The Quest for the Perfect Pre-Owned BMW 3 Series Wagon
Its not easy to source a niche car if you have particular tastes
Cars don't stick around long in the Noordeloos household, and I'm not just referring to press cars. I like to cycle through owned vehicles as well, as does my wife - or, I should say, I like to juggle what my wife drives. The latest spousal hunt is for a slightly used BMW 328i/330i xDrive wagon. It's not looking like an easy quest.
It's no secret that wagons aren't particularly popular in the U.S., but BMW North America spokesperson Hector Arellano-Belloc drove that home when he told me that "In the last 18 months, the 3 Series wagon has accounted for about 4% of all 3 Series sales (Sedan, Gran Turismo and Sports Wagon)." Given my particular tastes, the limited potential choices mean that this used search will be trickier than I first thought.
Each time I find a potential option, I quickly confirm the specs as most sellers don't provide enough info and I live by the 'trust but verify' rule when buying a car. Luckily, this is easily accomplished via a BMW VIN-checking website like BMW VIN Decoder. Additionally, I have a friend at a BMW store who's able to run the warranty status and dealer service records via the last 7 digits of the VIN. It's always surprising to me to find cars that haven't been properly serviced even though BMW offers 4 years of free maintenance (3 years starting with the 2017 model year).
My detail-oriented nature also means I must confirm every last aspect of the spec. What is the interior leather color and trim? Is the wagon a Sport, Luxury, or an M Sport? Does it have the cold weather package? (The included heated steering wheel in the latter is a must for my wife's arthritic hands.) Yes, I'm picky but it's truly staggering to me how poorly many of these German-built station wagons were optioned when new.
While Europeans are able to purchase a six-cylinder BMW wagon, we're limited to diesel or gasoline four-cylinder engines in the USA. With all going on with "dirty diesels" in the world, I prefer gas. We also don't put many miles on our family car, making the fuel economy advantage of diesel negligible.
I prefer the standard Sport model to the M Sport or Luxury versions, mostly due to its honesty. The M Sport setup seems a bit too much for a car with only four cylinders and the Luxury model carries too much chrome. Unfortunately, the best way to get the preferred Adaptive M Suspension in the USA is to first spec the M Sport Package for $3,100 and then pay $700 for the top-level adjustable suspension. This chassis setup also lowers the car by 0.4 inches, improving the stance.
Yes, you can add the Adaptive M Suspension to a Sport for $2,300 via the Track Handling Package, but it also brings along the compromising, non-linear variable sport steering and I'm-trying-too-hard-to-look-cool grey wheels. Plus, the bigger M Sport brakes mean you're forced to run 18-inch winter wheels versus the cheaper and less susceptible to damage 16- or 17-inch setup. And who's really going to take a four-cylinder, xDrive-equipped BMW wagon to the track?
There's also the wheel and tire setup to think about, beyond simply avoiding the noted disco grey wheels with the Track Handling Package. You have three options on a 330i Sport, all of which come with run-flats — 17-inch wheels with all-seasons, 18-inch wheels with all-season tires ($600), and staggered 18-inch wheels with wider rear wheels and performance summer rubber all around ($600).
I'm not a fan of all-season tires but I also don't see the point of staggered tires to a four-cylinder wagon with standard all-wheel drive. For one, you can't rotate the staggered setup, potentially hurting tire life. I wish BMW offered the summer tire option on the non-staggered 18-inch wheels. While it's easy to fit summer tires to whatever vehicle we find on the used market, I'd prefer to not have to buy new tires straight away.
It's not so simple of a fix when it comes to interior trim. The standard setup is something BMW calls Fineline Anthracite Wood. It's not exactly gorgeous, but its unassuming and totally, well, fine. Unfortunately, many buyers (or is it dealers?) in our great country seem to think that Burl Walnut or Ash Grain Wood with Metal Inlay look better (it's difficult to find wood trim on a BMW wagon in Europe). They're wrong. Personally, I'd order the optional brushed aluminum interior trim but I've never seen a wagon on the used market thus equipped. A shame.
Then there are the seats. Specifically, what's covering them. If you're boring like me and like black interiors (and feel brown has had its day), you'd think this aspect of the hunt would be easy. Strangely, it's not. The required-for-my-wife cold weather package means the base leatherette interior isn't an option, as you must fit leather to add the winter-friendly feature. BMW of North America offers two black leather options — one with red highlights and another with dark oyster details. The red setup is way too loud for me and the oyster is just OK. I found a near-perfectly optioned 2017 used wagon but it, sadly, had the black/red leather. You're able to order black leather without the red or oyster detailing in Europe but not in the USA. European buyers also have alternatives to the black headliner - I prefer a lighter headliner, especially in a smaller wagon like the 3 Series, as it makes the interior feel a bit bigger.
If BMW offered more customization in the States — the automaker has certain features it calls 'Priority 1' options that can only be fitted to orders with a customer name attached that it could offer more of independent of packages — this search might have borne better fruit. At it stands, between the limited configuration options and the fascination of Americans with the standard, non-adaptive suspension and glossy wood trim, I'm clearly going to have to order a brand-new BMW 3 Series wagon if I'm going to get a car close in spec to my ideal setup.