BMW, along with a rapidly diminishing handful of other automakers, continues to prove year after year that there is a niche in the United States for smaller, performance-oriented cargo haulers. Don't call them station wagons, even though that's what they are -- BMW calls them Sports Wagons.
Using the recently redesigned 3-Series sedan as a base, BMW has created an all-new 3-Series Sports Wagon. To cut down on options and model configurations for what will almost certainly be a very low-volume machine, BMW is offering the new wagon in two forms only: the 328i, which combines a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four with an eight-speed automatic and rear-wheel-drive, and the 328i xDrive, which adds all-wheel-drive.
As one would expect, the wagon is a significantly more versatile cargo carrier than the sedan. With the rear seats folded, the 328i Sports Wagon can house about 64 cubic feet of luggage, compared to the 17 cubic feet the sedan's trunk will hold. The rear seats also feature 40/20/40 split folding capability to accommodate different mixtures of passengers and cargo. For extra space, there's a pair of under-floor storage wells - a larger forward unit, and a smaller rear unit suitable for holding the roll-up cargo cover.
To facilitate loading bulky items, the liftgate opening is slightly lower and several inches wider than that of the old model, and a new hands-free system allows the hatch to be opened by waving a foot under the rear bumper (if the proximity key is in your pocket).
In nearly all other respects, the Sports Wagon is identical to the 3-Series sedan. The latest redesign brought a more streamlined look, with a somewhat controversial element being headlights that flow into BMW's signature kidney grille. Underneath the sheetmetal, the chassis continues to be taut and athletic in the best 3-Series tradition, although a new electrically assisted power steering system sacrifices a good deal of the old car's steering feel in favor of increased fuel efficiency.
Another mileage-increasing measure was a switch from the previous wagon's naturally-aspirated 3.0-liter inline-six to a downsized 2.0-liter four-cylinder. With the help of a twin-scroll turbocharger, the motor produces 240 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque - increases of 10 ponies and 60 lb-ft over the six - while also achieving more than 30 mpg on the highway (official figures have yet to be released). Though the sedan is available with an enthusiast-friendly six-speed manual, an eight-speed automatic is the sole transmission for the Sports Wagon.
Inside, the cabin combines the simple, driver-focused instrumentation and iDrive infotainment system that buyers have come to expect from BMW with a slightly edgier, less conservative overall design theme.
New Packaging Strategy
The latest Sports Wagon is available in base configuration and four different "Design Lines:" Sport Line, Luxury Line and Modern Line and M Sport Line.
All models are equipped with goodies like a 6.5-inch color display with iDrive, Bluetooth and USB connectivity, alloy wheels (17-inch on 328i, 18-inch on 335i),
Sport Line models come with black exterior styling bits, a 10mm-lowered suspension, red piped-and-stitched leather or leatherette seats, a black headliner and various red accents throughout the cabin.
Luxury Line 3-Series models substitute the Sport's gloss black or aluminum interior trim with inlayed wood, wile the exterior receives additional chrome styling bits including more grille slats and chromed grille surrounds. Luxury and Modern Line 3-Series models are offered exclusively with leather seats with a specific seam pattern and either contrasting stitching (Luxury) or piping (Modern).
Modern builds on Luxury with matte chrome exterior and interior trim, a choice of aluminum, pearl metallic or textured wood interior trim and a "dark oyster" dashboard and steering wheel.
Finally, M-Sport Line dresses up the exterior with a unique body kit, 18-inch M wheels, a black kidney grille and shadowline trim. Inside, sports seats, blue accents, an M steering wheel and M door sills are part of the package. A sporty M suspension rounds out the additions.
Options for most models include navigation (part of the Technology Package), a rearview camera with surround view, SiriusXM and Harman/Kardon audio, as well as an M-tuned suspension, variable sport steering and 19-inch alloy wheels.
All 3-Series Sport Wagon models come standard with dual front, front side and side curtain airbags in addition to traction and stability control systems and a tire-pressure monitoring system.
The only true station wagon rival to the 3-Series Sports Wagon is the Acura TSX Sport Wagon. Audi's allroad, essentially a jacked-up A4 Avant wagon with a few SUV-like styling cues, is also a possible alternative. Buyers looking for other options will need to consider compact crossovers like the Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class, the Volvo XC60 and BMW's own X3.