by Gabe Beita Kiser
Gone are the days where the station wagon was relegated to soccer-mom status; now, the sports wagon is here to erase the stereotype of harried moms with three kids, and the dog bustling through traffic, and replace it with athletic, practical, and performance appeal, packaged into a sleek body with a distinctive junk-in-the-trunk look. Once a staple of families everywhere for their space and practicality, wagons have seemingly been supplanted by SUVs and minivans - yet, in many countries outside of the U.S. station wagons remain hugely popular. And for good reason.
BMW comes to the party with their 3 Series wagon, available in two variants, the 330i xDrive and 328d xDrive. Both are as well equipped as their sedan counterparts and offer a fantastic alternative for those that want a luxury performance sedan, but require a bit more space. Featuring a turbocharged 2.0-liter engine mated to an eight-speed auto, the 330i xDrive makes 248 horsepower, while the 328d's 2.0-liter diesel engine produces only 180 hp. Both exclusively available in all-wheel-drive, the 3 Series Wagon competes with the likes of the Audi Allroad and the Volvo V60 for sports wagon bragging rights.
The current 3 Series is in its sixth year and carries over from the previous model year with no changes or fresh appeal.
The 3 Series Sports Wagon shares most of its exterior looks with the sedan. The front has LED lights in an attractive teardrop shape, but apart from this, it is conservatively styled with the usual kidney grille, subtle air intakes, and integrated fog lights. Being a wagon, it's got a long side profile and sloping roof tipped with a rear spoiler. The rear doesn't stand out, barring its elongated back end, and hosts a simple, clean-cut taillight cluster. This is one BMW model that desperately needs the optional Shadow Sport Package or M Sport package to look good and alleviate the bland styling.
One would think the 3 Series Wagon's length would be greater than the 3 Series on which it is based, but it shares a total length of 182.2 inches on a 110.6-inch wheelbase with its sedan sibling. It is thanks to design changes and an enlarged trunk space that the Sports Wagon is so roomy inside. It stands 56.5 inches tall and has a width of 71.3 inches. Both trims have a ground clearance of 5.7 inches. The lighter of the two variants is the 330i xDrive, with a curb weight of 3,867 lbs. The 328d xDrive has a curb weight of 3,913 lbs, both trims being heavier than the majority of the Sedan range.
The 3 Series Wagon has two powertrain options - one gasoline, and one diesel engine specced to the two trims. The 330i sports the gasoline-powered turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine under the hood, paired to an eight-speed automatic transmission producing 248 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. The 328d is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder diesel engine mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission, making 180 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque. The 330i is the more thrilling option between the two, hitting the 60 mph mark in around 5.5 seconds. The 328d is no slouch either and, thanks to its higher torque rating, manages decent performance too. Neither of the two will deliver M levels of performance, but they do their job of being easy to drive, even when fully loaded, and give good fuel economy. The eight-speed automatic transmission is a staple of the BMW range these days and seems to work well with whatever engine it's paired with.
Both 3 Series wagons manage to retain the trademark BMW agile handling despite the extended body shape and added weight. The ride is fairly soft and luxurious, just like the sedan, and it is definitely more orientated towards comfort than sportiness. There is an optional M sport lowered suspension available for those who would want a more performance-focused ride, but it's hardly needed for daily driving. The steering is light, like most modern cars, but still offers an acceptable level of accuracy and responsiveness; the brakes are also firm with no bite or fade. There are three driving modes to choose from, Comfort, Eco-Plus, and Sport, and whereas Eco-Plus dumbs down the performance for the sake of fuel economy, Sport brings out the best in the car by increasing throttle responses. Overall, the 3 Series Wagon feels easy to drive and is a place where you could happily spend many hours on a family journey.
Both engines in the range deliver good fuel economy, with the 330i getting an estimated 23/33/27 mpg, and the 328d getting 30/40/34 mpg city/highway/combined. While the base model barely outshines the Audi Allroad's 23/28/25 mpg and not quite achieving the same rates of the Volvo V60 (25/36/29 mpg), it is the diesel variant that trumps them all. The base model Sports Wagon is fitted with a 15.8-gallon tank and has a range of around 426 miles when filled up. The 328d's 15-gallon tank can manage 510 miles between top-ups and is by far the most efficient engine in the range.
The 3 Series Wagon can easily accommodate five occupants and shares very similar dimensions to its sedan relatives. Front occupants get loads of space with 40.4 inches of headroom and 42.0 inches of legroom, more than ample for six-footers. The back seat is also a great place to be for adults and children alike, afforded even more headroom than the sedan, thanks to the longer roof, with 38.3 inches available. Rear legroom can be tight when the front seats are pushed all the way back, but with lots of steering wheel and driver's seat adjustability, this is less than likely. Additionally, Sensatec or leather seating options make for a plush and comfortable cabin space overall.
