There’s been a lot of new product coming out of BMW recently, and getting the most attention has been the new 4-Series coupe (replacing the 3-Series coupe in a numbering update), and the i3 pure electric car. But almost flying under the radar is a wonderful little model that is very “European” in nature.
European because it’s a station wagon; the wagon version of the 3-Series sedan. While Americans are mostly smitten with SUVs for their family hauling needs, folks in Europe generally prefer wagons. It’s also solidly European because it has an efficient turbo-diesel engine under the hood.
Without too much fanfare, BMW has brought us the 325d x-Drive Sport Wagon, which includes an all wheel drive system. Think of the vehicle people across the Atlantic would drive to an alpine ski vacation. Fuel efficient, spacious, and able to deal with snowy roads.
Station wagons don’t have much of a foothold in the U.S. anymore. With the exception of the Cadillac CTS SportWagon (which may or may not be continued onto the new CTS line introduced earlier this year), the wagon choices we have are typically from European makers, although there are two from Japanese brands playing along too. Subaru still offers the Outback wagon, and there’s a wagon version of the Acura TSX, at least for now.
But manufacturers like BMW must figure there’s enough of a significant niche here to bother importing a wagon. Audi only offers us the allroad version of the A4 wagon sold in other countries (a slightly lifted variant with a bit of SUV flair), and Mercedes-Benz and Volvo both still offer mid-size wagons, though they don’t sell nearly as many as they used to.
Oh, and of course there’s Volkswagen, which continues to win accolades for its Jetta Sportwagon, optionally available with their TDI diesel engine. On the plus side, VW’s wagon is offered with a manual transmission. But on the downside, no all wheel drive, nor much of a sporting feel to it.
BMW has managed to hit a niche within a niche with the 328d. It’s essentially a sport sedan with some extra cargo space out back. I was quite delighted to find that the test car BMW sent me was also fitted with the M Sport option. Gorgeous open-spoke 18” alloy wheels with performance-oriented tires decorate the outside, and a pair of snug leather sport seats grace the interior. For anyone who finds their family situation in conflict with their desire to drive a sporty car, your practical hot rod has arrived.
The diesel power under the hood is only a four cylinder, but makes impressive power and torque. The latter figure is 280 lbs-ft, which is somewhat amazing considering that the engine is relatively small. That torque works well with the standard 8-speed automatic transmission, and the mileage figures pay off too. How about an EPA rating of 31 city and 43 highway, with a combined figure of 35? Bear in mind, this is a 3800 pound car that can carry four in comfort plus lots of cargo.
Naturally, BMW wouldn’t offer an M Sport package on a car without it being able to live up to that rather famous insignia. There’s a button-activated Sport mode as well as Sport+, the latter of which disables the traction control. Popping the car into either of these modes sharpens the throttle response and firms up the steering a bit. It might be a diesel, but it’s one that can hold its own when you want to have some fun behind the wheel.
Base price for a 2014 328d xDrive is $42,950, and the M Sport package adds an additional $3850. From there you can go crazy with the options, just as you can with most every imported luxury car. But for a little over $45,000, the example I tested was just fine. Now if only BMW would do better at getting the word out, they might sell enough to justify its continued existence on our roads.
I’ll see you down the road.
Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net Twitter: @ABC7DaveKunz, Facebook: ABC7DaveKunz