2002 BMW 325i Touring
Photo: BMW, Click image to enlarge

by Haney Louka

“The single biggest reason to consider a wagon over an SUV in this price range is right here: the driving experience. Behind the wheel of the 3-Series Touring, the extra cargo space out back is merely icing on the cake that provides for a truly rewarding drive.”

A sports sedan with a backpack

It’s refreshing to see that, in a day when everyone and their dog is introducing a new SUV (that includes Porsche), BMW has a new compact wagon offering that stays true to the company’s heritage.

The 325i Touring is a wagon version of the 3-Series sedans, the cars that have dominated the sports sedan market for the past two and a half decades – and even longer considering the 3-Series’ predecessor, the 2002.

While this family hauler is new to Canada, it’s been on sale in the U.S. for two years now. But as was the case with the Audi A4, something kept the automaker from bringing the wagon to Canada until now.

The Lineup

2002 BMW 325i Touring
Photo: Haney Louka, Click image to enlarge

The two 3-Series Touring (if that’s what BMW wants to call their wagons, so be it) models in the lineup are the 325i and 325xi. At $40,400, the rear-drive 325i Touring comes standard with anti-lock brakes, stability and traction control, fog lights, speed-sensitive windshield wipers, “bi-xenon” low and high beam headlights with washers, keyless entry, automatic climate control, split-folding rear seats, six-speaker AM/FM/CD player, and many other goodies that membership in the $40K club buys.

$43,600 will get you into an all-wheel-drive 325xi Touring, which also adds Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), hill descent control, and twin chrome exhaust tips to the standard equipment list.

My test car was a Jet Black rear-drive Touring, with optional heated seats and power sunroof, for an as-tested price of $42,410.

Nuts, Bolts, & Chips

The 3-Series Touring is available with just one engine: the same 2.5 litre inline six that powers the 325i sedan and 325Ci coupe. Output numbers measure 184 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 175 lb-ft of torque at 3,500 rpm. This six makes use of variable timing of both intake and exhaust valves (BMW’s term is double-VANOS) to provide a relatively flat torque curve, meaning that the engine’s responsiveness doesn’t plummet at low revs.

A slick-shifting five-speed manual gearbox is the standard-issue method of transferring engine power to the rear wheels, while those that prefer to let the transmission do the shifting can opt for a five-speed automatic with “Steptronic” manual shift mode.

All wheel drive models benefit from constant engine power to all corners of the car with a fixed split of 62% to the rear wheels and 38% to the front, thereby maintaining the rear-biased balance that driving enthusiasts look for. This means, though, that the system does not compensate for road conditions where a different proportioning may be appropriate, as in Audi’s quattro system and Subaru’s all wheel drive system.

Brakes are vented discs at all corners with a host of electronic wizardry in the form of active safety features. Anti-lock brakes are a pre-requisite in this class, but BMW goes a couple of steps further with some tricks of its own, each one accompanied by its very own abbreviation:

Cornering brake control (CBC) varies the pressure applied to the brakes at each wheel while cornering to avoid loss of control. Automatic Stability Control + Traction (ASC+T) minimizes wheelspin by applying the brakes at low speeds and controlling engine torque at higher speeds.

On all-wheel-drive models, the technology goes further yet to provide Dynamic Stability Control (DSC-X), a system that continuously monitors the vehicle’s speed and direction, compares this information to driver inputs, and compensates for any difference between them. For example, if the driver is attempting to turn sharply in a slippery situation, DSC will apply braking and reduce engine power to the appropriate wheels in order to bring the car to a speed suitable for such a move. While it doesn’t override any physical laws, DSC does its best to challenge them.

Dynamic Brake Control (DBC), more commonly known as Brake Assist, will sense an emergency stopping situation and apply the maximum possible braking force to compensate for any hesitation on the part of the driver.

Now that we all know BMW-speak, I should probably talk a little bit more about the rest of the car.


2002 BMW 325i Touring
Photo: BMW, Click image to enlarge

The 3-Series wagon retains many of the styling cues that make its sedan and coupe counterparts so attractive. The trademark short front overhang and squat, aggressive stance carry over from its three-box siblings. Headlights have been redesigned on all 3-Series models for 2002 to more closely resemble those on the Z3 coupes and roadsters; a nice touch that should keep this generation looking fresh for another few years.

In profile, the Touring is not the fairest in wagondom, but it’s a far cry from the family trucksters that rightly earned the stigma that haunts wagons to this day.

