This weekend, I got behind the wheel of the new BMW 3 Series Touring (G21). The iconic wagon of our beloved Bavarian brand just had its premiere on the Romanian market. I was lucky to be among the first to drive the new model. Over three days, I got the chance to closely examine a spectacular 320d xDrive Touring M Sport. Having driven the old F30/F31 generation, this new G21 3 Series Touring is a complete departure from it in every aspect. It is a fundamentally different car, even though it shares the same title as its ancestor.
The previous generation was a good car overall, but some aspects were overlooked, such as the numb feel of the chassis and some quality issues in the cabin. But now, the new mid-class wagon simply feels sharp and nimble, in true BMW style. And everything seems to be close to the perfection.
Let me give you some background where Im coming from. I’m someone who knows that progress is natural and fiercefully sticking to old school rules (such as some of the so called die-hard fans do) and withstanding the new is more or less laughable and illogical.
To make the new G21 a better car than the F30, BMW managed to completely reinvent its Touring, while also applying the classic recipe of proven success. The new 3 Series Touring is fundamentally a new car in all aspects, starting from the styling up to the smallest bit of the chassis.
Pure-bred exterior looks
I always felt that the 3 Series is a unique model in the BMW lineup, in addition to also being the volume seller and an important chapter in the success of the German brand. The new design was polished as to become more dramatic. Styling was somehow influenced by the old E46 model series, seeing the headlights, but elsewhere, the G21 is simply not just an evolution of the F31 generation.
I always liked how BMW penned its Touring models, moreso the 3 Series. While the previous model was elegant and discrete, the new generation adds a concentrated dose passion to the exterior and interior design. I was impressed by how good the G21 3 Series Touring looks in person.
The sharply cut and defined headlights, the reinterpreted L-shaped tail lamps, the muscular shoulders and the overall highly dynamic silhouette will certainly attract a lot of buyers into it. The BMW 3 Series Touring is not any longer just a correctly designed car, it is a true Ultimate Driving Machine in its looks.
The new BMW 3 Series Touring looks crisp and highly emotional. It exudes self confidence through all its pores and it sports a well-tamed muscularity. The broad read shoulder are simply sensational and the larger width of the car adds more to the already imposing looks.
The front fascia has a sort of dynamic elegance that can’t be matched by any competitor. To me, it is the most appealing sports wagon in the premium mid-class segment. The rear lights, visually inspired by the 8 Series, have a smoked glass which delivers an outstanding visual impression, both when turned on and off.
The BMW 320d xDrive Touring M Sport test car was sporting the BMW Individual high-gloss Shadow Line all-black exterior ornaments, the deep BMW Individual Dravit Gray metallic color and the 18-inch, matte black M Sport 796M alloy wheels with winter tires, which comprehensively round off the astonishing design of the Bavarian sports wagon.
Elegantly digital inside
With the new generation 3 Series, BMW embraced a a big change of paradigm. While the intuitive and user-friendly was retained, the G20/G21 series premiered an all new dashboard and cabin design which combines digital tech with an accentuated dose of futurism and minimalism.
The test car was equipped with the high-end BMW Live Cockpit Professional, which employs a fancy 12.3″ digital instrument cluster and a 10.25″ control display for the BMW OS 7.0 infotainment system. The interior was adorned in a bright Vernasca Oyster leather upholstery and dashboard trim in fine ash wood with open-pore texture, adding a luxury feel to the G21.
Although the Oyster shade looks great in person and, depending on the light, it can become a mild beige or a cold white, mid that it is a rather pretentious choice, as it might easily catch stains and turn to a nasty grey, if not properly cared for.
The feeling when driving this car is that you are fully connected and one with the car. The grip of the M Sport leather steering wheel is simply outstanding, and the two bulges at 10:10 o’clock maximize the feeling of power. The dashboard is covered is covered in Sensatec stitched leather and the overall quality of assembly is impeccable and faultless.
The new center console is wider and slimmer in its appearance. The air vents enhance the premium feel, as well as the reduction in the number of physical buttons compared to the F30/F31 generation. The programable “1 to 8” buttons, on which various functions can be memorized, have been retained.
The 320d xDrive Touring was equipped with fully electrically controlled sports seats for the driver and front passenger. These are both comfortable and offer a great lateral support. You are not going to get tired when seated in the new G21 3 Series Touring.
The cabin atmosphere is further enhanced by the special ambience lighting which can be configured via the control display in various shades, such as orange, green, blue, violet and green. I personally prefer the orange.
The quality feel is also backed by the extensive use of metal ornaments for the dashboard and door covers, as well as the proper, soft-looking plastics which are not an ordeal to look at. Last, but not least, the new electronic gear lever is precise in operation and looks simply charming. It simply invites you to drive the new 3 Series Touring.
All in all, living and driving inside the new wagon is a complete pleasure, with a sense of robustness and dynamism being ever present.
Connectivity and in-car operation: radically improved
The new BMW OS 7.0 infotainment architecture is defined by the BMW Live Cockpit and the central control display. Operation is intuitive and can be performed by touch commands, the steering wheel buttons, the rotary controller with touchpad surface on top and gestures.
I tried the Gesture Control technology and it worked quite brilliant. Increasing and decreasing the volume can be easily by pointing your index finger forward and slowly rotating it in front of the control display, in the desired direction. I have also memorized the gesture which brings on the BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant, by pointing the index and middle fingers horizontally in form of a V letter in front of the display.
The graphics of both displays is flawless and can be personalized to suit any desire. The design of the Live Cockpit changes when a new driving mode is chosen (such as SPORT, COMFORT, ADAPTIVE or ECO PRO) and the tiles of the control display can be arranged in the desired manner as to showcase functions such as Navigation, Communication, Weather, News, or Calendar.
