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2008 BMW 535xi Sports Wagon Review

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Model: BMW 535xi Sports Wagon
Engine: 3.0-liter inline six
Horsepower/Torque: 230 hp @ 6500 rpm/200 lb.-ft. @ 2750 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed Steptronic automatic with manual mode
Wheelbase: 113.6 in.
Length x Width x Height: 191.2 x 72.7 x 58.7 in.
Tires: P245/40R18
Cargo volume: 17.6/58.3 cu. ft. (rear seat backs up/down)
Economy: 16 mpg city/24 mpg highway/18.2 mpg test
Fuel capacity: 18.5 gal.
Price: $$71,370 (includes $775 destination charge and $16,595 in options)

The Bottom Line – The 535xi has all the positives of the 5-Series sedans with the added advantage of a cargo area that can carry all the family’s presents to Grandma’s house for Christmas. It retains the annoying i-Drive, which controls the audio, HVAC and navigation systems cleverly but poorly.

I’ve been a station wagon fan ever since we began shuttling our girls around in a big Ford LTD many years ago. Even though that wagon eventually grew into a full-size van, we never lost our love of the practicality of the wagon.

After all, here was a vehicle with all the attributes of a sedan, but with three to four times the cargo capacity

That’s what you get with the BMW 535xi Sport Wagon. It has all the great features of the BMW 5-Series, arguably BMW’s best sedan, with tons of extra cargo space in the back. For example, normal cargo area is 17.6 cubic feet. That compares with 14.0 cubic feet in the 5-Series sedan. So you’re a winner already. But that expands to 58.3 cubic feet with the rear seat backs folded, and that’s enormous. We didn’t check to see if we could carry a 4x8 sheet of plywood in the Beemer (we could in our Ford), but, in reality, how often do you need those dimensions?

The cargo area is covered when the seat backs are up. And the rear liftgate is powered. You push a button on the key fob to raise it and push a button on the gate itself to lower it. It’s actually easier to load a couple of grocery bags in the back than it is to push them onto the back seat of the sedan.

Meanwhile, you still have a 5-Series. Our Sport Wagon was powered by the 3.0-liteinline six that developed 230 horsepower and transmitted that power to the rear wheels through a 6-speed Steptronic automatic transmission that had a manual mode. We never tried the manual, even though we made a couple of passes at some serious winding roads, because the automatic was nearly flawless.

We have driven this engine/transmission combination in 5-Series sedans over some assorted roads, and have never found the need to use the manual mode because the automatic is so smooth and there’s enough power to obviate the need for a manual.

Seating in the front is comfortable, especially with the powered seat extensions that support the thighs. I would have preferred better side support. The front seats were more like easy chairs with a flatter back rest than I like. Oddly, side support in the rear was considerably better than in the front.

The driver feels like a 777 pilot with the number of controls at his or her command. There are the normal controls fro wipers and turn signals. But the turn signal stalk has a button that controls some of the readouts on the instrument panel, such as odometer, trip odometer, fuel economy, etc. There’s another stalk on the left that manages cruise control.

The Sport Wagon has keyless entry and starting. All you need is the key fob in your pocket and the doors open (pull the handle twice quickly to unlock). Sit down and push the start/stop button and the engine springs to life. I admit that I was dumb enough to put the fob into the slot where an ignition key normally goes, but after I discovered that all you had to have was the key in your possession, I got lazier.

The shifter takes getting uses to. There are essentially three positions – D, N, and R. You move between these by pushing the button on the left of the shifter and moving the lever. To park, you push the “P” button on top of the shifter.

The HVAC system is excellent, and brought the Sport Wagon up to a comfortable temperature quickly. The sound system was another issue. It was controlled through iDrive, which I thought I was learning, but discovered I wasn’t. It was difficult to find the stations I wanted on the installed Sirius band. Once I found the station, I was reluctant to change it.

You use iDrive to access navigation, and without the owners manual, this was a problem as well. iDrive is a useful tool, if your co-driver wants to play with it. But it requires too much input and isn’t that intuitive to be a major force, even if other manufacturers are copying it.

Above all passengers is a huge sunroof. The one over the front passengers is large to begin with, but there’s an additional one for the rear passengers that brings light back there, reducing the claustrophobic effect.

Without iDrive, the 535xi Sport Wagon is a dream. It has power, comfort and cargo capacity, with the added feature of all-wheel drive if necessary. With iDrive, it can be frustrating, but it’s still a great vehicle, sadly at a great price.

2007 The Auto Page Syndicate