Review: BMW M3 Touring – One of the all-time great BMW M cars

This estate car is one of the all-time greats from BMW.

The 2023 M3 Touring has been a long time coming, and BMW’s competitors have had the market to themselves – until now. BMW has got this car so right that the others may not even hear the body blow coming. This is one of the all-time great BMW M cars.

Station wagon, estate, and touring are terms synonymous with the practical side of moving people and luggage by road from point A to B. In Australia, the station wagon was, for generations, the only way to cover long distances in relative comfort with every square inch of the ample luggage space filled – or “packed to the gunwales”, to quote a mate of mine.

With a starting price of $180,100 it competes extremely well with heavier and far less engaging SUVs, and it sits squarely between the big RS wagons from Audi.

The 2023 G81 M3 Touring in Frozen Black.

A Quick BMW Touring History Lesson

BMW has been a station wagon fan since it launched the E30 3-series Touring in 1987. Since then, models such as the E34 M5 Touring (below) and the mighty E61 M5 Touring V10 have wet the whistle of enthusiasts of BMW’s M-Division, who needed more carrying capacity to go with their incredible driving dynamics. Sadly, neither variant made it to Australia.

In 2016, BMW revealed that an M3 Touring concept had been built and secretly evaluated during the life of the E46 3-series. Try as they might, BMW couldn’t make the M3 Touring work in terms of engineering and economics – until now.

The 2023 G81 BMW M3 Touring Breaks Cover

As soon as BMW confirmed that the M3 Competition Touring M xDrive was in the works in 2020, two questions were asked very quickly:

  • Would it be available in RHD? and,
  • Would it be coming to Australia?

Thankfully, BMW Australia answered both in the affirmative and whilst it’s still a rare sighting, the 2023 M3 Touring is very much here and ideal for Australian conditions.

Villainous and virtuous just sitting there.

The Highlights

Motoring journalists globally are sampling the M3 Touring, and the adjectives are flying thick and fast. After a week behind the wheel, I am also gushing joyous prose for this astonishing car.

It will accelerate from 0-100km/h in 3.6 seconds and reach 200km/h 9.3 seconds later. This is beyond the wildest dreams of BMW M car fans.

The car you see here has a few option boxes ticked. Darth Vader’s Frozen Black paintwork is $5,000, the Carbon Ceramic Brakes are $16,500, and the M Carbon Experience is another $17,500.

BMW Individual paintwork loves being wet.

Engine & Drivetrain

The M3 Touring shares the same engine and drivetrain as the M3 Sedan but is 85kg heavier overall. It is wonderfully easy to live with on a day-to-day basis. Select one of the M-Dynamic driving modes when the mood strikes, and it becomes a fairly wild beast.

Every cubic cm has a purpose under the bonnet of the M3 Touring including 3-way bracing.

A six-cylinder turbocharged BMW M car with this much character would have been laughable ten years ago.

Cylinders / CapacityM TwinPower Turbo inline 2,933cc 6-cylinder petrol engine
Power / Torque375kW / 650Nm
CO2 Emissions237g/km
Transmission8-speed M Steptronic with customisable M xDrive all-wheel drive
Performance0-100km/h in 3.6 sec
Fuel Consumption10.4 litres/100km (ADR 81/02)
Wheels & Tyres19″ / 20″ M double spoke forged alloy with Michelin Pilot Sport4 S

Interior Trim, Toys, & Comfort

Sitting in the BMW M3 Touring driver’s seat is as familiar as my father’s E23 735i thirty-five years ago. There’s an innate likeness that is thankfully still part of every BMW’s DNA. I love that.

Yes, the digital instrument display is futuristic, but everything is where you expect it to be. The touch of the indicator stalk on the end of your finger feels old-school as you change lanes.

The upholstery is stunning full leather ‘Merino’ black, which is very comfortable and luxurious. The full-bore M Carbon Bucket Seats for the front passengers are uncomfortable. Getting in and out of them should be an Olympic event in 2024. I’d go with the standard seating package for everyday driving.

