Call them wagons or estate cars, it doesn’t really matter. What counts is the sad fact that a drop in global demand is rapidly driving the genre that epitomizes style, space, and street cred toward extinction. Worse still, the industry has fallen concurrently into the habit of replacing every single outgoing family holdall with another anonymous SUV or crossover. Central Europe is now the last stronghold of the formerly coveted body style, which is often badged Touring, T-model, Variant, or Avant, and is typically kitted out with inspiring powertrains and lifestyle-oriented accessories.
The auto industry’s costly crusade from gasoline and diesel propulsion to hybrid powertrains and EVs will continue to thin the wagon ranks, but BMW, for one, decided to expand its offerings. The 2023 503-hp M3 Touring made its debut last year, and it will be followed in early 2025 by the all-new 650-hp PHEV M5 Touring Competition and the even brawnier 740-hp M5 Touring Label Red.
The M3 Touring—a first of its kind—shares its overbite grille and adaptive AWD/RWD system with the marginally less expensive M3 Competition xDrive sedan. The two also share the same powertrain, comprising a twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre inline-six bolted to an eight-speed automatic transmission. The fully loaded example we drive stickers for a whopping $120,000.
Although 53 cubic feet of luggage space with the rear bench folded is a welcome bonus for the next weekend getaway or trip to the DIY superstore, the M3 Touring is best used on six days out of seven in its signature role as the ultimate driving machine. True to this moniker, it goes like stink, handles like a gymkhana hero, oozes presence even when parked, and makes all the right noises when not. The run from naught to 60 is over and done with in 3.4 seconds, according to BMW. The pricey M Driver’s Package lifts the top speed up to 174 mph. And from 2750 to 5500 rpm there is 479 pound-feet of maximum torque that can be sent to all four wheels—or only the rear two. Fuel economy when pushed? Next question.
The scalpel-sharp steering gets the German Society of Surgeons seal of approval. Even on Michelin winter tires, our M3 Touring delivers massive grip, the carbon-ceramic anchors are liable to pull eyeballs out of their sockets, and the optional thinly padded lightweight composite bucket seat clamps man to machine. Like the facelifted 3-series, the M3 Touring features the latest infotainment complete with a wide-screen digital display, jazzed-up instrument graphics, and too many new functions (think M Drift Analyzer) to process in a single session.
The M3 Touring is a hardcore and rough-edged high-performance wagon that shines brightest when driven aggressively. Keen drivers will find an unfiltered audio soundtrack, an uncompromising ride, a narrow bargaining zone at the limit, and on uneven tarmac, the iffy directional stability of a tightrope walker. While the taller and longer rear end improves the weight distribution by a tiny margin, it inches the center of gravity upward by a similar measure. Since the recalibrated rear suspension is tuned for a broader variety of axle loads than the sedan, the Touring displays an occasional shoulder-jostling stiffness we don’t recall in its notchback sibling.
More sensible shoppers will gravitate toward the M340i xDrive Touring, but dyed-in-the-wool M3 aficionados will want the real McCoy. But beware: The 503-hp Touring is not a part-time school bus; Saturday morning shopping cart; or the family’s only car, with two baby seats in the back. Instead, this super-special M car deserves to live its life in the fast lane.
2023 BMW M3 Touring
Vehicle Type: front-engine, all-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door wagon
Base: $108,772 (Germany)
Twin-turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 24-valve inline-6, aluminum block and head, direct fuel injection
Displacement: 183 in32993cm3
Power: 503 hp @ 6250 rpm
Torque: 479 lb-ft @ 2750 rpm
Wheelbase: 112.5 in
Length: 189.0 in
Width: 74.9 in
Height: 56.9 in
Passenger Volume, F/R: 55/42 ft3
Cargo Volume, Behind F/R: 53/18 ft3
Curb Weight (C/D est.): 4200 lb.
PERFORMANCE (C/D EST)
60 mph: 3.0 sec
100 mph: 7.2 sec
1/4-Mile: 11.2 sec
Top Speed(mfr): 174 mph
EPA FUEL ECONOMY (C/D EST)
Combined/City/Highway: 18/15/22 mpg
Although I was born the only son of an ornithologist and a postal clerk, it was clear from the beginning that birdwatching and stamp collecting were not my thing. Had I known that God wanted me to grow to 6’8″, I also would have ruled out anything to do with cars, which are to blame for a couple of slipped discs, a torn ligament, and that stupid stooped posture behind the wheel. While working as a keeper in the Aberdeen Zoo, smuggling cheap cigarettes from Yugoslavia to Germany, and an embarrassing interlude with an amateur drama group also failed to yield fulfillment, driving and writing about cars became a much better option. And it still is now. , many years later, as I approach my 70th birthday. I love every aspect of my job except long-haul travel on lousy airlines, and I hope it shows.