2014 BMW 3 Series Sports Wagon
Each year the remaining air continues to wheeze out of America's longtime love affair with the station wagon. The SUV and crossover have had their way with our sensibilities and there seems no reversing the course. This is sad, but wagons will survive in America, dammit. They always find a way to claw on, no matter how gleefully skeptics keep stepping on their fingers.
A premium wagon will always drive better than a premium SUV or crossover, and the fuel mileage figures will always be noticeably better. Space and comfort? Roughly equal. And nowadays if you want to stand out and be noticed for your incredible wealth of good taste, knowledge and sophistication, a me-too SUV or crossover cannot help you.
So what will we do if the day comes when the last station wagon is gone from U.S. roads? Cry like sissies?
Hell, no. We wagonites will either all move to Europe or hoard spare wagon parts for the coming automotive apocalypse and take impeccable care of our cherished many-windowed relics.
And so it's time to drive the latest BMW 3 Series Sports Wagon – called 3 Series Touring or T-Modell on the old continent – and, right off, we can shout that we love that BMW sees fit to bring the new F31-generation 3 Series wagon to North America... in around April of 2013. Whatever the wait, we'll take it. (Deliveries start in western Europe on September 22nd.) Luckily, the only trim available to test at this Germany drive event was the one that will also sell most in the U.S., the 328i sports wagon.
Just as the new 3 Series sedan weighs about 90 pounds less when put on the scales alongside the previous E90 generation, the F31 fifth-generation 3 Series wagon loses nearly the same amount of weight. This is a great start to things.
This 3 Series sports wagon grows up and out, too, promising a more astute grasp of driving dynamics and interior space arrangement than previous generations. While the length of the car is stretched 3.7 inches beyond the E91 generation, the wheelbase grows 2.0 inches, front track 1.5 inches and rear track almost 1.9 inches. All of these numbers, together with 10-percent greater rigidity in the wagon architecture, have us imagining already how our drive will be: pretty satisfying most likely.
BMW has committed irreversibly to Pirelli Cinturato P7 run-flats for safety, convenience and the benefits of added rear cargo space in the absence of a spare. These treads are used with the optional 18-inch wheels of the Luxury line trim – 225/45 R18 91Y all around – and this setup actually pleased us all day on all roads. Standard wheels and tires for the Sport, Modern and Luxury lines are 17-inch, while the M Sport line starts at 18 inches and can opt up to a 19-inch set. For solid everyday wagoning along with good steady dynamics, we liked the 18s just fine; the greater overall stance of the sports wagon's architecture helped this ride situation quite a bit. The trick with run-flats has simply been knowing on which trims to include them – we dislike them on 35i engine trims and M cars – plus there is also ongoing research by tire manufacturers to create run-flats that feel less and less like heavy wooden tires. These Cinturato P7s do a pretty good job of it.
Another key issue on any wagon is the comfort and space inside. We don't expect 7 Series levels of comfort, but we do expect a top-notch usable cargo area with clever flexibility designed in. Whether it's with all seats in place or all folded down, rear cargo numbers for the 3 Series sports wagon are up by 1.2 cubic feet, so the range is now between 17.5 and 53.0 cubic feet, which makes this the most spacious small premium wagon out there. (By just a scootch, mind you.)
Flexibility is really nice here, by the way. We played with everything and used various development experts on site as our assistants in exploring it all. There's the standard 40:20:40 rear seatbacks that drop forward flat, to start with. The separating cross member for the cargo area is, of course, removable, but it has been split into two parts now since one of the old complaints was that the single member was too heavy for some people. Now, the forward piece contains a sturdy pull-out separator net that attaches in headliner slots above the rear passenger doors. The rear piece manages the rolled-up cargo cover. Removing either or both of these is now very quick work.
