BMW 3 Series Touring (2012-2019) Review

Written by Andrew Brady

9/10
heycar ratingThe perfect family estate car
  • 2012
  • Estate
  • Petrol, Diesel

Quick overview

Pros

  • Efficient and punchy diesel engines
  • Brilliant to drive, regardless of spec
  • Stylish looks and a classy image

Cons

  • Not the most practical car in its class
  • Costly options and accessories
  • Diesel engines could be a little more refined

Overall verdict on the BMW 3 Series Touring

"In this BMW 3 Series Touring review we're taking a look at one of the best premium estate cars you can buy. BMW took the excellent 3 Series saloon and added a practical estate car boot and arguably created a better-looking car in the process. Great to drive yet comfortable, a engine range from the impressively frugal to the seriously fast and a well-equipped and good quality cabin, the 3 Series Touring has almost everything you could want. Best of all, buy used and you avoid the high list prices that were it's only real failing when new."

BMW 3 Series Touring (2012-2019) Review: exterior front three quarter photo of the BMW 3 Series Touring

All things considered, the BMW 3 Series Touring might be one of the best cars in the world. It’s a bold claim, but it’s not without substance.


Consider the facts. The 3 Series Touring boasts classy and upmarket styling that somehow manages to look more exclusive than the saloon. It also has a premium cabin, a generous amount of luggage space and some tasty equipment (if you’re prepared to dig deep).


It gets better, because the 3 Series Touring is probably the most satisfying estate car to drive, offering superb rear-wheel-drive handling, sharp and accurate steering, along with a composed and comfortable ride.


You can choose from a wide range of engines, including an excellent crop of efficient and punchy diesels. There’s everything from a frugal three-cylinder petrol and a fuel-sipping four-cylinder diesel, through to ‘autobahn storming’ six-cylinder petrol and diesel units. Dress one of these in the M Sport trim and it’s as close as you can get to a BMW M3 Touring.


We’d argue that the BMW 320d Touring is almost the perfect family car. It’s not as practical as some of its rivals, but all versions get an electric and split-opening tailgate, which on some models can be opened by waving your foot beneath the bumper.


The cabin is finished to the high level you’d expect from a German vehicle, with the driver-focused dashboard boasting an array of reassuringly solid buttons and switches. The infotainment system isn’t a touchscreen, which might seem a bit dated in 2020, but the display is so crisp and the iDrive controller makes it so easy to operate, you’ll have few complaints.


Even the entry-level versions feature a generous level of standard equipment, including 17-inch alloy wheels, air conditioning, a 6.5-inch colour display, Bluetooth, cruise control and an electric tailgate. More expensive trim levels offer the choice between a luxury or sporting flavour, or you can pick and choose from the wide range of options and accessories.


This is one of the few negative aspects of the BMW 3 Series Touring. Once you’ve selected a few must-have options, things start to get expensive, with far too many features not standard, even on the highest trim levels.


Not that this is a problem for you, because this sixth-generation BMW 3 Series has been replaced by a newer model, so there are plenty of bargains to be found on the used car market. The earliest cars were built in 2012, so a 3 Series Touring might be more affordable than you think.


Other compact estate cars are cheaper, while some offer more space. Others may even offer a greater array of toys. But none offer such a compelling blend of driving dynamics, style and image. Read on to discover why the BMW 3 Series Touring should be your next family car.


If you're looking for the newer version, you need our BMW 3 Series Touring (2019-) review.

The BMW 3 Series Touring isn’t the cheapest or most practical car in its class, but we suspect it’s the one you want. We’d argue that it looks more stylish than the 3 Series saloon, with a classy and upmarket look that isn’t too dissimilar to the larger 5 Series Touring.


Thanks to BMW’s famed rear-wheel-drive handling, it’s also brilliant to drive, although four-wheel-drive is available if you’re after some all-weather reassurance.


Inside, the 3 Series Touring boasts a high-class cabin, with a range of options on offer if you’re prepared to dig deep. That’s one of our criticisms of the 3 Series Touring, because some of the must-have features can add a wedge of cash to the otherwise affordable list prices.