The Inside Story

The Touring’s interior is typical BMW, which is to say spartan but elegant and effective. The instrument panel is among the most simply laid out-and easiest to read-in the business, and hasn’t changed much since the 3-Series began life. And there’s no reason it should. Particularly neat is the analogue fuel economy gauge nested in with the tachometer.

The seats are comfortable, although I didn’t warm up to the ‘leatherette’ upholstery. While it’s a no-charge option over cloth, it’s not particularly convincing, and I would either take the attractive cloth or ante up the premium for the genuine article.

A trip computer provides clock, outside temperature, average fuel economy, and distance-to-empty readings and is quite intuitive in its operation.

The rear seat is comfortable for this class, and the cargo hold provides over double the capacity of the 325i sedan. Here’s something I wouldn’t have noticed a year ago: a folded stroller only fits across the width of the floor area behind the seats, so I had to make use of the split-folding rear seat when I wanted to fit something else back there.

The Driving Experience

2002 BMW 325i Touring
Photo: BMW, Click image to enlarge

The single biggest reason to consider a wagon over an SUV in this price range is right here: the driving experience. Behind the wheel of the 3-Series Touring, the extra cargo space out back is merely icing on the cake that provides for a truly rewarding drive.

The powertrain is the very same found in other BMW coupes and sedans that share the same model designation, and it’s the benchmark that many imitate and/or challenge in the near-luxury segment; the most direct being Lexus with its IS 300.

It’s too bad that the 3.0 litre engine from the 330 sedan and coupe is not offered on the Touring version of the 3-Series, because its 225 hp is enough to satisfy the power hungry. But while the 2.5 litre is not the most powerful engine in the 3-Series lineup, it gives nothing else up to its larger stablemates: power delivery is smooth and fluid throughout the rev range, and is accompanied by the sweet sound that inline sixes are known for.

I must say, though, that I didn’t immediately get used to the clutch in this Bimmer. As in other 3-Series I’ve driven, the clutch is a little springy and engagement is rather abrupt as a result. Strangely, once I did manage to make friends with it, it proved to be a wonderful companion to the slick, short-throw shifter and I’d recommend anyone debating between the two transmission choices to give that third pedal a chance.

Braking is confident thanks to a firm pedal feel with a very linear effort vs. response relationship. And while this is a family hauler, the suspension calibration is more appropriate to a sports coupe than a wagon; suitably firm to keep body motions in check, yet supple enough to keep rough roads from beating the family up on the way home.

2002 BMW 325i Touring
Photo: Haney Louka, Click image to enlarge

The traction control system in the Bimmer is competent in that it doesn’t let the rear end step too far out of line when traction is lost, yet it allows suitable probing of the limits before it decides to step in. I used the dash-mounted “ASC” override button that allowed me to cut out the traction control portion of the system, but around corners it still stepped in to make sure I stayed out of harm’s way.

BMW takes a “set it and forget it” approach to the climate control system, and for the most part it works quite well. The only thing I couldn’t figure out is how to defog the windshield without having the system simultaneously crank both the fan speed and heat to maximum settings. Perhaps a consultation of the owner’s manual would solve that dilemma.

To Sum It Up

The 3-Series Touring is one of the strongest arguments I can make against buying a $40K sport-utility vehicle. It provides the versatile cargo capacity and all-weather driveability of a smaller SUV while giving its driver the truly enjoyable experience that only a car can provide.

Shopping List

The 3-Series Touring enters into the thick of the import wagon revival. Its closest competition is in the form of the following:

  • Audi A4 Avant

  • Lexus IS 300 SportCross
  • Mercedes-Benz C320 Wagon
  • Saab 9-3
  • Subaru Outback Wagon
  • Volkswagen Passat Wagon
  • Volvo V70

Technical Data:

2002 BMW 325i Touring
Base price $40,400
Price as tested $42,410
Type 5-passenger wagon
Layout front engine, rear wheel drive
Engine 2.5 litre inline six, variable valve timing
Horsepower 184 @ 6000 rpm
Torque 175 lb-ft. @ 3500 rpm
Transmission 5-speed manual
Curb weight 1525 kg (3355 lb.)
Wheelbase 2725 mm (107.3 in.)
Length 4478 mm (176.3 in.)
Height 1409 mm (55.5 in.)
Cargo volume Seats up: 435 L (15.2 cu. ft.)
  1617 L (47.1 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption City: 11.6 L/100 km (21 mpg)
  Hwy: 7.4 L/100 km (34 mpg)
Warranty 4 yrs/80,000 km

Haney’s test car supplied by Birchwood BMW in Winnipeg: www.birchwood.mb.ca/bmw_main.htm

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