When the Driving Assistant is switched on, the middle part of the Live Cockpit changes from showing the map to showing the car while driving on the lane. The system is also able to recognize other cars, motorbikes, trucks and buses and it will display them in the graphics while traveling in the same direction with the car, on the same or on a different, adjacent lane.
On the Live Cockpit, you can also get information on music artwork, instant output and torque, consumption and many others. One nice feature to be displayed on the central control screen is the Sport Display, which reveals to the driver relevant information of gravitational acceleration (side, forward, backward), turbine pressure, output and torque.
I have also tried out the Caring Car program with its two mood-enhancing programs. I called in for the BMW Personal Assistant with a gesture and requested the Vitalize option. It is a nice feature, all in all, and, even though it might be seen as a gimmick, it did help me feel more energized. The pulsating ventilation (which sounds like a fresh breeze of air), the energetic tune and the beautiful landscape picture shown on the control display are a nice and unique touch of the G21.
Throughout my test drive, I operated the central display mostly via fingers. While touchscreen technology is handy and smooth, the greasy stains are not at all. The screen did not pick many spots, but it also did not look as if it were a non-touch display after a hard day of operation.
I was impressed by the functioning of the infotainment system. Intuitive and fast is most occasions. Rarely, the screen froze for a couple of seconds before resuming the normal operation. All in all, the user experience aboard the 3 Series Touring is more than good. As well, the test car featured Apple CarPlay integration, which ensured me a seamless mirroring of my iPhone’s screen onto car’s system.
What I liked most is that Apple CarPlay also lets you access the Waze application, which lends drivers a helpful hand and basically is marginally better than the RTTI technology. Another feature that I also enjoyed in the test car was the fact that, in normal, non-Apple Car Play mode, it was able to bring all my Apple Music song library from the phone via Bluetooth, to be able to seamlessly play it without the need of launching the app from the phone.
Putting the G21 to test: the real deal
The new BMW 3 Series Touring exceeded my initial expectation in regards to handling, assistance equipment and ride dynamics. I knew that the G20/G21 generation is a top performer given positive reviews, but I was able to discover it on my own.
The 2.0-liter diesel burner is a decent choice for the busy cities. It is economical and powerful enough to suit even the pickiest drivers. Don’t expect it to behave like a 6-cylinder unit, because it won’t. But you can easily conclude it is one the very best 4-cylinder powerplants in the market. The torque is available from the lower rpm range and power is instantly and efficiently delivered when pressing the gas pedal.
The chassis and suspension can adapt to one’s individual driving style, but you can also choose from the predefined options: COMFORT, SPORT, ECO PRO and ADAPTIVE.
In the COMFORT mode, the ride is silky smooth and well tamed, but in the SPORT mode, the new 3 Series Touring really unleashes its hidden qualities. The steering becomes harder and more precise, the suspension and dampers are stiffened and the agility increases. The response of the gas pedal is instantaneous and gear shifting is faster. Use the embedded kick-down function for a more thrilling ride.
In the ECO PRO, the car becomes again well behaved and lets you save fuel, while also keeping a dose of comfort and dynamism. I enjoyed this mode especially while driving through the city. For the outside roads and motorways, I mainly stuck to SPORT and ADAPTIVE, the latter being a combination of SPORT and COMFORT modes based on the driving style of the one behind the steering wheel.
The car was also equipped with the BMW semi-autonomous Driving Assistant. Basically, you can choose between the Distance keeping and the Assisted Driving modes. The first one makes sure you don’t rear end the car in front when in queue or heavy traffic. The other basically can autonomously drive the car, brake, stop and then start from standstill in some predefined limits and with some interventions from my side.
I was able to drive autonomously for more than 3 kilometers inside the city and the autonomous system handled the task pretty well. You can set a desired speed and it will be able to maintain, while also keeping an eye of the car in front and adjacent traffic. The solution is not fully autonomous, as it requires you to put your hands back on the wheel at times. If you don’t, the car will end up doing a violent braking after the response time passed.
To trigger the semi-autonomous trip, you need to be focused on the road, as a pair of cameras mounted in a notch placed on the top part of the digital cockpit monitors your eye activity and how focused you are while driving. As well, this is not a Level 3 autonomous system, it is more like an evolved Level 2, so don’t fully rely on it and always be prepared to take control of the wheel.
The Lane Departure Warning system is another welcome addition, but at times, it overreacted even though it was not necessary, so this technology too needs some fine tuning and readjustments.
The Comfort Access and the convenient way to open the boot door with a foot gesture, combined with the easy-access to the cargo space via the opening rear windshield are welcome technologies that really improve everyday use and overall practicality. With the comfort access, the car recognizes the key is within reach and automatically opens the doors without the need of touching the key fob. As well, if you get away from the car, the system acknowledges this fact and instantly locks the car.
To conclude, the new G21 sits and drives better than any other 3 Series Touring produced up to now. Its steering is sharp and precise, the drivetrain is nimble and powerful and the car has plenty of agility and dynamic resources to make you have fun.
Would I buy it?
In the past, I owned a wagon (from another brand) and valued most the practicality of such variants. The BMW 3 Series Touring is the next level, adding more passion to the whole idea. I love SAVs/SACs, but I also feel that from a price point, vehicle size and everyday usability, an estate is better. I also felt very cosy and safe inside the test car. Not once did I feel burdened by the car or confused. Driving the new BMW 3 Series Touring was for me a total relaxation and constant discovery.
So, yes, I would buy a G21 BMW 3 Series without thinking.