Sunday, April 20, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

BMW keeps the light on for sport wagons

The 2014 BMW 3-Series sports wagon is only an inch shorter than BMW´s X3 crossover, and a good deal shorter. (BMW/MCT)
The 2014 BMW 3-Series sports wagon is only an inch shorter than BMW's X3 crossover, and a good deal shorter. (BMW/MCT)
The 2014 BMW 3-Series sports wagon is only an inch shorter than BMW´s X3 crossover, and a good deal shorter. (BMW/MCT) Gallery: BMW keeps the light on for sport wagons

Like landline phones, fax machines and VCRs, the station wagon is an endangered species that's disappearing from the automotive landscape thanks to the popularity, and superior functionality, of the crossover sport utility vehicle.

Compare today's test drive, the 2014 BMW 328i xDrive Sports Wagon, to its sibling, the BMW X3 crossover.

The latter can carry 27.6 cubic feet of stuff when the rear seats are in use; fold them and you have as much as 63.3 cubic feet of schlepping space. Now, compare that to the 2014 328i xDrive Sports Wagon, which holds just 13 cubic feet with the second row occupied, and just 53 cubic feet with those seats folded. You might think the X3 is significantly larger. It is, but only by 1 inch in length. And its higher roof line gives the X3 an advantage when it comes to transporting bulky items.

Next, consider that the same engine powers both vehicles: a 240-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder. And while the X3 has an optional 300-horsepower, 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine, the 328i's optional engine is a 181-horsepower turbocharged diesel engine. The final nail in the coffin? The 328i's starting price is $1,650 higher than the X3's.

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  • So it seems that math could easily lead this wagon to extinction when its practicality is considered. And yet there are those who prefer wagons, just as there are those who prefer corded phones.

    For them, a wagon is more fun to drive than a taller crossover, while also being a bit different. It looks better when pulling into the golf club parking lot.

    That said, given a wagon's lot in life as a family hauler, you have to wonder why BMW chose to issue the new Sports Wagon without the more powerful six-cylinder engine. Certainly, the 328i's 240 horses are more than up to the task of moving this compact wagon with some vigor; BMW says it will reach 60 mph in six seconds. But that may not be enough to satisfy those BMW customers accustomed to more power. These buyers also may object to the lack of a manual transmission; this wagon comes solely with an eight-speed automatic and all-wheel drive. A rear-wheel-drive model is not offered.

    So it seems that performance – at least the kind that BMW enthusiasts crave – is not a top priority. Instead, this car is about lively, around-town motoring; transporting people from point to point with a modicum of driving fun. This it delivers without question. The four-cylinder engine is certainly fast enough for clogged arteries throughout Virginia's Hampton Roads region. And this wagon has the accurate steering and cornering poise expected of a BMW. Still, it seems less engaging to drive than other 3 Series models, despite its perfect ride and quiet cabin.

    Thankfully, it's fairly fuel efficient. The EPA rates this wagon at 22 mpg city, 33 mph highway. Choosing the diesel would increase these numbers to 31 mpg city, 43 highway at a $1,500 premium. A week-long test drive in Hampton Roads returned 28 mpg. Like other BMWs, this one requires premium fuel.

    As for this wagon's utility, the rear seat is split in a configuration that makes for cargo carrying flexibility. The rear deck comes with four tie-down hooks, a 12-volt power point and a retractable cargo cover that stores underneath the load floor when not in use. Given the lack of a spare tire – the car uses run-flat tires – it's nice that BMW has given over the space for more storage.

    A key fob opens the wagon's power tailgate, which can also be opened by an interior button. Choosing the optional Comfort Access feature allows you to open the tailgate by waving your foot under the rear bumper, an option first offered on Fords.

    If you want to put one in your driveway, go easy on the options. The test car started at $41,450. But equipping it to the level expected of a luxury car meant choosing the Sport Line Package, Cold Weather Package, Lighting Package, navigation system and concierge service. Even the leather interior and paint were options. Bottom line: $51,225, which is a bit spendy for a compact wagon.

    But for those who treasure something different, the unique 328i xDrive Sports Wagon will satisfy your soul in a way no crossover ever can.

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    2014 328I XDRIVE SPORTS WAGON:

    –Engine: Turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder

    –Wheelbase: 110.6 inches

    –Length: 182 inches

    –Weight: 3,780 pounds

    –Cargo space: 13-53 cubic feet

    –EPA rating (city/highway): 22/33 mpg

    –Fuel consumption: 28 mpg

    –Fuel type: Premium

    –Base price, base model, excluding destination charge: $41,450

    –Base price, test model, excluding destination charge: $41,450

    –As tested: $51,225

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    ABOUT THE WRITER

    Larry Printz is automotive editor at The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va. He can be reached at larry.printz@pilotonline.com.

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    (c)2014 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)

    Visit The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.) at pilotonline.com

    Distributed by MCT Information Services

    Larry Printz The Virginian-Pilot (MCT)