BMW (GB) will launch its fourth generation 3 series Touring (wagon) on 17 September 2005.

Two versions will be available from launch, the four-cylinder 320d diesel and petrol six-cylinder 325i.

BMW claims greater legroom for rear passengers thanks to a 35mm wheelbase increase. Headroom is up 7mm.

The increase in dimensions also provides larger boot space. With the 60:40 split folding rear seats in place, load area is up 25 litres to 460l making, BMW claims, the car more spacious with its seats up than the rival Audi A4 or Jaguar X-type. With the seats folded, 1,385 litres (and extra 40l) are available, beating the Mercedes-Benz C-Class and the Audi A4.

The new Touring has a split-opening rear tailgate, enabling the rear window to be opened independently - a feature first seen on the larger 5 Touring in the early '90s but which has taken a long time to migrate down to the smaller car.

The height and width of the loading opening have been maximised by a cut-out in the rear bumper that lowers the loading height. Two-piece rear lamp clusters, split between boot lid and body increase available width. The tailgate also lifts to a height that allows anyone under two metres tall to stand beneath.

Trim levels are ES, SE and M Sport though not all will be available with all engines. As always with BMWs, there is a vast option list and about 80% of cars are built to customer order, according to insiders. Prices start at £24,875.

In October, the range will be extended to include the four-cylinder petrol 320i and the six-cylinder 330i and diesel 330d.

All versions have a a six-speed manual gearbox, air-conditioning, 16-inch alloy wheels with run-flat tyres, CD player and six airbags as standard.

SE specification adds 17-inch alloy wheels (on six-cylinder cars, an alternative 16-inch alloy wheel design on four-cylinder models), automatic air-conditioning, cruise control (with braking function on six-cylinder models), multi-function steering wheel and rear park assistance.

The M Sport specification newly available for the Touring adds 18-inch alloy wheels (17-inch on four-cylinder models), M Sport suspension and sports seats.

The options list includes active cruise control and a new version of iDrive (including voice control) that has a new menu list to the left of the screen (a little like the Favourites listing alongside the Internet Explorer screen on a PC) that, among other things, makes it easier to turn the sat-nav's guidance and voice on or off.

There's also a reversible boot floor, folding boot box and an ingenious 'fold-away' tow-bar that hides under the rear bumper when not in use.

Historically, the Touring line has accounted for about 13% of BMW (GB)'s 3-series sales and it is aiming to sell a record number of the new wagons in the first full year. Retail sales are expected to account for 45% of the anticipated 8,500 plus figure. The company plans to sell around 2,500 this year and is also anticipating the proportion of Tourings to sedans will rise in line with a similar trend in left-hand drive markets in Europe. The single best selling model - as with the sedan - is likely to be the 320d.

The customer profile of the new 3 Series Touring is similar to the outgoing car, and the companion sedan line. The majority of owners are aged between 36 and 55 with over half younger than 50, a significant proportion of them (80%) are expected to be male.  Around 17%of owners are self-employed while over 60% are company directors or managers. Golf, rugby and skiing are their favourite sports.

The new Touring is the only car in its UK segment to offer Service Inclusive service and maintenance packages. For a one-off payment, owners can get three to five years servicing or service and maintenance inclusive at a claimed "considerable" saving on the normal costs.

Whole-life costs are expected to be lower than competitors, with the CAP Monitor group predicting 82% residual values after 12 months / 20,000 miles - 5% higher then the Audi and 13% higher than the Jaguar.

Graeme Roberts