BMW 318i Touring

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Description: Businessman retiring at 45? Look no further than BMW's updated 318 estate.

The long-running 3 Series, the popular compact executive car which wasn't exactly showing any signs of flagging since its last update in 1998, has been updated by BMW, and now comes perked-up, showing at least one major change (a new engine) and a few which are probably for BMW-spotters only (a slightly larger kidney-shaped grille, fewer horizontal lines on the rear bumper).

Who is going to feel most flattered by these efforts? Inevitably the biggest take-up is among businessmen, many of whom are having their car on the company, but that is by no means the whole crowd. Indeed, intriguingly, BMW estimates that 13.3% of 3 Series owners are retired.

One can only respond enthusiastically to the idea that the compact, prestige Beemer represents a hot motor among people in their 70s. At the same time, one can see how many of the retirees calculated in the percentage may actually be businessmen who made a lot of money and quit working at 45, the average age of the 3 Series driver.

Sadly, no figures are offered on the number of BMW owners who are believed to be drug dealers. But that need not concern us too much here because, being family-shaped, the estate version, fetchingly known as the 318i Touring, naturally has a slightly different demographic from the rest of the range. Indeed, important BMW-compiled statistics exclusively reveal that the Touring 3 Series appeals to a sector of the market whose hobbies include "touring". Say what you like about market research, it cuts through the nonsense.

That said, what exactly is touring? Does it relate to going to Sainsbury's? Travelling to Cornwall for a holiday? Indeed, does the idea of touring tally in any way with any of the things you are likely to do on a British road in 2002? One would like to think so, while nursing the disappointing suspicion that "touring" can only genuinely take place in the south of France or, at a push, along the Italian Riviera. And in the 1960s.

Nevertheless, touring is a powerfully consoling word to have at one's disposal as one goes about one's business behind the wheel. Drivers of other kinds of estate cars - not called Touring - may be having a miserable time, weighed down by a bootload of junk, deafened by arguing children, up to their shins in spilt crisps, their fingers fused with the steering wheel by stress. You, on the other hand, as a BMW driver, are touring. It's impossible not to enjoy this concept and to grow immediately affectionate about the Touring as a result of it.

Other reasons to like the car include its tidy and quietly distinguished appearance, its reversing sensor, which stops you scratching it on other vehicles, and that sense, traditional to the marque, that it has been bolted together so hard that only an unfortunate collision with a high-payload missile would pull it apart.

The new engine is a two-litre, four-cylinder job, equipped with BMW's Valvetronic system (briefly, a means of controlling the way the engine's valves lift, so that when you put your foot on the accelerator, the engine jumps to it without asking too many questions first). And in the common BMW way of things, the car keeps engine noise so low that it could be happening in another vehicle altogether.

As any salesperson worth his bonus will tell you, these are cars which "retain their value". Strictly speaking, of course, he'll be lying. A brand new car is the opposite of a smart investment. You will have noticed that people who are trying to be clever with their money rarely incorporate a fleet of factory-fresh motors into their portfolio. Generally, private investors with their wits about them buy a new car because they want a new car, and not because they hope to sell it on at a profit, or even get their money back.

Nevertheless, BMW owners have the comfort of knowing that, as investments in new cars go, theirs is less strikingly dumb, financially speaking, than most. Last August, Parkers Guide compiled a list of the most desired secondhand cars, according to the number of searches made on its website, and even allowing for distortion to the figures caused by people who have no intention of buying a BMW but just like looking at pictures of them, demand obviously remains high. The 3 Series BMW was the second most sought-after used car after the VW Golf. You could almost argue that the Touring was a rational purchase. But not quite.

Incidentally, other hobbies, apart from touring, which are apparently favoured by typical 3 Series owners include watching football and rugby, golf and creating situational art pieces from found objects. OK, I made the last one up. In the end, I think one has to agree with BMW that "the averages are interesting but. ultimately disguise the broad appeal".



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