Not that this will concern you when buying used. Decide on the engine, spec and colour you desire, then select from the many examples available on the second-hand market. Put simply, this is one of the best all-rounders you can buy.

We’d be tempted to opt for the ubiquitous BMW 320d. The four-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine delivers a terrific blend of performance and economy, with 190PS and 400Nm of torque on tap. This is enough to deliver a 0-62mph time as low as 7.2 seconds, with a top speed in excess of 140mph.


If you’re more interested in fuel economy, the EfficientDynamics (ED) tech introduced in 2015 is hard to ignore. Although the power drops to 163PS, you get the same amount of torque from the 320d ED, with only a marginal penalty in terms of performance. Crucially, up to 74.3mpg is available.


With our sensible hat on, we’d say that the BMW 3 Series Touring SE with a few tasty upgrades is arguably all the 3 Series Touring you could ever need. Having mislaid our sensible hat, we’d suggest going for the M Sport, but we’d resist the temptation to upgrade to 19-inch rims.

The Audi A4 Avant and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class Estate are the two most obvious rivals. Each one offers similar levels of German build quality, although we’d argue the A4 boasts a higher-quality cabin and the C-Class feels more luxurious. Neither car can rival the 3 Series Touring in terms of driver appeal.


There are other challengers, many of which offer better value for money. The Mazda 6 Tourer is just as stylish and almost as good to drive, the Ford Mondeo Estate is a terrific all-rounder, while the Volvo V60 is safer and, in the case of the current version, comes with a delightful cabin.

Comfort and design: BMW 3 Series Touring interior

"The dashboard and centre console of the BMW 3 Series Touring highlights just how far interior design has progressed over the past decade. There’s nothing wrong with it, but the layout looks cluttered when viewed alongside more modern rivals, including the latest 3 Series Touring."

BMW 3 Series Touring (2012-2019) Review: interior close up photo of the BMW 3 Series Touring dashboard

A wide transmission tunnel separates the front seats, while the centre console gets wider at the top, creating a sense of being rather hemmed in. Most should revel in the driver-focused and cosy cockpit, but others might feel a little claustrophobic.


Everything is angled towards the driver, including a set of four circular dials within the instrument display. In an era of digital dashboards and configurable displays, there’s something refreshing about BMW’s simple and logical layout.


The infotainment system is perched atop the dashboard, and while this gives it the look of an aftermarket system, the display is crystal clear and concise. Furthemore, because it’s controlled using a wheel on the centre console, there’s no need to worry about greasy fingerprints. We’re not sure that touchscreens represent a major advance, especially when systems are as good as BMW iDrive.


You’ll have little problem finding a comfortable driving position, while your elbow will be grateful for the centre armrest on a long journey. Having said that, a model with sports seats will provide greater support when cornering.


Lumbar support for the driver and front passenger, electric seat adjustment, a sliding front armrest and heated front seats were all optional extras when new. BMW charged you more to get comfortable, so make sure these options are present and correct when you’re buying a used 3 Series Touring.

Predictably, the quality and finish are pretty high. Although the 3 Series Touring isn’t quite up to the standards of the Audi A4 Avant and Mercedes-Benz C-Class, it comes very close to the stellar standards set by its rivals.


There’s a timeless quality to BMW dashboards, with the rotary dials turning with the reassurance of a combination lock and the buttons and switches managing to feel solid yet deft. The soft-touch plastics on the dashboard and doors feel upmarket, although some of the materials in the lower part of the cabin are a little cheap.


It’s not difficult to add a touch of class. Lower trim levels get a sophisticated satin silver trim running along the lower half of the dashboard and the centre console. Upgrades include gloss black, aluminium, pearl chrome and coral red. Each one feels upmarket and classy.


Although all versions get a multi-function steering wheel, it’s not leather-trimmed on the basic 3 Series Touring. You also need to progress from entry-level to get sun visors with illuminated vanity mirrors, ambient lighting and BMW door sill finishers. Small details that add up to rather a lot.

All versions of the BMW 3 Series Touring get a 6.5-inch colour display perched atop the dashboard. Unlike a touchscreen, it’s controlled using the rotary iDrive controller, which is located on the centre console between the front seats.


