By Andrew Stoy, Wes Raynal, and Jonathan Wong - Autoweek
HAVING A GREAT BMW WAGON COMES AT A PRICE PREMIUM
DIGITAL EDITOR ANDREW STOY: Maybe it was the bleak winter landscape (and temperatures). Maybe it was the odd fishy smell in our tester (blame it on the oyster leather). Maybe it was irritation with cynical BMW pricing. Whatever the reason, I was less enamored of the 2015 BMW 328d xDrive Sports Wagon this time around than during our last test of the car.
It’s impossible to argue with the fuel economy. Even with diesel running a buck more a gallon than gasoline, 31 city/43 highway is hard to argue with. In my driving I averaged around 31 mpg via the trip computer, but the tank average was closer to 27 mpg. I suspect cold weather had a lot to do with our lower averages.
There’s no shortage of power from the diesel/eight-speed combination; when you need to go NOW the car scoots, then drops down to about 1,800 rpm to cruise on the highway. That said, the engine is clattery on acceleration, more so than our old Volkswagen Passat TDI or any of the current Mercedes diesel fours; though equipped with auto stop/start, you won’t want to use it -- if you thought the gasoline version was obtrusive, wait till you hear it try to spool up an oil burner in a hurry.
Otherwise the ride and handling are standard-issue 3-series, which is to say superb. Body control is stiff without being jarring and the steering remains among the best in the industry with great weight and near perfect response. I also tested some of the wagon’s carrying capacity, folding down the rear seats to drag home 200 lbs of loudspeakers (much to wife’s chagrin). At 44-inches, the speakers, laid on their sides, fit easily in the cargo bay with room left for padding all around.
Then, ennui as I glanced at our 328d’s window sticker. We’ve gone on at length about German manufacturer’s obnoxious option pricing, and the 3-series wagon’s Monroney came with the usual bad jokes: A grand for a backup camera and reverse sensors that would be standard on your average Ford Fusion? Sure, of course. Another grand for heated seats front and rear, like those that come on a Kia Optima? Yes, but be sure to add another $1,500 for actual leather seating surfaces. That’s how you end up with a $52,000 3-series wagon -- without satellite radio or navigation.
In the end it’s all buried in lease deals and residual fudging, making the fact you just spent $1,000 for bun warmers easy for most to ignore. And for those who can’t, let us show you something in a nice Golf Sportwagen TDI.
EDITOR WES RAYNAL: I like this car a lot, in theory. The wagon body style looks good to my eye and is practical, the diesel promises torque and terrific mpg numbers, and the all-wheel drive means it’d be about perfect for a Michigan winter.
I guessed right about the diesel, there’s power aplenty -- boot it and the car gets right down the road. Ride/handling is like, well, a small German sedan: excellent ride/handling balance, terrific body control, sublime steering…
So why do I say I like this car “in theory”? That’s because of the price. I’ve gone on probably too much about BMW’s pricing, er, strategy. A $52K car with no navigation or satellite radio is hilarious. Options like a backup camera should be standard at this kind of jingle. Ditto something like heated seats. Adding navigation would bump the price $2,150. Seriously.
This is a great car, but not great value. It doesn’t matter, though: BMW people buy BMWs. They don’t want a Benz (too stuffy -- a car for old people), an Audi (just a gussied up VW) or a Cadillac (please). Yes, in fact, I HAVE asked them. They want a BMW, darn it, and a BMW they shall have.
ROAD TEST EDITOR JONATHAN WONG: I can’t say that I don’t agree with the guys above that BMW’s pricing setup is nutty, but as Wes also points out, people who want BMWs are going to purchase a BMW no matter what. They will pay through the nose for “options” that you would expect to be standard on a luxury vehicle and not flinch about it just so they’ll be able to say they own a Bimmer.
So there’s not much value argument for this 2015 BMW 328d xDrive Sports Wagon -- at least when it comes to interior, technology and convenience features. But I do think there is one feature on this wagon that is a pretty good deal and it sits under the hood: the turbo diesel I4 engine. To upgrade to the diesel from the 2.0-liter turbocharged gas I4 in the regular 328i it costs $1,500, which seems downright reasonable, considering you have to cough up $1,450 for leather seats.
As with any diesel, it provides a juicy amount of torque that gets the wagon moving in a hurry and much-improved fuel economy over the base gas engine that has an EPA fuel economy rating of 22 mpg city and 33 mpg highway. The diesel we have in our test car gets a 31 mpg city and 43 mpg highway EPA rating without electric motors, brake regeneration, battery packs, low-rolling resistant tires and funky-looking aerodynamic body treatments. That to me is sensational, and there are no tradeoffs in how the car performs. In fact, it’s a more entertaining car to drive with all that torque on tap.
Well, I guess I can’t say there are no tradeoffs to the diesel. Diesel fuel is more expensive than premium unleaded still, diesel pumps are usually quite dirty, and BMW’s diesel engine is a little clanky under acceleration. But those shortcomings aren’t enough to prevent me from having this engine in my BMW 3-series wagon if I were to purchase one.
Apart from the diesel, it’s still a BMW 3-series, meaning it’s a great performer with an extremely well sorted chassis that’s both good in corners and compliant for regular driving on roads that aren’t in the best condition. Sling it around and it’ll do almost everything you ask of it with a well-controlled body and the direct, well-weighted steering letting you place it where you want it. The usual complaint about run-flat tires being loud and wrecking ride doesn’t apply nearly as much now as it did before. The Pirelli rubber on our test car doesn’t transmit very much road noise into the cabin and contribute to a ride quality that’s certainly reasonable for a sporty vehicle.
The only complaint when it comes to how it drove was the brakes on our tester seemed to suffer from a soft pedal. There’s a little bit of travel at the top of the pedal before things start clamping down. It may just be a personal preference, but I just the brakes to start biting down almost immediately once I tap the pedal.
But in terms of small luxury wagons, I don’t think there’s a better performing option than the BMW 3-series wagon. You could get yourself a Volvo V60 that’s available with three gas engine options including a 2.0-liter turbo I4 with 240 hp, a 2.5-liter turbo I5 with 250 hp, and a turbo I6 producing 325 hp, but that’s on a platform that’s showing its age. If you did go with a Volvo, say, the 250-hp inline five-cylinder version with all-wheel drive, it’s a more affordable proposition. That model has a base price of $38,175, which undercuts this Bimmer’s $44K base by a good amount.
Looking at Audi, they have the Allroad, but that’s trying to be more of a crossover with its slightly higher ride height. And the only wagon that Mercedes-Benz offers here in the U.S. is the E-class, which is a class up in size from the 3-series and V60.
So the 3-series Sports Wagon is the class of this rather small field in my opinion. I suppose that’s worth a little bit of a price premium, right?
Options: M Sport package including 18-inch wheels, all-season tires, sport seats, high-gloss black trim, aluminum hexagon interior trim, M steering wheel, aerodynamic kit, shadowline exterior trim, anthracite headliner, increased top speed ($3,500); Dakota oyster/black leather ($1,450); dynamic handling package including adaptive M suspension, variable sport steering ($1,000); driver assistance package including rearview camera, park distance control ($950); cold weather package including heated steering wheel, heated front seats, heated rear seats, retractable headlight washers ($950)