2014 BMW 328i xDrive Sport Wagon Review By Carey Russ


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)



DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS

2014 BMW 328i xDrive Sport Wagon

A wagon has been part of the BMW 3-Series lineup since 1994, if not continuously sold on this side of the Atlantic. Here, the X3 "sport-activity" crossover is far more popular. But there are enough people who understand the advantages of a wagon over a crossover for BMW to offer a 3-Series wagon for 2014.

The newest generation of BMW's popular 3-Series debuted for 2012, in sedan form only. At that time, the 3 coupes, convertibles, and wagon were unchanged. The reason came to light when the 2014 lineup was announced -- and two-door variants, meaning coupe and convertible, became the 4-Series, similar to the differences between the 5- and 6-Series further upscale. The wagon, being based on the 3 sedan, kept its 3-Series membership.

Like many other manufacturers, BMW has gone to smaller forced-induction engines for more efficient performance. Where once "328" meant "3-Series, 2.8-liter engine" and that engine was an inline six-cylinder, it now means equivalent, or perhaps better, power from less fuel with a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine. With 241 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque matched to an eight-speed automatic transmission, extra displacement won't be missed. That, matched to an eight-speed automatic transmission and BMW's xDrive all-wheel drive system is the only powertrain offered for the 328i wagon.

And it's the only powertrain needed. If it has less power than the 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of the turbo six-cylinder 335, it's lighter and, thanks to twin balance shafts, just as smooth. Any doubts as to BMW's prowess with turbocharging can be answered with a quick research into the M12/13 Formula 1 engine of the 1980s -- with a production-based engine block.

"Efficient Dynamics" is BMW's phrase for their combination of efficiency and performance. Besides turbocharging, it encompasses brake energy regeneration (utilization of electrical energy recovered during braking and engine over-run to provide power for the car's electrical systems), automatic stop/start (turning the engine off when the car sits unmoving, as at a stop light), and electric control of auxiliary equipment including the water pump and power steering. Sounds like the first steps to a hybrid? Don't be surprised!

If the standard equipment level isn't luxurious or sporty enough, or both, for your tastes, there are four optional trim levels, each with multiple equipment choices. The Sport Line is primarily cosmetic, with upgraded exterior and interior trim. Ditto for the Luxury Line, but with more bright chrome inside and out and wood inlays inside. The Modern Line means satin aluminum trim and modernistic interior trim. M Sport Line doesn't quite means M3, but does include aerodynamic changes to the bodywork, M Sport suspension calibration, and M exterior and interior trim. Leatherette is the standard seat material, with a variety of leathers available depending on Line. Most of the contemporary electronic systems and gadgets are available, depending on Line.

My test car for the past week was an M Sport model equipped for the driving enthusiast. Meaning: no gizmos, gadgets, or nannies. No flashing lights to warn me that a tree by the side of the road might be a hazard. No attempt to take control from me if the computer decides that I'm having too much fun. No 5000 channels of unwanted infotainment. No parking aids. Yes, all of those and more are available, and would perhaps be appropriate in the Luxury or Modern Lines. With only the Dynamic Handling Package of adaptive M suspension and variable sport steering to complement the lovely, torquey powertrain, this particular wagon was an enthusiast's dream. Need more utility than a sedan can offer but prefer more sport than a crossover, even a BMW SAV? Look no further.

APPEARANCE: Yes, it's grown larger in nearly all dimensions, but the BMW 3-Series is still readily recognizable as such. And the simpler lines of the latest edition lend themselves to the wagon body very well. The taillights are now LEDs, but real BMWs have round headlights, four of them, thank you very much. The M-Sport front lower fascia has functional air intakes for the intercooler, brakes, and underbody air management. It looks low, but the short front overhang makes it reasonably safe from damage by rolled curbs and steep driveways.

COMFORT: The driver is the focus, as evidenced by the cockpit layout. The 328i wagon's driver's seat is a great place from which to conduct the business of serious driving. The main instruments are front and center, with audio and climate controls in the center stack tilted ever so slightly toward the driver but still well within reach of the front passenger. The interior design is evolutionary, clean and simple and very functional. The sports seats that are part of the M-Line package provide excellent support and comfort. Yes, here they were upholstered in leatherette, but power-adjustable and with two memory positions for the driver's seat. The steering wheel adjusts manually for tilt and reach, and has audio and cruise controls. Rear passengers get more legroom than ever in a 3-Series. The rear seatback folds 40/20/40 for maximum versatility. There is some storage under the cargo area, but no spare tire or flat kit. I'm hoping the tires are run-flatsā€¦

SAFETY: The BMW 3-Series helps protect its passengers with a Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) system that includes Brake Fade Compensation, Start-off Assistant, Brake Drying, Brake Stand-by, and Dynamic Traction Control (DTC). That all operated through four-wheel ventilated disc brakes with antilock, Dynamic Brake Control, and Cornering Brake Control systems. And of course there are the usual airbags and safety structures.

