2006 BMW 530xi Sports Wagon

Mike Dushane
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ANN ARBOR - We've always liked the BMW 5-series wagon, because it has the poise and performance of the 5-series sedan with the space of an SUV. Although the previous wagon was rear-wheel-drive and available with a 2.5-liter six or a 4.4-liter V-8, the new one comes with standard all-wheel drive and only one engine choice: BMW's new aluminum and magnesium 3.0-liter in-line six. This engine is torquey, powerful, smooth, and reasonably efficient. The car feels downright fast with the standard six-speed manual transmission, and it's still no slouch with the six-speed manu-matic.

Although there's no lowered sport suspension offered because of the low-hanging hardware that routes power to the front wheels, the 530xi is nimbler and more neutral than Mercedes and Audi wagons. Optional eighteen-inch wheels look cool but compromise the supple ride. We'd also avoid the optional variable-ratio steering--it's handy for parking but feels strange on the road. Unfortunately, there's no avoiding the justly derided iDrive system. The rest of the interior is lovely, and the standard panorama moonroof keeps thing airy.

We're disappointed that there's no two-wheel-drive model, so tail-out antics aren't in the repertoire. At least the rear wheels get most of the power, so it feels like a rear-wheel-drive car except when you really push it. The 530xi wagon isn't cheap, but it fits the bill if you need a carryall with all-weather traction and the idea of a plodding truck is unappealing.

SPECS
On sale: Now
Price:$52,095
Engine: 3.0L DOHC I-6, 255 hp, 220 lb-ft
Drive: 4-wheel

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