Home / car buyer / M3 Touring (Wagon) – Thumbs Up

M3 Touring (Wagon) – Thumbs Up

Is this all things to all people – with a large budget?

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Things we like

  • Arguably the ultimate all-round, all-weather family car
  • Excellent dynamics on road and track
  • Impressively comfortable and refined for a focused performance car
  • Better to drive and more efficient than any fast SUV

Not so much

  • Approaching $200K on the road, before options…
  • Amplified straight-six soundtrack mightn’t suit everyone
  • Complexity of iDrive and drive modes requires familiarisation

If you had to drive just one car for the rest of your life, what would it be? This is a great game to play with your friends (especially at the pub) and it’s actually trickier than you think.

The reflex answer most people offer is “a Porsche 911” but then they remember their ‘one car for life’ has to take the kids to school, the dog to the vet, fit your bike and surfboard, and have enough room for the 45 bags you take on family holiday.

Eventually most people find their way to a fast wagon and the king of fast wagons, thanks to the mighty RS4 and RS6, is Audi. Or at least it was, until BMW M decided to enter the fray…

BMW’s form is patchy in wagon land. It’s given us two M5 wagons (the last was the E61 of 2007) but in the 37 years BMW has made the iconic M3, it has never built a long roof version.

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Which is what makes the arrival of this G81 M3 Touring so significant.

At a time when other brands are abandoning wagons altogether (Mercedes has ditched all of its wagons in Australia, and VW has just dropped the Golf R and Passat wagon) BMW has gone all in will soon sell two M wagons when the bigger, and outrageously powerful, M5 touring arrives later this year. Car nerds rejoice!

And in even better news, this new M3 Touring isn’t only fabulous to look at – how good are those flared rear guards, how sinister is that hunkered stance – it’s also fantastic to drive.

In true M car form, the M3 Touring is fast, grippy, engaging, slidey and surprisingly comfortable, so if you’re one of the thousands of Aussies about to buy a fast SUV, allow us to try and change your mind…

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How much is it and what do you get?

A practical family car injected with supercar performance is an intoxicating proposition, but it’s not a cheap one.

BMW has priced the M3 Touring at $180,100 before on-roads meaning it’ll be close to $200K by the time it’s sitting on your driveway. And that’s before you start thinking about adding a carbon diffuser or special carbon bucket seats. Ouch. It’s also a hefty $22,500 more than its closest rival, the Audi RS4. Double ouch.

The silver lining is BMW hasn’t gouged buyers for choosing the wagon body style. Just one version of the M3 Touring is available – the top spec xDrive Competition – and compared to the sedan upon which it’s based, the wagon is only $2300 more.

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Like other M3s, the Touring uses BMW’s S58 3.0-litre twin-turbo straight-six but here it’s paired exclusively with a smooth-shifting 8-speed automatic.

Power is ample at 375kW/650Nm and because the Touring is all-wheel drive, its 0-100km/h sprint is a supercar beating 3.6 seconds. That’s 0.1sec slower than the Comp sedan but half a second quicker than an RS4.

Helping to transfer all that grunt to the road are staggered Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres measuring 275/35 ZR19 up front and 285/30 ZR20 out back.

As you’d expect given its bigger body, weight has gone up, but perhaps not by as much as you might think.

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BMW says the Touring is 85kg heavier than an equivalent xDrive sedan, which is about the same as slotting a friend into the passenger seat, and most of that extra heft is down to additional body strengthening low in the chassis.

Sprint rates are also higher and the adaptive dampers and anti-roll bars have been tweaked on both axles to ensure the slightly porkier wagon is just as sharp to drive as the sedan. Another contributor to the weight gain is the Touring’s enormous roof, which unlike other Competition models, is made from steel rather than carbon fiber.

The boot itself is exactly the same as you get in a regular 3 Series Touring, which is an achievement given the M3’s need to house a wider rear track and bulky sports exhaust with quad outlets.

Luggage capacity is a neat 500L with the rear seats up (the backrest folds 40:20:40) and 1510L with them down. For context, that’s 20L more than an M3 sedan and almost identical to an RS4.

There’s plenty of amenity in the luggage bay, too. There are two generous sections of underfloor storage and there are magnetic rails to help secure bags in place. And, just like a Toyota Prado, the glass section of the tailgate can be opened separately for easier access.

One thing you don’t get is the ability to fit a tow bar, so you can forget about that fantasy of using your M3 Touring to tow your race car to the circuit. It also means you can’t use a tow-bar bike carrier, so if you’re a cycling enthusiast you’ll need to wedge them into the boot or mount them on the roof.

As for options, the standard specification is so high that there’s only a couple to choose from.

The first is carbon brakes which, for $16,500, swaps out the standard steel stoppers for massive 400mm ventilated and perforated carbon discs clamped by six-piston callipers.

The second option pack is the ‘M Carbon Experience’ and it’s even more expensive at $17,500. It brings BMW’s crotch coddling carbon bucket seats, which save 9.6kg, and uses carbon fibre for the rear diffuser, sections of the front bar and mirror caps.

