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      08-22-2012, 06:38 PM   #1
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Top Gear Tests the F31 328i Touring - Misses only the sound of the inline six

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Is this really a new 3-Series Touring? It's so big. It's like it wants to be a 5-Series. But, if you walked into a BMW dealer, you'd never get confused about which to buy. The current 5 Touring isn't just big, it's enormo-humungo-colossal. Which is why there's a definite slot in the line-up for an estate that can carry a family and their chattels, but which doesn't require a pair of tugboats every time you want to moor up alongside your house. The new 3-Series Touring is that car.

Some numbers. The Touring's wheelbase is up 50mm from the last generation, and the overall length by nearly double that margin. Actually, it's exactly the same size as the 3 saloon on which it's based, so no news there. But the stretch in size matters more in the Touring's case because it translates into usefully more space in the back seat and boot. There's more headroom in the back than the saloon because the roof is higher. Still, it avoids a furniture van look by having a rear window that's angled more towards the horizontal.

But here's a strange thing. It doesn't feel big. In common with the saloon, BMW has actually made this 3 Touring (the F20 generation) feel smaller and more nimble than the old E90 - more like the sports-compact car the 3 always was in our imaginations. The steering is sharper and emphatically higher-geared, and the body seems to roll and heave less. It just encourages you to throw it about. This makes us happy. The 3 has become a distinctive car again, separating itself in character from the C-Class. It's fun. Though, as I'll come to in a minute, you need to choose the right engine.

But first, more of the Touring-ness. As standard on the new car, the tailgate is electrically operated and optionally has one of those sensors where you wave your foot under the bumper to open it. Both these devices often have minds of their own, and, on every car I've ever used that has them fitted, they've driven me bonkers. Why have these idiotically over-complicated solutions to a problem that didn't exist? To be fair, most other people like them, but you have been warned, my friend. More sensibly, in normal BMW practice, the rear windscreen opens independently of the tailgate to let you drop small stuff in.

The seat is split 40:20:40 so two people can sit one on either side of, say, skis or snowboards or a piece of flatpack onits briefly sunlit journey from furniture superstore to buyer's remorse. Also useful is a deep bin under the floor - it's so big because it's the same floor pressing that accommodates the high-voltage battery in the forthcoming hybrid version of the 3 saloon. The outer two seat-backs fold and return easily without fouling the seat belts. All good. Less special: the quality and deployment of the boot's roller-blind cover, the luggage net and the load-retaining gadgetry is no better than industry standard. And the main bootfloor itself is high because it has to clear the rear diff and complicated BMW suspension, so the whole space is shallower than in the more luggage-hungry front-drive estates.

But the 3-Series is RWD, so it can use high-performance engines yet maintain sweet steering untroubled by torque-steer. It delivers. The steering is beautifully judged, stable at speed but agile in bends, and the car pivots through curves by sharing the effort in ideal balance between front and rear. If you choose a manual, the position of the gearbox under your elbow helps the shift.

The chassis isn't only lithe, it's supple. Maybe the Touring's ride is a fraction sharper than the saloon's, as it has stiffer rear springs. But the test car had 18-inch wheels, so perhaps they were the culprits. Whatever, it's a small matter. This car feels sophisticated. Engineered by those who love what they do.

Except the test car's engine is a bit more mixed. I had the 328i. This is the 4cyl direct-injection Valvetronic turbo, and a great idea on paper: it's light, torquey and fuel-efficient. Trouble is, at medium throttle openings and medium revs, it sounds uninspired. I've driven the 28i engine in a 5-Series, where it's quieter so you don't worry, and in a Z4, where the exhaust sound is more inspired. But here it's just a dull mechanical drone. So, turn the radio up, and enjoy the lag-free torque. And actually, when you floor it and go for the red line, it finds a more interesting voice. And it goes well, partly because it's 40kg lighter than the old Touring. Clever to lose weight while gaining size.

Look at the saloon range, and you can see more engines will be added, but, for the moment, the 328i is the only petrol. Anyway, most people buy their BMWs in diesel flavour these days. For them, there's the super-logical 320d and the fast, sweet six-pot 330d.

