It's not so long ago that a station wagon was a family sedan that had the boot replaced, got a bit of extra length, and a "fifth door" added to access the extra space the exercise gained.
To cope with additional load capacity "cart springs" usually replaced a multi-link or coil sprung rear axle, and the accent was on loadability, not driveability.
There are still some of these vehicles around, and you see them chugging away, the front wheels only just touching the ground and the rear tyres squishing at the sides from the heavy load both inside and atop the vehicle.
However, these days a station wagon, estate, or whatever else you want to call it is designed to achieve a different objective - to extend leisure activities without the need to have one vehicle to use for work in the week and another for weekends.
Today's "lifestyle" vehicles have to give all the handling, ride and comfort attributes of the sedans on which they are based while still giving additional room to carry bicycles, scooba gear and so on.
Which makes it a hard call for engineers who get the brief "no compromise".
This is especially important when we're talking about a company such as BMW, which doesn't make compromises when it comes to vehicle dynamics.
And so it was an interesting exercise to drive the new BMW 3 Series Touring models on roads chosen for their ability to tax the timid and excite the enthusiastic rather than merely traverse from A to B.
There are two models in the 3 Series Touring range just introduced, both of them petrol - the 320i and 325i.
The 320i Touring is based on the straight-four two-litre power unit found in its 320i sedan sibling. Featuring VALVETRONIC and double-VANOS, the engine develops maximum output of 110 kW at 6 200 r/min, with maximum torque of 200 Nm at 3 600 r/min.
Acceleration from 0-100 km/h comes in 9.4 seconds, top speed is 218 km/h, and fuel consumption in the composite EU cycle is 7.6 litres/100 km
Developing maximum output of 160 kW, the straight-six power unit in the BMW 325i Touring outperforms its predecessor by 19 kW.
Maximum torque is 250 Nm between 2 750 and 4 250 r/min - in its segment the 2.5-litre is the most powerful and lightest engine in the world.
This is the first large-scale production engine to feature magnesium on the crankcase, crankshaft mounts and cylinder head cover, thus boasting a material 30% lighter than aluminium.
These benefits are further enhanced by variable double-VANOS camshaft management on the intake and outlet valves.
The BMW 325i Touring accelerates from 0-100 km/h in 7.2 seconds and completes the sprint from 80-120 km/h in fourth gear in 7.9 seconds.
Top speed is 243 km/h, while fuel consumption is a claimed 8.6 litres/100 km on the combined cycle.
Both models come with a close-ratio 6-speed manual gearbox giving closer increments between gears for quicker acceleration as well as a wider overall range between the lowest and highest gear for improved economy.
A 6-speed automatic transmission is available as an option.
While styling on the new cars follows their sedan siblings at the front, at the back it's a different story, and BMW has taken a great deal of care to produce vehicles which are pleasant to the eye in their own right.
From straight behind they look mean and purposeful, as we would expect from the Bavarian manufacturer, while from the sides there's an aerodynamic wing shape from front to rear, designed to enhance the drag co-efficient without limiting interior headroom.
And inside you quickly forget you're in a vehicle that can carry loads - for all intents and purposes the vehicles handle like sedans, ride like sedans and have all the comfort features of sedans.
On the road
BMW threw some of the best handling test roads in the world at us, all in the Western Cape - Franschhoek Pass, Hellshoogste, Floorshoogte Pass, Sir Lowry's Pass, and those wonderful winding roads between Rooi Els and Gordon's Bay.
And those Touring models took itall in their stride.
Handling remained, as with the sedans, exemplary, and neutral, and it was only on those samples fitted with the optional sports pack that we could feel stiffer and less yielding suspension, as to be expected.
The BMW engineers have managed to achieve a 50:50 front/rear weight distribution, and it really shows when you're pressing on, with superb turn-in, no propensity for either back or front to step out of line, and giving the driver the ability to choose his own driving style without being limited by vehicle dynamics.
Inside there is little difference between the sedans and the Touring models in terms of fixtures and fittings, save that the "wagons" have a separate pop-up rear window to allow owners to put stuff in the back without having to lift the fifth door.
What's more, clever design moves the load cover out of the way while doing it!
As to be expected the seats flip forward, in a 60:40 split, with load capacity increasing from 460 litres to a total of 1 385 litres.
Interior space back and front is excellent, and all the interior measurements are up on the previous model.
Standard features include keyless entry and starting, aircon, electric windows and mirrors, front-loader CD/radio, leather upholstery, and ABS brakes.
The vehicles are longer and higher than those they replace, but all this has been achieved without gaining weight - in fact they're 15 kg lighter, thanks to the extensive use of lightweight materials in the engine and suspension.
As with the sedans there's a high level of technology, including the latest generation of DSC (Dynamic Stability Control), while the six-cylinder model DSC boasts has functions such as dry-braking of the brake discs on wet roads and brake standby pre-applying the brake pads to the discs.
The system also prevents the car from rolling back on uphill gradients and acts against the usual dive effect when applying the brakes shortly before the vehicle comes to a standstill.
BMW's new Trailer Stability Control enhances driving safety when towing a trailer, as is often the case with an estate.
The system registers imminent pendulum motion of the car and trailer at a very early point, stabilising the vehicle and the trailer behind by applying the car's brakes before the situation can turn dangerous.
As with the 3 Series sedans the Touring gets 5 stars in Euro NCAP crash testing.
Apart from optimised seat belts, the occupant safety system comes as standard with no fewer than six airbags - driver, front passenger, hip thorax, and curtain head airbags.
The cars come with runflat tyres as standard (no spare), as well as the usual long BMW options list (including a panoramic sunroof), Motorplan, roadside assistance, and warranties.
320i Touring R265 000
320i Touring Steptronic R278 000
325i Touring R306 000
325i Touring Steptronic R319 000.