For such a practical take on the performance car, the new BMW M3 Touring has a wonderfully skunkworks vibe. ‘This is my baby,’ declares M division’s head of development, Dirk Häcker. ‘The original plan for the latest M3 didn’t have a Touring in it. But we went into our little submarine two and a half years ago and came out with this. The company didn’t task us with it, we tasked the company! We were very happy with the first reactions on social media – they confirmed we’d made the right decision.’
Indeed, the pent-up demand for an M3 with a bigger boot has been tangible. BMW has dabbled with such prototypes in the past, chiefly an E30 that never saw the light of day and an E46 that’s occasionally wheeled out for M3 anniversary celebrations. This is the first time M has given the idea serious thought since, though Häcker acknowledges his awareness of aftermarket M3 Touring conversions – usually of the F80-gen car – that have popped up on Instagram in recent years. He knows he’s giving people what they want.
Time for him to talk us around his child, though. The big news is that the Touring is four-wheel drive only – it launches in Competition xDrive spec and won’t be offered with less power or driven fewer axles. It’ll arrive in the UK in early 2023, costing from £80,550, and come with the M3’s typical S58 engine producing 503bhp and 479lb ft in a car that’s good for 0-62mph in under four seconds.
‘It’s the best kind of powertrain solution for the countries we will offer this car in,’ says Häcker. Sales will be concentrated in Europe, with Germany its biggest market and us Brits not too far behind, hence the Touring’s global debut at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. Perhaps it’s a move to entice buyers from their RS4s in this corner of the market, but he won’t be drawn too much on rivals. ‘Our message is that it’s a Touring that drives like an M3, not an M3 that drives like a Touring.’ It’s probably worth mentioning that in four-door form, xDrive M3s now outsell rear-drive…
There are no major mechanical changes over an xDrive-equipped saloon, though there are fresh rear dampers that will also – oddly enough – appear in the next M2. ‘If they were to sit in the front and not look behind, I think most drivers wouldn’t feel whether it’s a Touring or a saloon and that’s what was really important to us,’ says Häcker. ‘We have changed the springs, the dampers and the set-up for the damper control software,’ he continues, but adds that the sole aim has been to replicate the four-door’s handling experience rather than offer something new. The tires and brakes remain the same, as do the M3’s staggered 19-inch front/20-inch rear forged wheels.
Weight distribution remains close to 50:50 and while an overall weight figure is conspicuous by its absence at the moment, the typical leap from saloon to Touring elsewhere in the 3-series range is around 70 kilos. At a guess, we’re looking at roughly 1850 kilos of M3 here, but if the engineers behind the latest M2 are to be believed, weight is no longer something M division loses any sleep over.
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The development program has been exhaustive, visiting BMW’s Miramas facility in the south of France as well as the winter testing center in Arjeplog and – to no one’s surprise – the Nürburgring, where the car has already claimed ‘quickest estate’ honors with a 7: 35,060 lap, just a few seconds behind a regular M3. The top speed is 155mph as standard but rises to 174mph with an optional M Driver’s Package, while you can also spec a track pack that brings carbon-ceramic brakes and M’s opinion-splitting carbon bucket seats.
Most UK buyers spec those on the M3 and M4 and Häcker is keen to extol their virtues. ‘You have to arrange yourself a little to get in and out,’ he admits, ‘but if you are fixed in the seat in a very long distance, or driving on track or on a country road, they give you a very good feeling . I think they look great from the rear seats too; they look very lightweight.’
Moving towards the back of the car, everything is just as you’d find in an especially well-trimmed 3-series Touring – there are no sporting buckets for those perched in the rear. The seats split 40:20:40 for maximum versatility while the stock estate’s 500 litres of boot space (1510 with all the seats folded) remains intact. As does – very pleasingly – the car’s somewhat independent opening tailgate window. Car photographers rejoice.
Worried it’s all getting a bit too sensible? The car’s commodious back end is clothed in some properly punchy bodywork. ‘The very powerful rear styling of the car is a big statement – a message,’ says Häcker, confirming that the rear is not only wider than a regular Three’s – broader tracks mean the arches have had to swell greater to host the wheels – but wider than any M-badged Touring before it, those old M5s not calling for such bespoke bodywork. All told, it’s 76mm wider than a standard 3-series and 4mm lower.
The bodywork changes did give Häcker and his team a minor challenge when it came to convincing the financial folk to give an M3 Touring the green light, especially when previous versions haven’t seen the light of day because those wanting to buy one would likely be doing so instead of an M3 saloon, rather than an RS4 or C63 estate. ‘You have to estimate how many customers you’ll get from competitors to invest in the car and know that you’ll actually increase your volumes,’ he says. ‘We are very sure now that we can offer additional volume to the company.’
There are also extended side-skirts and front and rear aprons as well as an aggressive rear diffuser housing four tailpipes, each 100mm in diameter. Rest assured that if any owner opts to chisel the badges from their car, you’ll still be able to spot the difference. The M3’s brand carbon roof isn’t available, so you choose between gloss black or body colour, the exterior paint choices shared with the four-door. An optional pack treats the mirrors and front air intakes to some carbonfibre, though.
It’s packed with tech inside, not least because the M3 Touring arrives at the same time as the regular 3-series’ mid-life facelift and therefore the M3’s ‘LCI’ update. Which, with some inevitability, means more screens and fewer buttons. Two displays – the 12.3in digital dials and the 14.9in media touchscreen – combine to make one large, curved glass set-up that’s angled towards the driver. Legibility fanatics will be disappointed to hear that the dials remain quirky. And in case you’re wondering, the iDrive system will still point you towards the infamous M Drift Analyser software.
Prices start at £80,550, a mere sliver more than an xDrive saloon. It’s hard to see this being anything other than the M3 of choice, though quite what tasks it’ll be used for is another question. ‘I don’t think it’s a tool for the workshop,’ laughs Häcker. ‘It’s not an M3 Transporter.’ It’s more about being a lifestyle wagon you’ll take skiing in the winter.’ Hence the xDrive.
The car here is wearing M division’s 50th anniversary badge, though it’s optional if you’d prefer something a touch more subtle. ‘It’s our birthday, but we have a present for you, the fans,’ says Häcker. ‘You waited a long time for a Touring and now you have it!
‘We have a planned volume for this car and I think we will over-fulfil it. The demand on cars and luxury goods has increased rather than decreased in recent years because perhaps it’s the last chance for people to buy something like this.’
The message is clear. If you’ve been waiting for BMW to make an M3 Touring, you’d better snap one up while you have the chance. When it does arrive in the UK, it’ll come at a £80,550 base price, with those costly option packages available on top. Still, we don’t think BMW will any problems selling each and every example it builds.