In standard form, the BMW Navigation System features satellite navigation with multiple map views and 3D city models, along with DAB digital radio and settings for the car. It’s easy to use on the move, aided by the iDrive controller and a clear display.


Some models will feature the upgraded Professional Multimedia system, which includes an 8.8-inch widescreen display, a USB interface and automatic updates. There’s a definite wow-factor associated with the 8.8-inch version, with the widescreen doing a great job of filling the space.


Other options included an online entertainment system providing access to millions of songs, enhanced Bluetooth preparation with voice control, and a Harman Kardon premium audio upgrade. These were expensive options when new, so finding them on a used 3 Series Touring will be a bonus.


Later versions could also be equipped with a Digital Cockpit, which replaced the traditional dials with a 10.25-inch display. It mimics the analogue dials but provides a greater degree of customisation. Apple CarPlay was also an option on later models.

The BMW 3 Series Touring doesn’t offer the largest boot in its class – the Volkswagen Passat estate, for example, is more practical – but a 495-litre boot is reasonable for a car of this size.


This increases to 1500 litres with the rear seats folded down, but although the 40/20/40-split folding bench is practical, it doesn’t fold entirely flat. Space is also restricted by the rear wheelarches, which might pose a few problems if you’re trying to load bulky furniture into the boot.


There’s also a small lip at the back, but the independently opening window means that it’s possible to load smaller items without lifting the tailgate. Speaking of which, all models get an electric tailgate, while the optional Comfort Access enables contactless opening of the boot lid via a sensor beneath the bumper. Simply wave your foot to open it.


Other handy features include storage nets in the boot, tie-down hooks on the floor, bag hooks on the side and a folding floor dividing mechanism.


There’s room for two adults along the rear seats, with plenty of headroom and legroom on offer. However, the middle seat is only suitable for occasional use, with the transmission tunnel restricting the amount of legroom. A central rear armrest is standard across the range – this is a better use of the middle space.


In the front, there’s a large glovebox, good size door pockets, a storage area for your smartphone at the bottom of the centre console, two cupholders and a large central storage bin. 


Look out for cars with the optional extended storage kit. This comprises a range of practical compartments and 12v power sockets in both the rear centre console and luggage compartment.


If you’re after more boot space, the BMW 3 Series Gran Turismo could be worth a look. However, the Touring’s roof height and length make it the most practical option if you want to fit a roof rack or carry bikes. We’re sure your dog would prefer the estate…


The BMW 3 Series Touring dimensions are 4624mm in length, 2031mm width and 1429mm height.

Handling and ride quality: What is the BMW 3 Series Touring like to drive?

"This is where the BMW 3 Series Touring outclasses its rivals. Not only is it just as good to drive as the 3 Series saloon, but it’s also one of the most satisfying family cars you can drive. It’s that good."

BMW 3 Series Touring (2012-2019) Review: exterior front three quarter photo of the BMW 3 Series Touring on the road

Everything is perfect, from sharp and accurate steering that’s bristling with feedback, to the poised and precise cornering, especially in rear-wheel-drive versions. If you’re after some all-weather reassurance, the xDrive four-wheel-drive upgrade is available on some models.


Even the slowest versions are a joy to drive, but the more powerful engines help to get the most from the Touring’s fine chassis. It’s a little like having your cake and eating it – this is a practical family car that’s genuine fun.


The ride quality is best on 16- and 17-inch alloy wheels, so we’d resist the urge to go any larger. That said, the M Sport model comes with 18-inch alloys as standard, along with M Sport suspension on rear-wheel-drive versions.


A BMW 335i Touring M Sport is as close as you can get to a BMW M3 Touring, with the engine and chassis working in harmony to deliver a brilliant driving experience. If this sounds too gushing, it’s only because we have many fond memories of the 3 Series Touring.


It all feels so agile and entertaining, with the car cornering with an absence of body-roll and with bags of grip. You’ll know exactly what the front wheels are doing, because everything is being transmitted via the pedals and steering wheel.


