2016 BMW 328i xDrive Sports Wagon Review

A Standout in the Sea of Crossovers

What is it about wagons that make car people go crazy?

Why do we love these practical haulers? At its core, a wagon is little more than a regular sedan with extra room for junk in its trunk, right? Well, that’s exactly what makes them so lustworthy. It’s the old proverbial getting of our cake and eating it too. Wagons combine the driving responses of a car with the cargo carrying capacity of a crossover.

SEE ALSO: Top Five Reasons to Drive a Station Wagon

So why are wagons so rare in North America? In a sea of X3s, GLKs and Q5s, a car like the 2016 BMW 328i xDrive Sports Wagon sticks out. Mainly, I think it has to do with a stigma that hatchbacks and wagons aren’t cool. Crossovers are all the rage, while their more efficient, more dynamic wagon brethren are left on showroom floors.

I think it’s time to change this. It’s time for the wagon to make a return as the family hauler of choice; especially one like the 328i xDrive Sports Wagon.

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The Cool Hauler

Obviously, wagons can carry way more gear than any sedan, but just how much more? Measuring the exact same length as a 3 Series sedan, the Sports wagon can accommodate 27.5 cubic feet of gear behind the rear seats. That’s almost double the sedan’s 17 cubic feet of storage. And if no one is sitting behind the driver, the rear seats can be folded down to take more than 61 cubic feet of cargo. That’s nearly as much as the X3.

And to make life easier, the 328i can be equipped with a trick rear hatch that opens hands free by gently kicking towards the tailgate while in possession of the key fob. It’s a handy feature when approaching the 328i with both hands tied. It also makes young children think you some sort of sorcerer.

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Not Lacking for Power

For 2016, the 3 Series Sports Wagon is available with two engines, one gas and the other diesel. The gasoline engine in the 328i is a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that makes 240 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque.

Weighing in at 3,825 lbs as tested, those 240 ponies have their work cut out for them in the Sports Wagon. The car isn’t exactly fast and features a bit of lag from a dead stop, but once underway, it’s quick and feels more powerful than that unfavorable power to weight ratio would suggest. In fact, BMW claims a zero to 60 time of just 6.0 seconds.

Plus, there’s a deeper, more pleasant engine note than expected from the four-cylinder turbo, even if it is not genuine. BMW pumps auxiliary engine noise into the cabin via the audio system. During my time with the 328i, the iDrive system crashed out a few times, becoming completely inoperable. Along with the navigation and radio systems, the auxiliary noises were cut off and the engine note changed dramatically. No longer did the 328i have shades of a six-cylinder rumble, it now sounded like any other, ordinary 2.0-liter four-cylinder on the road.

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Automatic Only, But Don’t Worry

The only transmission available on any version of the Sports Wagon is an eight-speed automatic. So can a BMW with an automatic be fun to drive? The answer is yes.

SEE ALSO: BMW 4 Series Review

I fully admit that I’m a fan of BMW’s eight-speed autos. The ZF-sourced units respond quickly to a driver’s inputs and actually encourage the use of the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. Do I wish it were a manual? Of course I do. But if I’m stuck with an automatic, at least it’s a good one.

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328i Ain’t Afraid of No Corners

The 328i can haul a lot of gear and is decently quick. Big deal, so are a lot of crossovers. What really sets this and many other wagons apart is how it handles. The 328i I had came equipped with the optional track handling package that includes an adaptive suspension, variable sport steering, M sport brakes and stickier tires.

It all adds up to handling that is on point. I really like what BMW has done with the 2016 refresh of the 3 Series. Steering feel has improved and car responds quickly to all inputs, with a surprising willingness to rotate through corners for an all-wheel drive wagon. Remember, this isn’t a sports car or even a proper M model, yet it still devours corners.

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Sure Footed and Comfortable

The xDrive all-wheel drive system behaves seamlessly, as it’s never felt hunting around for traction even on somewhat slippery roads. Everything about the chassis adds up to a confidence building experience that begs for the Sports Wagon to be tossed around in bout of fun. Plus, being a wagon, sightlines are fantastic, making it easy to keep an eye on everything that’s happening around the car.

When the time does come to slow down and take it easy, the suspension relaxes nicely in comfort mode. One option that’s a must is the optional Harman Kardon audio system. If your daily commute consists of long periods of time behind the wheel, it’s well worth the price for this little slice of audio heaven.

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The Verdict: 2016 BMW 328i xDrive Sports Wagon Review

Not all wagons are as good as the 328i xDrive and this BMW isn’t exactly cheap. As tested, more than $14,000 in options were added to the Bimmer, bringing the price up to the $57,770 mark after destination charges.

But, a similarly sized, similarly equipped BMW X3 xDrive28i crossover costs about the same. And if it’s my money, I’m taking the better driving, yet just as practical wagon over a crossover any day. Hopefully more people will think of the 328i when the word wagon comes up instead of the Queen Family Truckster. Wagons have changed dramatically and it’s time for them to make a comeback.

Discuss this story on our BMW 3 Series Forum

  • Isend2C

    Sadly, I don’t have $60k to drop on a BMW wagon, and the only other options are: Scion iM (super slow), VW Golf Wagon, pretty good but stuck with a base model or $33k, or a Volvo V60, starting at $36 it’ll be about $10-15k less than this but still pricey and all of these versions are FWD with the exception of the I5 and I6 V60’s. If I have 1/3 as many options as the SUV/CUV arena I’d be in one, but alas.

  • _Major_Derp_

    I just bought one almost exactly like this in December, except I opted for the coral red leather. I looked at nearly every comparable wagon (very few) and crossover (too many), and it came down to a grudge match between the sportswagon, Ford Explorer, Disco Sport, and GLC300… The Ford dealer was a liar, the Disco was too expensive to maintain, and the GLC was delayed by two months – knocking it from contention by default. That being said, this car is almost the perfect balance of utility and sport – as though it is the metaphysical opposite of the X4 and X6 (all the handling of an SUV with all the cargo space of a sportscar? Who buys those???)