It also includes the M Driver’s package, which raises the top speed from 250km/h to 280km/h, and provides admission to BMW M’s Level 2 advanced driver course.

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How do rivals compare on value?

We’ve already mentioned that the M3 Touring is $25K pricier than its closest rival, the Audi RS4, and the M3’s other key competitors, the Mercedes-AMG C63 and Alfa Romeo Giulia Q, don’t offer wagon versions in Australia.

Perhaps more interesting, however, is how the M3 Touring stacks up against the horde of mid-size performance SUVs. After all, performance SUVs sell in far greater numbers even though a wagon is superior to drive…

And against its SUV rivals, the M3 Touring stacks up a well. A BMW X3M for example, is almost identically priced at $182,500 but it’s an older vehicle and can’t match the M3 Touring for cabin tech. It’s also two tenths slower to 100km/h at 3.8sec.

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The soon-to-arrive Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S E-Performance is another intriguing alternative.

Armed with the same potent plug-in hybrid powertrain as the W206 C63 S, it eclipses the M3 Touring for grunt with 500kW and 800Nm and is fractionally quicker to 100km/h at 3.5sec.

But the AMG is tipped to be priced north of $200K when it arrives in the second quarter of 2024, and it also weighs 2310kg, which is 445kg heavier than the BMW. Yikes.

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An Alfa Stelvio Q is another rival worth considering.

It’s significantly cheaper than the M3 Touring at $153,500 and its 2.9L V6 turbo is a match for the BMW in performance and engagement. It’s slower to 100km/h at 3.8sec but the Alfa is our pick of the performance SUV segment for driving thrills.

A final, discerning competitor to mention is the Alpina B3 wagon. Based on the 3 Series Touring, the Alpina’s 3.0-litre turbo six produces 364kW/730Nm and it can hit 0-100km/h in 3.7sec.

It also shares the M3 Touring’s updated cabin architecture, including its curved widescreen display. And at $155,900 it’s not only less expensive but more exclusive and arguably cooler, too.

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Interior comfort, space and storage

The M3 Touring’s cabin is fantastic. Lots of brands are trying, with varying degrees of success, to create an interior that feels sporty, techy and modern.

Most fail – AMG stumbles with too much piano black and cheap-feeling plastics – but BMW has knocked it out of the park.

The curved widescreen display, which combines a 12.3in instrument cluster and 14.9in central touchscreen, is crisp and easy-ish to navigate and all of the key controls are easy to find. There are a few foibles, like burying the fan speed controller for the air-con in the centre screen and needing to dive into a sub menu to switch on the recirculating air, but mostly this is a great place to sit.

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Ah yes, the seats. As standard, the M3 Touring is fitted with BMW’s sports seats and they are excellent.

Supportive, heavily bolstered and comfortable, they also go impressively low and combine with ample steering-wheel adjustment to create an ideal driving position.

They’re well suited to long-distance cruising and track driving, however BMW’s eye-catching carbon buckets are also available as an option. The carbon seats save 9.6kg and they bring plenty of wow factor thanks to bulging crotch inserts and kidney cutouts. They’re unquestionable cool but we’d actually stick with the comfier standard seats.

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The mix of materials used through the cabin feel expensive (as you’d hope) thanks to plenty of exposed carbon, high-quality plastics and soft leather.

The carbon shift paddles are a nice tactile touch, too, but why must BMW steering wheels be so thick?

Storage is another strength. There are twin cupholders and a wireless phone charger ahead of the gear shifter and the door pockets are generous. Front passengers score two USB charging points (1 x USB-A and 1 x USB-C) and there are two more USB-C outlets in the back, plus dedicated air vents for the tri-zone climate control.

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The rear seat is comfortable and offers generous knee- and headroom for six footers, although toe-room can be tight if the driver drops their seat into its lowest position.

Rear passengers also score a centre armrest with twin cupholders and there are Isofix mounting points in each of the outboard seats, as well as three top-teather points.

One thing that does demand a steep learning curve is the number of drive modes. Huge configurability has become a BMW M hallmark and the M3 Touring offers multiple settings for the powertrain, steering, brakes, suspension, gearbox, exhaust and even the drive-assist systems like lane-keep.

The interface to adjust the settings is a little daunting at first, though we suspect most owners will quickly tailor their favourite mix of modes to the M1 and M2 hot keys on the steering wheel.

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What’s it like to drive?

Comfort and compliance are the first things that strike you about the M3 Touring, which is surprising for such an aggro performance car.

There’s suppleness to the ride, despite the low-profile Michelins, and the powertrain almost feels docile in Comfort mode. Road noise is kept nicely in check, too, and on the freeway the M3 Touring is as quiet as most luxury SUVs. Performance cars are typically plagued by tyre roar on coarse-chip roads but the M3 Touring is impressively hush.

Don’t be fooled into thinking the M3 Touring has gone soft, however. Dial up the drive modes into Sport and Sport Plus and it’s a monster. BMW makes some of the best six-cylinder engines in the world and in the M3 Touring, the S58 is smooth, responsive and brutishly powerful.

