The station wagon is dead.
Dead like Hypercolour T-shirts, buying music on CD or Julia Gillard’s career.
Thanks to the unstoppable force that is the SUV – a vehicle that seems to have deconstructed itself like a Deceptacon to become available in every conceivable size; the X5 begatting the X3, which begat the X1, with an X4 on the horizon – no-one wants a wagon any more.
If the presence of dogs or children in your life means you need more room than a humble sedan can provide, it seems to be presumed that you also like sitting higher off the ground and that the term “centre of gravity” holds no interest for you.
And yet for some reason, some car companies, like BMW, which is not short of SUVs, (and now a 3 GT as well) refuses to kill the stretched sedan off. Perhaps it’s something to do with the popularity of zombies.
BMW has just updated and upgraded its 3 Series Touring because, it says, there are still plenty of people out there who had the last model, loved it, and want to trade up.
And because there are also some “professional, ambitious” types who love outdoor lifestyle activities and/or breeding, and don’t want to sacrifice style and performance on the altar of SUV ownership.
The style question is valid, because compared to an X3, the 320i and 318d Tourings we drove look like sleek sylphs next to a Biggest Loser contestant.
The new Touring is bigger – 97mm longer tip to tail, with a 50mm longer wheelbase – yet 40kg lighter. Rear passengers get 9mm more headroom, enough for a teenager to fit his new spiky hair, and a more significant 17mm rise in kneeroom.
The load area is also festooned with hooks, straps, sliding partitions and such, meaning your luggage will feel more secure than a person with two therapists.
The car can be dull in Comfort, and is dire in EcoPro, but press Sport and there’s plenty of fun to be had from the 3’s excellent four-cylinder, twin-scroll turbo engines. I miss their wondrous straight sixes, of course, but with 180kW and 350Nm and a 0-100km/h time of six seconds flat for the 328i, it’s hard not to love their replacements.
Sadly, the $69,900 range-topper wasn’t on the launch, but the $62,600 320i, with 135kW, 270Nm and a 7.5sec sprint was still more fun than any family man should expect to have.
The eight-speed auto is slick, and holds the gears all the way to redline in manual mode, the steering is beautifully weighted and the handling is simply a league ahead of any X model, particularly if you option active dampers.