RIDE AND HANDLING: Can a wagon handle like a sports sedan? This is not your grandfather's Yank Tank; compared to the sedan, the wagon has a bit more weight to the rear, but not enough to make any real difference. The solid unibody structure supports a typically-BMW fully-independent suspension, double-pivot struts in front and a multilink system at the rear. It's not M-car stiff, and so much better for everyday and long distance use but still eminently capable on the road. And should also be fun at a club track day, should you desire to do such. Damping and steering assistance change a bit with different settings of the Driving Dynamics Control systems, but it's always closer to the sport side of the spectrum than luxury. The xDrive all-wheel drive system seamlessly transfers torque from front to rear as needed, and also, with help from the stability electronics, from side to side for optimum traction and response.

PERFORMANCE: The "missing" two cylinders won't be missed. This twin-cam, 16-valve four utilizes all of BMW's current valve control technology -- "VANOS" variable phasing for both camshafts, independently, and the "VALVETRONIC" variable valve timing and lift system -- plus direct fuel injection and turbocharging to more than compensate. If the 241 maximum horsepower (at 5000 rpm) doesn't get your interest, the 258 lb-ft of torque from 1250 through 4800 rpm should. Torque, it's all that is right about forced induction. No peakiness or turbo lag here, just almost diesel-like torque. Any one of maybe three or four gears could work with that, but fortunately the eight-speed automatic is much better than that. And the stop/start system, stopping the engine at a light or such and then restating when the driver's foot comes off the brake, worked much more smoothly than that on the 2012 335i I drove last year. Model-year improvement? Or less rotating mass?

The rationale for the more-complex turbo engine is improved fuel economy. With a turbo, driving style impacts mileage more than with a naturally-aspirated engine. And balloon-footed driving is not what the 328i Sport Wagon is about. Yes, using "Eco-Pro" mode will extend range, and is fine in slow traffic or on a congested highway. "Comfort" is the default. "Sport" sharpens throttle and steering response noticeably, shifts are higher revs, and would be fine as the default. "Sport+" further sharpens responses, and dials back the stability and traction control assistance. Traction control may be completely turned off. Yes, driving like that will get you a "Friends of OPEC" award. Did you really buy this car for the fuel economy? In reasonable but mostly back-road and city driving I got 23 mpg. It would have been easy to get less. Or maybe a slight bit more.

CONCLUSIONS: Mix sport and utility the proper way in a compact size with the 2014 BMW 328i xDrive Sport Wagon.

SPECIFICATIONS
2014 BMW 328i xDrive Sport Wagon

Base Price			$ 41,450
Price As Tested			$ 47.775
Engine Type			DOHC turbocharged and intercooled inline
				 4-cylinder with direct fuel
				 injection,VANOS variable cam phasing,
				 and VALVETRONIC variable valve lift and
				 duration
Engine Size			2.0 liters / 122 cu. in.
Horsepower			241 @ 5000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			258 @ 1250-4800 rpm
Transmission			8-speed automatic with manual-shift mode
Wheelbase / Length		110.6 in. / 182.0 in.
Curb Weight			3780 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		15.7
Fuel Capacity			n/a gal.
Fuel Requirement		91 octane premium unleaded gasoline
Tires				225/45R18 91V Conti ProContact SSR m+s
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc all around,
				 ABS, Dynamic Brake Control, Cornering
				 Brake Control, brake fade compensation,
				 brake drying, DSC, DTC standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent double-pivot strut, 
				  independent multilink
Drivetrain			inline front engine,
				 full-time all-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		22 / 33 / 23
0 to 60 mph				6.0  sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Estoril Blue paint					$  550
M Sport Line Line -- includes:
  18" wheels with 400M all-season tires, sport seats,
  highlight trim finishers, aluminum hexagon interior
  trim, M steering wheel, aerodynamic kit, shadowline
  exterior trim, anthracite headliner			$ 3,850
Dynamic Handling Package -- includes:
  adaptive M suspension, variable sport steering	$ 1,000
Destination Charge					$   925

Complete specifications on the 2014 BMW 3 Series Sports Wagon 328i xDrive and other vehicles are available at the New Car Buyers Guide!

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