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It pairs well with the eight-speed auto and while the shifts lack a little of the positivity and crispness you get from a dual-clutch, they’re still satisfyingly quick.

Throttle response is also sharp for a turbocharged car, so make no mistake, this is savagely fast wagon. And on a twisty country roads, it’s a fantastically engaging one, too. Grip, traction, poise, rear-drive balance, they’re all there in spades.

As is a classic straight-six soundtrack. BMW plumbs engine noise into the cabin and with the exhaust set to Sport, there’s a bassy synthesised edge to gearshifts. This fakery mightn’t be to everyone’s taste so it’s good to know you can turn it off.

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And the ride compliance continues at speed. In Comfort the dampers are soft enough that you need to be conscious of managing weight transfer and allowing the body to settle as you throw it into corners.

Sport brings greater body control and in Sport Plus the dampers are firm enough that you can get knocked off line on really choppy roads, but the damping really is superb. Not once did we encounter any thuds or crashes through the suspension on poor roads. Does it feel any heavier or lazier than a regular M3 Comp? If there’s a difference, we couldn’t pick it.

Exactly how lairy your M3 Touring is depends on the setting for the switchable four-wheel-drive system. Three modes are offered: 4WD, 4WD Sport and 2WD, with the latter offering the promise of seriously sideways thrills.

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Thing thing is, though, M’s xDrive system is so good we hardly felt the need to send drive solely to the rear axle.

M’s boss Frank van Meel proudly says its xDrive models are “rear-wheel drive with added traction” and that pretty much sums it up. With the electronic nannies wound back, the M3 Touring will perform big, rear-driven slides in 4WD Sport.

It’s a system that works well on track, too. We drove the M3 Touring at The Bend in South Australia and found it to be remarkably composed, stable and confidence inspiring at speed. Just as it felt on road, the balance is exceedingly rear-biased, but out of The Bend’s tighter turns you could feel the front axle helping to slingshot you towards the exit kerb. It’s utterly seamless and utterly engaging.

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The steering is relatively quick at 2.2 turn lock-to-lock and it’s meatily weighted, so there is a sense of connection rather than video game remoteness, and it’s unwaveringly accurate.

The brakes also hold up well on track. Our test cars were fitted with standard steel stoppers with track pads and the braking performance was strong and consistent.

Braking is where you feel the M3 Touring’s weight the most but there’s something wonderfully old-school about hustling it on track: heavy brake, bleed off the pedal as you turn in, get on the gas and feel the balance shift rearward. It’s satisfying in a way the new, high-tech C63 isn’t. Take that Affalterbach!

So the M3 touring lives up to the hype on road and on track. It’s engaging, fast, exciting and so reassuringly analogue that a colleague described it as “like a Nissan R35 GT-R with a big boot”. That’s our kind of family car.

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How much fuel does it use?

There’s no 48-volt fuel saving tech or cutting edge plug-in hybrid malarky at play in the BMW M3 Touring, so its official combined fuel rating of 10.4L/100km feels a touch old school. The good news is that our testing returned a figure of 9.1L/100km over 250km of highway and country road driving and for a big, powerful wagon, that’s pretty decent.

The M3 Comp sedan’s WLTP fuel rating is 10.2L/100km on the official test so going for the bigger/heavier wagon body doesn’t bring much of a penalty at the bowser.

One thing to keep in mind is the M3 Touring has a relatively small fuel tank at 59L, giving it a theoretical range of 567km.

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How safe is the BMW M3 Touring?

The BMW M3 Touring does not carry its own safety rating. However, it is closely related to the regular BMW 3 Series which was tested by ANCAP in 2019 and awarded the maximum five stars.

It’s important to note, however, that ANCAP’s rating only applies to 2.0-litre, rear-wheel-drive versions of the 3 Series range.

Despite not carrying an official five star rating, the M3 Touring is a safe car and is fitted with the following safety systems: Autonomous emergency braking, forward collision warning with pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, rear-cross traffic alert, lane centring assist, front-cross traffic alert, a tyre pressure monitoring system, parking assistant plus, 360 surround view monitor, cruise control and seven airbags.

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We’ve had to wait almost four decades for BMW to give us an M3 Touring and it doesn’t disappoint.

Few cars combine the demands of a sensible family car and a properly engaging performance car so convincingly. Cake and eat it too? You bet.

Even better is that it’s almost guaranteed to use less fuel than a higher-riding fast SUV and it’ll also be kinder to its tyres and brakes so it should be less expensive to maintain.

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And thanks to its lower centre of gravity it’s easily the more engaging car to drive quickly on a Sunday morning blast or at the race track.

Is it the ultimate ‘one car solution’? It certainly makes a convincing case and it’s the M3 we’re drawn to most in the line-up. It is expensive, though, and the complex infotainment and multitude of drive modes takes some getting used to but as an all-round, all-weather performance car, the M3 Touring is a winner.