Below is a sample of the standard features of the 2023 M3 Touring.

Adaptive M suspension BMW Head-Up Display
BMW Laserlight incl. High Beam Assistant – easily the best lighting I’ve ever seen fitted to a car.14.9” Control Display BMW Operating System 8
Comfort Access System with BMW Digital KeyDriving Assistant Professional
harman/kardon surround sound system with 16 speakers – fully endorsed by my teenage daughter.M Compound Brake, 6-piston front calliper and single-piston floating rear calliper brakes
Wireless smartphone integration incl. Apple CarPlay and Android AutoParking Assistant Plus, incl. 3D Surround View & Reversing Assistant
Dynamic Speed Limit Information (SLI)Rear seat loading system with 40:20:40 split
Tyre Pressure MonitorWireless charging for smartphones
BMW Intelligent Personal AssistantRemote Software Update
M leather steering wheelM Drive Professional

Jaw-Dropping Exterior Highlights

Not since I first saw a BMW 850i in the late 1980s has a car embodied so much BMW design. The kidneys are still too big, but we’re over that now. The Hofmeister kink is beautifully proportioned on the M3 Touring because the aesthetics work better on an estate car. It’s 10cm wider than the everyday 3-series Touring, so the BMW M designers gave it beautiful hips.

There is barely a flat surface on the BMW M3 Touring.

BMW Australia then wisely optioned it with the $5,000 BMW Individual Frozen Black paintwork. It’s both sinister and svelte – like Freddie Kruger standing next to Raquel Welch. Then, they ticked the box for the M Carbon Exterior Package. This adds some carbon fibre at the front, the wing mirrors, and a little more at the rear diffuser around the four 50-cal tailpipes. There is not an angle from which this car is not breathtaking.

The gold M brake callipers tell the world that you’ve ticked the box for the Carbon Ceramic Brakes.

Behind the Wheel

Vaulting into the driver’s seat, you are immediately rewarded with a near-perfect driving position. A few movements of the M Carbon Bucket Seats and adjustment of the steering column, and I’m set. Like all current BMW M cars, the heated leather steering wheel is the perfect diameter. It’s thick and adorned with traditional tri-colour stitching. Two red programmable M mode buttons perch above the audio and cruise control buttons. Then, within perfect reach, the carbon fibre shift levers complete the symphony of driver ergonomics.

Out On The Road

The M3 Touring is unlike any other BMW that I’ve driven. From the moment I merge into traffic and head for a familiarisation drive, I know I’m in something pretty damn special.

Even in Comfort mode, the M3 Touring is aggressive – not violent, just ON. The steering is direct, and the acceleration is immediate from the M xDrive all-wheel-drive system. The carbon ceramic brakes take a few kilometres to get some heat in them, so they squeak a little, but they, too, are highly assertive. After half an hour, I’ve got my eye in and feel at home.

Curiously, I press the bright red M1 button on the steering wheel, and the M3 Touring transforms. Now I’m in 100% RWD mode, with all the DSC systems turned off and the Drift Mode set at level 6! Thankfully, I’m stationary now, and I press the Drive Mode button to put me back into everyday Comfort mode. That’s an example of just how flexible this car can be. One day, you’re cruising to play golf with your mates and a few sets of clubs in the boot, and the next, you’re setting cracking lap times on a racetrack.

3am

I can’t sleep. It’s been raining, and I can hear the damp whoosh of tyres on wet asphalt outside my house. I get dressed, grab the keys to the M3 Touring and head out into the moist early morning air.

I do my best to mute the cold start noise of the M3 Touring, but I don’t think I’m too successful. A quick flick to the right of the gear shift, and I’m off. My usual pre-dawn driving brings to mind the motorway north of Sydney and the Old Pacific Highway that twists and turns alongside the multi-lane dual carriageway. I haven’t driven this stretch of road since I reviewed the Toyota Supra; at that time, it was deserted, too, thanks to the Pandemic.

