For months leading up to the new 3 Series unveiling, additional spy photos of a touring model have been appearing on various automotive news outlets. As of this writing there are still no official photos of what could be a G21 Sports Wagon model aside from those which capture test mules wearing cladding and camouflage, but U.S.-based enthusiasts are still left wondering if they’ll get a chance to purchase one, now that the end of the horizon is in clear sight for the outgoing F31.
Despite the lack of any real indication whether or not the U.S. will get a few, or at least one model of the new 3 Series Touring, and taking a moment to set aside the fact that historical trends are not be viewed as indicative of the future, we would venture to say that G21 wagons being sold here seems decently likely. Stretching back to the pre-LCI E46 some 20 years ago, BMW has been selling a 3 Series Wagon in the U.S. for nearly 20 years now. The 323i touring was replaced by the 325i which brought with it optional AWD during the early 2000’s, before the entire E46 range was given a facelift a few years later in 2002 and 2004. When the E90 generation took over starting in 2006, the E91 Sports Wagon followed a short time after, sold here initially in 325xi trim before the 328i replaced it as the base model, this time adding a rear-drive version. To this day, sorted and maintained examples of these cars sell for good money, especially if equipped with a manual transmission. Moreover, a growing number of the E46-generation are being acquired by enthusiasts who subsequently perform an E46 M3 drivetrain swap, from the S54 engine back to the rear limited slip differential.
There was another slight hiatus when the sixth generation F30 3 Series was released, with no wagon version sold new for the 2013 model year. Regardless, things seem to have continued rather unabated since the release of the F31 328i and 328d Sports Wagons, which became available for the 2014 model year. Things were different this time though, as xDrive is mandatory if you want to own one in the U.S., and the manual transmission vanished with the previous generation. When the sixth-gen three was given its life cycle impulse (LCI, or facelift in plain english) for the 2016 model year, the 330i replaced the previous 328i, while the 328d continued for the next two model years until BMW chose to remove all diesels from the lineup for 2019. When browsing used and certified pre-owned (CPO) listings, its clear that BMW sold a healthy number of F31 tourings, and although their initial base MSRP could never be considered a bargain, inevitable depreciation means the are a decent number of now-affordable examples on the market.
So what does the future hold? At this point, few aside from those that matter within the ranks at BMW know. This doesn’t stop us from remaining hopeful though, as recent model changes leave us longing for something like the trusted and venerable rear drive-based 3 Series in long-roof form, even if it means being stuck with xDrive again. Now that the X1 has switched over to a front-drive MINI platform, and with the X2 and its similar underpinnings aimed at individuals who don’t need quite as much practical storage capacity, it seems that a G21 Sports Wagon could still command healthy market share. Making the case even stronger is the recent confirmation that the 3 Series GT will be discontinued, just a few years after the 5 Series GT was given the axe as the G30 generation came online. The five GT was replaced by the 6 Series GT and there are rumors of a 4 Series GT, but again, only time will tell, and with the way things have shifted around recently and transverse-mounted four cylinder engines permeating their way into the lineup, it almost seems a space was specifically left open for a 3 Series Touring. Even more convincing is the fact that aside from the Jaguar XE Sportbrake, the segment is largely empty, with nothing from the likes of Mercedes-Benz or Audi present.
When it comes to potential model variants, BMW wagons choices in the U.S. have always been rather limited. The first touring models available here arrived in the form of the E34 5 Series, but only as the six-cylinder 525i or small-bore V8-powered 530i. A similar story would play out with the E39, starting with the 528i and 540i, before the LCI replaced the former with the 525i which brought with it the updated M54 engine. Although you can still find manual examples of the six-cylinder models, in the U.S. market, 540i wagons came exclusively equipped with automatic transmissions. If all of this is sounding a lot like the rundown for the 3 Series touring models outlined in the second and third paragraphs, you’re catching on nicely.
With all of this in mind, the only logical successor in the 3 Series lineup would be a potential G21 330i xDrive Sports Wagon. Those who read our outline of the new three will recall that power has been increased significantly for both four- and six-cylinder engines, with the 330i now offering 255 hp from 5,000 to 6,500 rpm, and stout torque of 295 lb. ft. available for a lengthy plateau between 1,550 to 4,400 rpm. Routed to the ground via a super-smart ZF eight-speed and auto coupled with BMW’s new and improved xDrive system which is now lighter than before, and you have the makings of a serious performer which retains the ability to haul a large bit of whatever you desire. The photos here are from a few months back, but everything in sight lines up with what we’d expect for a possible G21 in M Sport guise. The dual exhaust no longer differentials between cylinder count, but those looking closely will notice large blue M Sport brake calipers as being present. While the overall design is naturally expected to largely mirror the G20 sedan and perhaps resemble the G30 touring in certain ways, specifics like the rear hatch, lighting and other items remain in question, but at least a few have taken a crack at envisioning what things might look like.—Alex Tock
[Photos courtesy Auto Express.]