Paul Horrell

The numbers
1997cc, 4cyl, RWD, 245bhp, 258lb ft, 44.5mpg, 159g/km CO2, 0-62mph in 6.0secs, 155mph, 1500kg

The verdict
Good-sized wagon that's huge fun to drive. If we used half-points, it'd lose one for the missing straight-six noises.
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      08-22-2012, 09:35 PM   #2
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Good info about the floor stamping designed to accommodate the upcoming hybrid's batteries.
Now, if only there was an Active Hybrid Touring!
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      08-23-2012, 04:28 AM   #3
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Interesting that there is the comment on the steering being "sharper" than the previous generation. Also "the steering is beautifully judged, stable at speed but agile in bends". TopGear are usually very critical of such things, but wait for the "steering is dumbed down" comments once users get hold of the touring.

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      08-23-2012, 07:44 AM   #4
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F20 generation?
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      08-23-2012, 08:27 AM   #5
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Is it possible that BMW made their station wagon more sporty than the sedan?
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      08-23-2012, 04:41 PM   #6
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They might have the Adaptive Steering option on that test car. It has been well viewed by the critics.
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      08-23-2012, 05:07 PM   #7
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Quote:
If you choose a manual, the position of the gearbox under your elbow helps the shift.
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      08-23-2012, 05:40 PM   #8
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Great review...
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      08-24-2012, 06:39 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by HighlandPete View Post
Interesting that there is the comment on the steering being "sharper" than the previous generation. Also "the steering is beautifully judged, stable at speed but agile in bends". TopGear are usually very critical of such things, but wait for the "steering is dumbed down" comments once users get hold of the touring.

HighlandPete
I agree, very different out look on steering feel compared to the American magazines.
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      08-24-2012, 06:46 PM   #10
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No choice

Apparently we cant "choose the manual" here in the States....
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      08-24-2012, 06:49 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by The X Men
Is it possible that BMW made their station wagon more sporty than the sedan?
Yes!
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      08-24-2012, 07:09 PM   #12
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I recently had an F30 while my E91 was in the shop. The editor's comment regarding the audible character of the N20 engine is right on. It's fast, but sounds only slightly better than our 7 year old Civic. The whole car felt lighter, and was remarkable quick when you wanted it to be. Steering felt a lot lighter than the E91, but wasn't bad per se, just never had that same tactile feel.

Curious how the 320d will stack up when that's released (hopefully stateside).
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      08-24-2012, 08:09 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Alpine F31
Apparently we cant "choose the manual" here in the States....
Agree with you, but from a profit perspective for bmw with only a few in the states want manual so I understand why no manual here.
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      08-24-2012, 08:46 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by r3dbimmer89 View Post
I agree, very different out look on steering feel compared to the American magazines.
Aren't they all saying the same? With the electric steering, the majority do agree that it is agile and accurate but it just lacks in road feel and although the weight is there, it feels artificial but I don't think it's a major concern.

I know the F30 is still in it's early stages but I'm really interested to see what BMW does with the steering on the LCI model. I'm thinking if Audi can make such adjustments, BMW should as well.
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      08-25-2012, 12:49 AM   #15
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      08-25-2012, 06:24 AM   #16
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Stop messing with me BMW . I don't have a big enough garage to buy this one too
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      08-25-2012, 07:40 AM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sparkyg View Post
They might have the Adaptive Steering option on that test car. It has been well viewed by the critics.
Actually EVO, who are sort of *the* reference point for this kind of stuff, said they did not like the variable sport steering (as it is called over here). Then again, I've read from both people claiming that this system has no impact for normal steering angles (i.e. not maneuvering), while others say it accelerates the initial steering angle (in a non-linear way). So it's not even clear to me what it actually does. BMW make great cars, but they need to keep their marketing department on a leash and actually explain what some of these options do or mean.

FWIW, BMW documentation seems to say the former (only changes behavior at extreme steering angles), as they suggest it's actually of the most benefit for parking (but then why call it 'sport'?). Also I find it hard to believe that BMW would feel that non-linear steering is a good idea, but then wasn't that what the 'Active Steering' (as seen on other models) was doing?