The conditions could not be more perfect to sample everything the M3 Touring offers. The wind and the rain have been blowing hard for days, and the roads are littered with wet leaves and debris. This is no time for that M1 button to be pushed!

I take the motorway north to Brooklyn. The M3 Touring is very sure-footed at motorway cruising speeds. The wide, low-profile tyres are noisy – amplified by the wet road. Regardless, I’ve got 16 harman/kardon speakers playing my favourite music – so I’m not that fussed. The steering is heavier at speed, so small inputs don’t have such a dramatic effect. After an hour in the M Carbon Bucket Seats, I’m unsure how I’d feel after 5 hours. Everything else in the cabin is perfect. I ask the BMW Assistant to “set the interior lighting to orange” to mimic the classic BMW interior where every dial and switch was the same warm hue.

Approaching the Hawkesbury River, I take the exit that connects me with the Old Pacific Highway heading south.

Twists and Turns

Passing over the old Brooklyn Bridge, I engage two systems on the M3 Touring to keep me and the car safe. The first is the Speed Limiter, which reads speed signs (even in the dark) and does not let me exceed that speed. The second is the BMW Laserlights with automatic high beam. Difficult as it is to describe in words how these headlights work, their benefits are astonishing. Dynamically throwing light up, down and back and forth across the road ahead as if at God’s will. Even as cars approach, the Laserlights dim the oncoming lane and keep the kerbside brightly illuminated.

Travelling at around 80km/h is enough in these conditions to marvel at the suspension, the M xDrive all-wheel-drive system, the steering, and the brakes. For 20km, the corners and the darkness are relentless. Light from the M3 Touring dances down the road as occasional twitches of the rear remind me of the conditions and why this is the best BMW I have ever driven.

Nothing has the road presence of the M3 Touring – apart from another M3 Touring.

The 400mm carbon ceramic brakes are so elegant in the way they shed speed. The suspension balances the M3 Touring through every corner, and the throttle control is brain surgeon-precise.

I’m so, so awake, and dawn is starting to break. A quick detour back onto the motorway, and it’s back for home, I head. As I cruise through a tunnel, all the little BMW M highlights added to the M3 Touring remind me just how tactile this car is.

I haven’t thrashed the M3 Touring – I didn’t need to. It lets me enjoy 100% of its capabilities at one-fifth of its potential, and to me, that is what you want from a BMW M car. Every drive should make you tingle.

Conclusion

Writing a conclusion about a car that deeply wins your heart is difficult. Volvo and Mercedes-Benz are synonymous with innovations in safety, but BMW has always been at the forefront of innovation for the driver.

Even the little things that impress on the M3 Touring. The parking assistant system with 360° cameras is terrific – (apart from the 5 series virtual car). The cargo door features a split opening, so loading shopping or the kids’ school bags is easy. The state-of-the-art BMW Operating System 8 is the best in-car OS on any car today. Connecting the BMW App is child’s play, and the real-time data and vehicle connectivity are useful and functional.

On the downside, I’ve mentioned the M Carbon Bucket Seats – which I would not opt for if it were my own money. The turning circle is not made for the city, and I’d love a big sunroof – but glass is heavy! I am genuinely splitting hairs here.

The BMW M3 Touring and the Tesla Model X - two very different cars.
These two cars could not be more different!

With the M3 Touring, BMW has crafted the perfect balance between keeping you safe and electrifying your senses better than anything else, and they have set themselves a mind-blowing new benchmark. I can’t wait for the next M5 Touring!

About Author
Mike is the Australian editor of SonnyDickson.com with a lifelong passion for cars, technology and engineering. He reviews and writes about all kinds of motoring and tech products for our readers. Follow Mike on Instagram or send him an email: mike@sonnydickson.com
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