With the arrival of the CTS Sport Wagon and a coupe model in the near future, Cadillac is setting the stage for a product lineup much more closely mimicking that of BMW‘s 3 Series. For decades, BMW has spread its engineering costs over several 3 Series body styles and capitalized on the recognition and reputation of the mainstream sedan. The wagons, convertibles, and coupes may not sell in the same volumes as the 3 Series sedan, but each one certainly plays a role in BMW’s business. We drove a 2009 BMW 328i xDrive Sports Wagon to see how the golden standard of the sport sedan world translated into a wagon.
The sedan’s sibling
Even if a 3 Series wagon is a relatively rare sight, the compact wagon is instantly recognizable. That’s because the body’s lines are almost identical to the much more common sedan. In both cases, the cars have been on sale for three years now, and while the design is still true to BMW’s corporate look, it could hardly be called eye-catching.
Our 3 Series wagon wore dark Monaco blue paint and optional 17-inch wheels. For an extra $800, our test car was equipped with Xenon headlamps that did a great job illuminating the road. Even better than the high-intensity discharge lamps, though, was the standard adaptive lighting feature that swivels the lights as you turn the steering wheel.
Luxury, plain and simple
The wagon we drove was treated to leather seats and door panels in a rich saddle brown accented with dark walnut trim. The leather came as part of the $3350 premium package, which also includes Bluetooth, power front seats, auto-dimming mirrors, a digital compass, and a universal garage door opener. That seems like a hefty price tag for some trivial equipment, but the beautiful leather is certainly something we’d want if we were purchasing a 328i. Combined with the black surfaces of the dash, console, and carpeting, the finely grained leather creates a luxurious environment.
Tech that’s expected
BMW offers a full range of technology in the 328i Sports Wagon. The list of standard and available features offers few surprises, but does include everything you could expect or want. Navigation costs an extra $2100 and includes the company’s iDrive infotainment controller. Additional options on our test car included satellite radio, an iPod adapter, keyless ignition, dynamic cruise control, and park assist.
Mediocre power, superior refinement
BMW‘s normally aspirated, 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder is the only engine offered in the wagon. Making 230 hp and 200 lb-ft of torque, the engine is more than adequate for city driving and highway merging, but can’t match the specs of the Sport Wagon. Occasionally, stomping on the throttle in the BMW leaves the driver stranded in a power valley by a slow shift. But aggressive drivers will love the engine’s speed and refinement when spinning to the 6500-rpm redline.
The automatic transmission features sport and manual modes in addition to the standard programming. Sport causes the transmission to downshift earlier and hold onto revs longer, creating a noticeable and appreciated difference compared to the standard mode. Selecting your own gear changes is done through either the gear lever or optional shift paddles. However, the manual mode doesn’t give the driver complete control; upshifts still occur automatically just before redline.
The 3 Series wagon does an excellent job juggling the duties of both sporty and comfortable driving. Over most roads, the 328i quelled bumps and holes with ease. Still, a few sharp, high-speed breaks did slam the suspension against its bump stops with jarring impacts.
For low-speed parking maneuvers, the steering in the 328i is quite heavy, but get the car up to pace, and the wheel transmits precise information. Pushing the wagon through turns, the chassis remains quite neutral, avoiding serious oversteer with the help of the all-wheel drive system. Of course, nudging the gear selector into sport mode is the true switch for transforming the wagon from grocery-getter to corner carver.
A proven formula
There’s good reason that a BMW 3 Series is the safe bet when it comes to buying a car. It provides the comfort and luxury that drivers want every day with the capabilities to perform for the occasional heavy-footed spin. The 328i xDrive Sports Wagon is no exception, offering the same great formula with that extra dose of wagon practicality.
BMW 328i xDrive Sports Wagon
Base Price: $37,925
Engine: 3.0-liter DOHC 24-valve I-6
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
L x W x H: 178.6 x 71.5 x 55.8 in
Legroom F/R: 41.1/34.6 in
Headroom F/R: 38.5/38.0 in
Cargo capacity (seats up/down): 16.2/48.9 cu ft
Curb weight: 3814 lbs
EPA Rating (estimated city/highway) 17/25 mpg