Some versions feature Drive Performance Control, which allows you to choose between Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Sport+ modes. In many cars, it’s difficult to notice the difference between the modes, but that’s not true of the 3 Series Touring. Stick it in Sport mode and the car feels livelier, tighter and more responsive. It’s for taking the long way home.

The BMW 3 Series Touring is powered by a wide range of engines, from fuel-sipping four-cylinder diesels to a snarling six-cylinder petrol. If you can’t find an engine to suit you, you’re not looking hard enough.


We’d suggest buying one of the revamped 3 Series Touring models on sale from July 2015. Not only did the car receive a subtle styling update, but BMW also introduced a range of new engines, including the EfficientDynamics family.


The diesel engines offer a terrific blend of performance and economy. Take the BMW 330d Touring, which happens to have one of our favourite diesel engines. The six-cylinder diesel offers 258PS and a mighty 560Nm of torque to deliver a 0-62mph time of 5.6 seconds and a top speed of 155mph.


Alternatively, the BMW 335d Touring packs 313PS and 630Nm of punch, reducing the 0-62mph time to 4.8 seconds. The 335i and 340i six-cylinder petrol engines offer a similar level of performance, albeit without the fuel economy. Both cars can sprint to 62mph in a little over five seconds.


Back in the real world, the BMW 316d engine is best avoided, but the 318d and 320d offer enough performance if you spend most of your time on the motorway. The 190PS 320d will complete the 0-62mph sprint in a respectable 7.2 seconds, but it’s the mid-range punch that’s most impressive.


The efficient BMW 318i Touring petrol is worth a look if you don’t fancy a diesel. It uses the same three-cylinder engine you’ll find in the likes of the Mini hatchback and BMW 2 Series Active Tourer, and it does a surprisingly good job of powering a large estate car. The four-cylinder 320i and 330i petrol engines complete the range.

Predictably, the BMW 3 Series Touring offers a masterclass in refinement and noise levels. The cabin is whisper-quiet on the move, with only the merest hint of wind noise when you reach motorway speeds.


For maximum refinement, opt for the eight-speed automatic transmission. Although it takes a small chunk out of the fuel economy – and the six-speed manual gearbox is more satisfying – the auto ’box offers seamless changes and smooth acceleration. The manual gearbox remains the default choice for keen drivers, mind.


It’s not all good news. The diesel engines, while impressive, are a little coarse under acceleration and tend to idle like a taxi. Things improved when BMW updated the engines in 2015, but they’re not perfect.


It’s also worth noting that the 318i model, introduced as the entry-level petrol variant in 2015, is a three-cylinder unit. While that might be fine in the Mini hatchback, it feels a little out of place in the 3 Series Touring. It’s noisy when pushed hard, with some vibration transmitted into the cabin.


Oh, and the stop-start system in the 3 Series isn’t up to class-leading standards. The car shakes when the engine stops and starts again. Not good.

The BMW 3 Series saloon was awarded a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating when it was crash-tested in 2012. The individual scores were impressive: 95% for adult occupant protection, 84% for child occupant protection, 78% for pedestrian safety, and 86% for safety assist systems.


Although the 3 Series Touring offers the usual array of safety equipment as standard, you have to pay extra for many of the systems. For example, the Active Safety package, comprising anti-dazzle exterior mirrors, lane changing warning, dynamic safety and driving assistant, was a costly option.


Alternatively, the driving assistant was available as a cheaper option. The kit comprises city collision mitigation, forward collision mitigation, forward collision warning, lane departure warning and preventive pedestrian detection.


Even the likes of a speed limit display and active cruise control were optional on all models, while the automatic high beam was optional on all but the most expensive models.


In fairness, many of the items mentioned are designed to keep you out of trouble, rather than to keep you safe should the worst happen. It just proves how far safety technology has progressed in a decade.

MPG and fuel costs: What does a BMW 3 Series Touring cost to run?

"The quoted figures for fuel economy were sourced using the old and less reliable NEDC testing system, so they should be taken with a pinch of salt. However, the diesel versions of the 3 Series Touring are capable of delivering impressive efficiency."

