Driving a rear-wheel drive car in the snow and ice is the only time any self-respecting petrol-head might wish for front-wheel drive. It’s also when the traction control warning light is at its most comforting. So it was for us, skating our way out of a snowed-in car park on the M2 services, running and swearing, jumping with the car still rolling along, like David Starsky in the opening sequence of 70s detective show Starsky & Hutch.
In fact the 330d Touring we were driving – the estate version of BMW’s ubiquitous 3 Series – handled itself pretty well, even in that testing snow.
The estate version of BMW’s 3 Series has been around for 25 years now and has always been a big seller in Europe. Yet rivals have frequently offered more flexibility and storage space, even if the BMW has been considered more dynamic because of that sporty rear wheel drive setup.
With its latest 3 Series Touring BMW is raising its game by improving on its functionality and efficiency without compromising on the driving experience. It is powered by a 3.0-litre turbo diesel engine, producing 258bhp. That’s enough to reach 62mph from start in just 5.6 seconds and on to a restricted maximum speed of 155mph, yet it’s still capable of 55.4mpg.
It certainly feels fast and powerful and there’s no discordant diesel engine note, either. BMW must have some of the best acoustic boffins in the business because their diesels are beginning to sound almost as good as their petrol engines, from inside the car at least.
It’s a looker too, thanks to its gently sloping roofline, which gives a sleek, streamlined look. Here is an estate that’s even better looking than the regular saloon. Dynamic and muscular in appearance, it even looks exciting. Its only serious rival in the looks department is Hyundai’s i40 Tourer.
Inside it’s plush and feels more spacious than before. This fifth generation model has an extra 97mm in length with a 50mm longer wheelbase than its predecessor. This translates to a 35-litre bigger load space of 495 litres and 1,500 litres with the rear seats folded down. There’s a clever 40:20:40 rear seat split, too, that allows you to transport awkward items, even with four people in the car. There is also more space in the rear so it’s more comfortable and easier to get in and out. And there’s 7mm extra knee room and 9mm more headroom, despite that sleek exterior. I can almost hear the ski slopes calling.
Still, despite all of this hard work to make the 3 Series Touring more practical, the lasting impression comes from its performance. It is fast and comfortable. The 3.0-litre turbo diesel engine has bags of torque and its acceleration is ruthlessly efficient. A new eight-speed automatic gearbox gives you almost imperceptible gear changes and progress is effortless. Handling is excellent too – it’s a lovely car through the corners, which means you’ll be able to enjoy yourself when the kids are in the back and you’ll long for solitary, empty roads when they’re not.
So what’s not to like? Well, because of that streamlined body shape, visibility out of the back could be better, which is why our test car had audible parking sensors and an in-dash display. There is also a video screen display showing you what’s happening outside. All this tech should mean you’ll never hit anything whilst parking, which, given how handsome this car is, is comforting.
Fast, frugal and fun, this is undoubtedly the best estate car I’ve driven. The 330d Touring is a complete all-rounder and proof that estate cars need not be dull. I just wish I’d had some more cold, dry roads rather than all that tricky ice and snow.
THE FACTS: BMW 330D TOURING
0-62MPH: 5.6 secs
TOP SPEED: 155mph
CO2 G/KM: 135g/km
MPG COMBINED: 55.4mpg
VALUE FOR MONEY ****