That first cross member piece, once removed after dropping the seatbacks forward, can be securely slotted into the seatbacks (now acting as cargo floor). Then you can pull up on the cargo netting and attach it to the overhead secure points, and now all objects and living creatures loaded back there would be safe and secure if hard braking is called for. As a bonus, below the cargo floor, where there isn't a spare tire anymore, is a large compartmentalized tray for tucking away whatever you like. A smaller rearward floor panel reveals the place where you can store those longer cargo cross members when you don't need them at all. Slick and easy to live with.
The multiple award-winning 241-horsepower N20 twin-scroll turbocharged four-cylinder 2.0-liter engine once again reminds us of just how smitten we are by all these latest 328i trims. We've said it already in other Bimmer reviews, but you most likely do not ever need to shell out the extra cash to get the 335i. This extremely impressive four-cylinder already feels far better than the naturally aspirated six-cylinder it replaced last year. Crucify us, but it's true. There's more power at more useful revs (5,000 – 6,000 rpm), way more torque over a wider band (258 pound-feet between 1,250 and 4,800 rpm) and 11-percent greater fuel efficiency with the standard eight-speed Steptronic automatic than the outgoing inline six with six-speed automatic. The direct injection at idle is a little tick-tick-ticky, but under throttle the 328i wagon is probably the smoothest driving hauler in any class. And in a smaller premium wagon like this one, saying "standard automatic" doesn't make us groan much, especially since this one is so good in this configuration.
The driving pleasure, whether calibrated to Eco Pro with start-and-stop, Comfort, Sport or Sport+, is quite sophisticated for this class, and the 328i sports wagon puts the soon-to-land Audi A4 Allroad quattro in the weeds when it comes to these asphalt qualities. Get the M Sport line, adaptive M sport suspension and variable sport steering, and you can make your 328i wagon as nasty as you like. Go the whole hog route with all things just as you like, though, and be prepared to shell out upwards of $55,000 after starting at the estimated $38,500 base price. Oh, you can always go higher, yep.
Our 328i sports wagon Luxury trim tester on this day was a consummately handsome unit, though the high-gloss emphasis of the Luxury trim would not be our first choice. Still, we cannot whine about the astute sport adjustable seat selection, nicely driver-oriented dash and console, nor the Driving Experience Control selector and specific shift lever and steering wheel paddles for the sport automatic gearbox $500 option. The added space for rear passengers in all dimensions is another plus as a result of the longer wheelbase and wider tracks of this wagon.
As to the design of all that added sheetmetal, we like what we see a lot. The 3 Series' newer face is more interesting to look at these days, and the rediscovered true kidney grille is welcome. The contour lines running the full length of the sports wagon just add to the sporting appeal of the car. As we were frequently staring at the tail end of other test cars on this day in Germany, this new solution for the wagon is particularly successful to our eyes. It's not only very handsome and has much better looking taillights, but the tailgate load opening is wider and taller now, too, making luggage hefting easier for anyone.
No manual six-speed transmission seems to be on the dance card for this new sports wagon once it hits American shores, however, and that will make some aficionados unhappy. That manual is legendarily good, too, but we don't mind being forced to live without it, at least in this 328i wagon setup. For some sections of our drive we shifted the sport automatic with our right hand at the console lever, but it starts to feel a little silly after a bit. Fortunately, the paddles work well and the Steptronic eight is in healthy condition these days. It holds revs, too, in Sport manual mode, and that counts for a lot. It's also just as quick to 62 mph (100 kmh) as the manual – 6.0 seconds estimated, but it'll easily go quicker in capable hands – and does it all while saving fuel and polluting less.
A 302-hp 335i trim for the sports wagon is currently under discussion, always with the eight-speed Steptronic, arriving sometime after the 328i has established itself here in 2013. Also on the table are xDrive trims of the wagon. Regarding the latest 255-hp 330d trim with 413 lb-ft of torque from 1,500 to 3,000 rpm and a nearly 4,000-pound towing capacity, BMW in the U.S. is just telling us that it is a hot point of discussion. We hope so because that would be wagon nirvana.
So, do not ever call the station wagon culture in America down for the count. With wagons like this setting the bar, we have a feeling many could come back to the fold.
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