In any case, I've test driven an f30 320d (Sport Line on 18") with what I was told was standard servotronic steering, and it was perfect for me. Perfectly linear, just enough directness (not so much to make it nervous), ideally weighted (in Sport mode), and the supposed lack of feedback was not something I even noticed. In fact it's been a while since I felt I 'blended' so naturally with a car - for the steering feedback to become a limiting factor you'd have to be on a track (or drive like a complete nutcase).
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      08-25-2012, 07:54 AM   #18
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As an owner of an F30 328i, I do agree with the medium revs, medium throttle uninspired drone. Although to be fair, I very rarely find myself in that situation. Because peak torque is in at 1200rpm and hangs about 'till 4800rpm, it needs diesel like revs to move it. With the 8AT in D and the driving mode in Comfort, climbing to motorway speeds doesn't really see it go past 2300/2500rpm and this remains much the same in daily driving. This engine speed means it's still damn near silent. The only points where this situation occurs is in overtaking as the transmission smoothly drops a few cogs and has the revs around 3000-5000. Or, like in Scotland a few weeks ago, on back roads where you're not sure if something is coming the other way. Mind you, those roads were so good it was booted good style in Sport and DS and oh yeah, that sounds good!

BUT, does it sound as good as the 330d? My 330d. My E90 LCI 245ps unit.
No, it doesn't.

I love my 28i to bits, but if I could've, I would've gone for the 30d again in the F30 and I think this is the most logical and actually best choice if you're in that market. For those few that don't know why I didn't get the 330d, it wasn't on the market in time as I ordered in March for May production.

Economy is remaining around the 38-41mpg (UK) mark which is okay, but I wanted something more like 41-44mpg.

F30 328i 8AT WOT sound


E90 LCI 330d 6MT WOT sound
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      08-25-2012, 08:19 AM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dust16 View Post
Actually EVO, who are sort of *the* reference point for this kind of stuff, said they did not like the variable sport steering (as it is called over here). Then again, I've read from both people claiming that this system has no impact for normal steering angles (i.e. not maneuvering), while others say it accelerates the initial steering angle (in a non-linear way). So it's not even clear to me what it actually does. BMW make great cars, but they need to keep their marketing department on a leash and actually explain what some of these options do or mean.

FWIW, BMW documentation seems to say the former (only changes behavior at extreme steering angles), as they suggest it's actually of the most benefit for parking (but then why call it 'sport'?). Also I find it hard to believe that BMW would feel that non-linear steering is a good idea, but then wasn't that what the 'Active Steering' (as seen on other models) was doing?

In any case, I've test driven an f30 320d (Sport Line on 18") with what I was told was standard servotronic steering, and it was perfect for me. Perfectly linear, just enough directness (not so much to make it nervous), ideally weighted (in Sport mode), and the supposed lack of feedback was not something I even noticed. In fact it's been a while since I felt I 'blended' so naturally with a car - for the steering feedback to become a limiting factor you'd have to be on a track (or drive like a complete nutcase).
I completely agree with you. The majority of reviews I've seen of the F3X chassis says that the Variable Sport Steering is poor and a waste of money. The standard steering set-up is a much better system and I love mine! Liking the extra wheel thickness to the E90 too - it feels absolutely perfect.
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      08-25-2012, 09:57 AM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SomeRandomer123

I completely agree with you. The majority of reviews I've seen of the F3X chassis says that the Variable Sport Steering is poor and a waste of money. The standard steering set-up is a much better system and I love mine! Liking the extra wheel thickness to the E90 too - it feels absolutely perfect.
Standard as with Servotronic or without? I am a big fan of Servotronic , easily the most feel and feedback for electric power steering
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      08-25-2012, 01:13 PM   #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 宝马.e90 View Post
Aren't they all saying the same? With the electric steering, the majority do agree that it is agile and accurate but it just lacks in road feel and although the weight is there, it feels artificial but I don't think it's a major concern.

I know the F30 is still in it's early stages but I'm really interested to see what BMW does with the steering on the LCI model. I'm thinking if Audi can make such adjustments, BMW should as well.
Give or take pretty much... From my personal experience the F30 steering is way too light and lacking road feel regardless of accuracy and agility. It's better than most EPS in other cars i.e. the F10 and F25 but nonetheless not terrible.
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      08-25-2012, 05:20 PM   #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Top Gear
But here's a strange thing. It doesn't feel big. In common with the saloon, BMW has actually made this 3 Touring (the F20 generation) feel smaller and more nimble than the old E90 - more like the sports-compact car the 3 always was in our imaginations.
F30, Top Gear. This generation is the F30 and the wagon is the F31.
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