If you found the 320i Touring a little too heavy, not quite quick enough and, well, just too small, here’s some good news: the BMW 323i Touring has arrived. And it’s lighter, quicker and bigger.
This review was originally published in MOTOR’s September 2006 issue
Launched alongside the 323i sedan, the (deep breath) 323i Touring M Sport is, of the two, the more interesting proposition. It drives just as well as the sedan, maybe better, it looks great and the big, boxy boot certainly makes it more practical.
The 323i slots in between the four-pot 320i and the 325i. And it uses the same cracking 2.5-litre inline six-cylinder VALVETRONIC engine as the 325i to produce 130kW at 5800rpm and 230Nm at 3500rpm. This forces its 1500kg (15kg lighter than its predecessor) from 0-100km/h in just 8.2 seconds and on to a top whack of 224km/h.
While the 323i Touring M Sport doesn’t exactly set the tarmac alight, the smooth and deliciously creamy six-pot offers enough punch to make it an extremely enjoyable drivers’ car. You do need to use the gearbox a bit to keep it in attack mode (our test car was fitted with a six-speed manual), but the harder you work it and the more you lean on the car, the better it becomes.
That the 323i Touring feels so damn good is all down to its dynamics. Designed in conjunction with the sedan, the Touring handles every bit as well. Indeed, around the Nürburgring, the garden-variety 323i Touring level-pegs the sedan with a time of 8min49secs.
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But there’s a significant step up in ability when you go from the basic 323i Touring to the M Sport jobbie. Where the garden-variety Touring tends to lose its composure and wallow through slower corners, the M Sport is virtually unflappable. Its M-tweaked sport suspension and bigger 17-inch wheels (up from 16s on the 323i Touring) endow it with more grip and greater control.
It really comes alive through tight corners; both the front- and back-end deal with mid-corner surface changes amazingly. You always feel like you’re getting maximum commitment from the car. Dynamically, it’s about as good as it gets for a rear-driver and not even the runflats can upset this, for me.
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Styling-wise, the 323i Touring M Sport really hits the mark. Forward of the A-pillar it’s identical to the E90 3-Series Sedan, but the Touring has a slight coupé look to it, courtesy of its tapered rear roofline. The M Sport kit which includes a deeper front and rear air dam, side skirts and bigger wheels (as mentioned) makes the Touring look even wider and a lot more menacing (especially in Interlagos Blue).
Inside, the M Sport touches continue with figure-hugging front seats, anthracite roof lining and an M leather steering wheel (the whole M Sport package costs $5200). The rest of the interior is packed with all of the usual goodies and, styling aside (you either love or hate the dash lines), it’s not a bad place to be.
Around at the back, the tailgate lifts up to a height of 1990mm, and reveals a cavernous boot offering some 460 litres of storage space - there are all sorts of clips and nets to keep everything secure. There’s also extra storage space under the floor (runflats, as standard, do away with the need for a spare tyre).
Most punters consider the Sedan to be the definitive 3-Series, but I beg to differ. The 323i Touring M Sport will not only out handle a garden-variety Bimmer Sedan but will do it with a boot full of rubbish on the way to the tip. It’s the best of the bunch.
2006 BMW 323i TOURING SPECS
Engine: 2.5-litre, inline-6, DOHC 24-valve
Price: $74,100 (incl. M Sport pack)