BMW 3 Series Touring (2012-2019) Review: exterior rear photo of the BMW 3 Series Touring

At launch, the BMW 318d Touring offered a claimed 62.8mpg on a combined cycle when fitted with a manual gearbox. Even the perennial favourite, the 320d, could return 58.9mpg. As for the impressive 330d, you’d be looking at up to 48.7mpg on a combined cycle.


The engines were updated in May 2015, with the 3 Series Touring benefiting from a new range of EfficientDynamics engines. The BMW 320d ED Touring offered up to a remarkable 74.3mpg, with the new 316d boasting a claimed 68.9mpg.

The BMW 3 Series scored a somewhat disappointing 8.91 out of 10 for reliability in the HonestJohn.co.uk Satisfaction Survey, which is lower than several other BMW offerings and lower than its key German rivals.


Also BMW as a brand came 20th out of 30 manufactures overall, which is no doubt lower than BMW was aiming for. That's still one place above Audi, but much lower than 13th-placed Mercedes-Benz.

The BMW 3 Series Touring isn’t a cheap car to insure, so you’ll need to factor this into your budget calculations when searching for a used example. Take the 335d xDrive in Luxury or M Sport trim. An insurance group rating of 43 puts it on a par with some seriously quick performance vehicles and sports cars, so cover will be expensive.


If you don’t want to pay over the odds for insurance, your best option is the 316d, as some versions slot into group 18. If the prospect of ‘slumming it’ in a 316d doesn’t appeal to you, the 318d and 320d are likely to be your best options.

The rate of Vehicle Excise Duty (VED, or road tax) for all BMW 3 Series Touring models registered on or after 1 April 2017 is £165 a year. This is regardless of the engine size or CO2 emissions.


There are different VED bands for BMW 3 Series Touring models registered on or before 31 March 2017. For example, the rate of VED for a 2016 320d EfficientDynamics could be as low as £20 or £30 a year. In most cases, the automatic transmission tends to mean a higher rate of tax. Buy a 2014 335i M Sport and you’ll pay £355 a year.

How much should you be paying for a used BMW 3 Series Touring?

"You’ll need to find at least £4000 to buy an early BMW 3 Series Touring. Look out for some crossover with the old BMW 3 Series, because high-spec and low-mileage versions of the earlier car can fetch more than some basic examples."

BMW 3 Series Touring (2012-2019) Review: exterior side photo of the BMW 3 Series Touring

Good examples of the post-facelift BMW 3 Series Touring, on sale from July 2015, tend to fetch upwards of £12000.


Late examples of the 3 Series Touring fetch big money, so you’ll need to spend up to £35,000 for a car with a desirable trim and engine combination. Just be aware that the car had been on sale for seven years when it made way for the current 3 Series Touring, so you’re paying big money for old tech.

The BMW 3 Series Touring ES was the original entry-level trim on the BMW 3 Series Touring. Standard equipment included 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic air conditioning, Bluetooth, BMW Professional radio with a CD player, keyless start, a 6.5-inch colour display, cruise control and an electric tailgate.


For an extra £850, BMW 3 Series Touring SE trim added automatic dual-zone climate control, rear parking sensors, automatic headlights, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, an eight-speed automatic transmission (six-cylinder cars) and metallic paint (six-cylinder cars). The slightly more expensive Efficient Dynamics upgrade offered a slightly tweaked list of features.


Meanwhile, as the name suggests, the BMW 320d EfficientDynamics Business was designed for company car drivers. It featured 16-inch alloy wheels, leather upholstery, heated front seats and an upgraded BMW Business media package.


Other trim levels offered during the production run include Sport, Modern, Luxury and M Sport. A lavish M Sport Shadow Edition was offered towards the end of production.

Ask the heycar experts: common questions

In truth, owner feedback suggests that the 3 Series Touring's reliability isn't flawless, but if you choose a used car sensibly - mileage, condition and service history being the key pointers - and look after it, you should encounter few problems.
We would say so, yes. Perhaps not as luxurious as the equivalent Mercedes-Benz C-Class, but it still offers comfort, refinement and a high-quality cabin.
The word 'estate' is far too common for the likes of BMW, but that's essentially what the phrase 'Touring' means when it is attached to a 3 Series.

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