The Bavarian automaker has released an M3 Touring for the first time ever. Now, the trio of German references in the segment is complete
All car fans know the context by now. Station wagons had a big sales decline in the 1990s, when minivans became the newest trend. Twenty years later, SUVs took over and have lived peacefully on the top of sales charts ever since. However, it turns out that car fans like station wagons. They buy those other cars out of necessity and, sometimes, vanity. But their true interest in cars has always been the SW body style.
That feeling has lingered ever since. Luxury automakers, especially German ones, have always kept two or three of them in line. Generalist models try their chances every once in a while. More importantly, people have always been vocal about them. The #SaveTheWagons motion on social media shows that any efforts to keep station wagons in line, in any way, would get a highly positive reception. This is the latest of them.
What has happened to station wagons?
Three years ago, I wrote this article making projections about SWs based on some events that happened back then. In short, I mentioned that the only way this body style could come back would be to work on vacant market niches. One of them was the entry level, where we can bring the Dacia Jogger above as an example. Many SUVs focus on emotional qualities, so they are not suitable for such a rational segment.
More recently, we can observe SUVs taking inspiration from them. Market segments such as the full-size used to be dominated by station wagons; as fashionable as SUVs might be, they could never ignore that. Nowadays, models like the Honda Pilot and the Toyota Sequoia are much closer to the typical SW recipe than to the off-road origins the industry took as the reference for the modern sport-utility vehicles.
The third market niche is our topic of interest. Station wagons are historically related to hatchbacks and sedans. It means they preserve their low height and weight while increasing the available room for people and cargo. Besides that, the long roof makes it easy for air to flow over their bodies. Those characteristics have persuaded automakers to give station wagons a very special variation over the past few decades.
One M3 Touring, two lineages
As Audi made clear with the 1992 RS2, high performance becomes station wagons; their longer body and heavier rear actually improves their dynamic behavior. Over the years, many makers made sure to extend their sporty versions to their long-roof models. Mercedes-Benz, for example, has applied its popular AMG version both to its regular SWs and to the few alternatives it has offered over time, like the CLA and CLS.
When it comes to BMW, the M5 Touring has been a reality since 1992. That model is a direct descendant from the original M3 from 1986, which BMW originally created as a homologation special. However, for some reason the M3 had only existed as cabriolet, coupé, and sedan despite being an absolute success. The model shown on this article’s first picture closes a gap that had been open for over three decades.
As Carscoops shows in detail, the M3 Touring is based on the sedan’s Competition version. That implies a turbocharged 3.0L I6 engine good for 503 hp and 479 lb-ft, active differential, all-wheel drive, sport-tuned suspension, eight-speed automatic gearbox, and optional carbon-ceramic brakes. However, what actually makes this model interesting is that it will help rivals RS4 Avant and C63 AMG Estate in their mission.
Why are performance SWs important?
You know how people keep complaining that SUVs are dominating the market? Ventures such as the M3 Touring are the best way to fight that. The station wagon body only fell out of fashion; no one considered it bad. Therefore, any good action plan should focus on making SWs desirable again. That is part of what that older article projected. And that is what these models (Audi and Mercedes included) strive to do.
These cars are definitely not cheap. Their target audience is in their late thirties or later, often married and with children. While the drivers enjoy performance driving to some extent, they must also take practicality into account. They could get two cars, sure, but who would like to spend that much and be frustrated with both? Sporty station wagons have done a great job at offering the best of two very different worlds.
Going back to the M3 Touring, BMW did a great job with its image. First, it became the fastest SW at the Nürburgring, with a lap time of 7:35.060. More recently, it made it the MotoGP’s safety car. Such actions attract huge attention to the car and help re-establish its category in people’s minds. Do not be surprised if station wagons become popular again soon, this time with a new image focused on high performance.
Is the M3 Touring the future of SWs?
We hope so. Nowadays, SUVs are taking care of people with big families to transport, minivans only exist in few specific applications, and entry-level cars are declining. Style and performance are the only strong sales arguments station wagons could use to rise again. If they borrow some visual elements from their shooting brake cousins, they will end up delivering characteristics capable of seducing any car enthusiast.
When it comes to practical actions, the best you can do is buy them. Just like the industry tells us to buy from local stores, to recycle, and many other actions. The more you effectively consume cars like the M3 Touring, the more automakers will be encouraged to offer them. BMW has a great example of that: its X6 ended up making coupé SUVs a whole market segment which is now available in several price ranges.
In the meantime, the M3 Touring comes to fill a 36-year old gap in BMW’s line; it combines the sportiness that made the M3 a legend in its segment with the stylish practicality of station wagons. It is the perfect contender against the RS4, which is a direct descendant of the RS2, and the C63 AMG; the latter is going to reach the all-new generation with a hybrid powertrain for the first time. Which one is your favorite?