving experience unrivalled by most. My only issue on the day was the car’s infuriating ‘Personal Assistant’ function that failed to recognise my clear instructions, but like I said above, having since tried it again in the UK, it’s quick to respond and surprisingly useful.
Overall, though, the 330d xDrive is one hell of a machine, and something I’d be very happy to add to my current collection of E46 Tourings.