2014 BMW wagon stands out among highway hordes

Wagons are often described as alternatives to SUVs and crossovers, providing similar cargo-carrying versatility in a less heavy, more fuel-efficient format. However, a survey of BMW 3 Series Sports Wagon buyers would probably reveal no one seriously motivated by practicality.

The BMW 3 Series sedan is roundly recognized as one of the all-time great cars by performance authorities. The car’s popularity is proven by the vast number seen on the road. Wagon versions of the 3 Series are not commonly seen in the Puget Sound region, where most buyers opt for the X3. In fact, wagons in general are becoming scarce throughout the U.S.

I wouldn’t disagree with anyone who says the most compelling reason to buy the 3 Series Sports Wagon is to own the rousing dynamics of the sedan in a configuration that stands out among the highway hordes. Craving attention for driving something special may seem shallow, but for car enthusiasts its importance cannot be overstated.

For 2014, the Sports Wagon’s track has been widened by 1.46 inches up front and 1.85 inches in the rear. The wheelbase has been stretched by 1.96 inches and overall length is up 3.66 inches. The result is a car providing more room for rearseat passengers without turning its back on sportiness. And yes, if you’re keen on cargo space, it too is increased by the wagon’s new dimensions – by nearly 10 percent with rear seats upright as well as folded.

My test vehicle was the 328i Sports Wagon, but there is also a 328d (diesel) model. Both come with BMW’s excellent xDrive all-wheel drive system and an eight-speed automatic transmission. No other configuration is available.

For 2014, BMW bumps-up the Sports Wagon’s fuel efficiency by equipping it with a four-cylinder twin-turbo engine whose fuel economy rating is 22 mpg city and 33 mpg highway. With 240 horsepower, 255 lb-ft of torque available from 1,250 to 4,800 rpm, lighter weight, the companionship of a flawless transmission and the ability to accelerate from zero to 62 mph in 6 seconds, the four can’t convincingly be criticized for not being a six.

Handling, build quality, and interior and exterior design are also above any serious reproach.

The car’s Auto Start-Stop system, which saves fuel by shutting off the engine when it would otherwise be idling, such as at stoplights and during stop-and-go traffic, deserves a bit of bad press for not performing seamlessly. The engine restarts with a flourish, when it really ought to be discreet.

Pricing is where the Sports Wagon is vulnerable. The base model, at $42,375 including a $925 destination charge, epitomizes the idea of basic – although it does include Bluetooth as standard. Granted, BMW’s basics are still a cut above the rest, but today’s U.S. buyers in this price range expect at least a couple of comfort and convenience amenities. On the 328i Sports Wagon, that means some costly upgrades.

As with the 3 Series sedan, the wagon has four trim and equipment variants: Sport Line, Luxury Line, Modern Line and M Sport Line. My $47,775 tester had the M Sport Line ($3,850) and Dynamic Handling Package ($1,000) options. Its Melbourne Red Metallic paint was another $550. Not included were such features as navigation, heated seats, heated steering wheel, premium surround sound audio system, anti-theft alarm, xenon headlamps, lumbar support, and driver assistance technologies (rearview camera, active cruise control, blind spot warning system, real-time traffic information and so on). All are available only as optional equipment, either stand-alone or part of a package.

Hardcore BMW owners on a budget who take their car to the track might appreciate the availability of a no-frills version, but if all your driving is done on the road, those so-called frills are nice to have. On a 10-degree morning, a heated seat can feel more important than a transmission.

2014 BMW 328i xDRIVE SPORTS WAGON

Base price, including destination charge: $42,375

Price as driven: $47,775

Mary Lowry has been reviewing cars for more than 20 years. She is a member of the Motor Press Guild and a board member of the Northwest Automotive Press Association. Vehicles are provided by the manufacturers as a one-week loan for review purposes only. In no way do the manufacturers control the content of the reviews.

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