The whole point of opting for a wagon is based on having more cargo space, and BMW has put a lot of effort into making the cargo area as versatile as possible. 17.5 cubic feet is available in the back, which is already four cubic feet more than what the sedan offers. Additionally, it opens up to a maximum of 53.0 cu-ft with the rear seats down, which is substantial and more impressive than the Volvo's largest area, although the Allroad gives up a much more impressive 58.5 cubic feet overall. The cargo area is easy to reach and has the ability to open the rear window without having to open the whole trunk. Still, there is a power liftgate, which has four opening height settings. Under the floor panel in the trunk, there is additional storage space, and there is also a cargo net, charging port, and a security shade for more practicality.
Small-item storage isn't the best, but considering the huge trunk space, it's not a bad compromise. There's a glovebox and front cupholders in the center console. There's also more storage space with front and rear door pockets, front seatback storage, and rear cupholders.
Both the 330i xDrive and 328d xDrive share the same features, and both are well-equipped. 17-inch wheels, remote locking and unlocking, dual-zone climate control, LED headlights, power-adjustable seats with memory function, power-folding heated mirrors, automatic wipers, and imitation leather upholstery are all standard. The features exclusive to the wagon models are a panoramic sunroof, roof rails, and a power liftgate. Sadly, the 3 Series Wagon is short on standard driver aids compared to many other modern cars, although they are at least available as part of the optional packages. Navigation, a head-up display, and heated seats must be optioned as, as does lane departure warning, pedestrian detection, and forward collision mitigation.
The infotainment unit on the 3 Series Wagon isn't terrible, but neither is it the most advanced system on the market. It comprises a moderately-sized 6.5-inch display with BMW iDrive controller, Bluetooth connectivity, nine speakers, a USB port, an AUX port rearview camera, CD player, AM/FM radio, HD and satellite radio. Apple CarPlay is an optional feature at $300, and there's no Android Auto available at all. There's also the option of a Harman Kardon sound system which costs $875 and wireless charging at $500. The 3 Series Wagon lacks many modern features such as wireless charging, and the 6.5-inch does seem a little out of date. Paying for Apple CarPlay also feels like a rip-off when many much cheaper competitors offer it for free.
The 3 Series Wagon has had two recalls. One for faulty crankshaft firmware that had the potential to cause it to stall and the other only affected the 328d, pertaining to the leaking exhaust gas recirculation coolant. J.D. Power has given the 3 Series an average predicted reliability rating of three out of five overall.
Both trims come with a powertrain warranty and basic warranty of four years/50,000 miles and a 12-year/unlimited mileage corrosion and perforation warranty. The BMW Ultimate Care maintenance plan runs for three years/36,000 miles, and roadside assistance is valid for four years/unlimited mileage.
The 2018 BMW 3 Series Wagon has been given a perfect score of five stars by the NHTSA. It also scored the best possible rating of Good in most of the tests carried out by the IIHS and was awarded a 2018 Top Safety Pick award. Both trims have traction control, stability control, four-wheel ABS, six airbags - including front and rear head airbags and side curtain airbags as standard, as well as a rearview camera, emergency braking, post-collision safety system, and tire pressure monitoring.
The 3 Series Wagon combines the fantastic all-round performance and handling of the 3 Series Sedan and adds the practicality of some of the smaller SUVs like the X1. Both the engine options offer a great balance of performance and fuel economy, and neither feel underpowered in any situation. The interior might seem a bit dated compared to its modern counterparts, but it still retains the famed BMW build quality and comfort levels. Of the two engine options available, the most fuel-efficient version is the diesel engine, which generally isn't as popular and doesn't offer the best power of the two. It's also only available in all-wheel-drive, which is an asset when fully loaded to capacity or traversing slippery roads. The styling may be a bit bland, but wagons aren't traditionally the sexiest cars out there anyway, but there are options available to enhance the looks. For a fun yet practical family car it's hard to go wrong with the 3 Series Wagon.
The two options available are the 330i xDrive at a starting MSRP of $44,650 and the 328d xDrive at a price of $46,150. Those prices exclude the tax, registration and licensing costs, and the destination fee of $995.
You can't go wrong with either option, and it comes down to whether you prefer a gasoline or diesel engine. Both have their advantages and disadvantages but share standard features. The gasoline-powered 330i has slightly more power but at the cost of fuel efficiency. The diesel-powered 328d has less power, but more torque. It also gets way better fuel economy than the 330i with fantastic figures of 30/40/34 mpg. Regardless of which model you choose, it would be advisable to add some of the optional extras to get it just right. Blind-spot detection at $500, The Harman Kardon sound system at $875, and wireless charging at $500 are worthwhile upgrades. The Shadow Sport Package at $1,350 dramatically enhances the styling, and the Premium Package at $2,900 adds some great tech goodies.
The Audi A4 allroad is the wagon variant of the popular A4 but offers all-wheel drive, more cargo space, and higher ground clearance. The allroad starts at $44,500 and features a 252 hp Turbocharged 2.0 liter four-cylinder engine with a seven-speed auto transmission. The 330i starts at $44,650 and makes 248 hp. The Audi has a more modern interior than the dated 3 Series and has a larger infotainment screen featuring Android Auto and Apple CarPlay as standard. Compared to the 3 Series Wagon with 17.5-inches of cargo space with the seats in place, the Audi allroad has a massive 24.2 cu-ft. The allroad also has one more inch of ground clearance at 6.5-inches compared to the 3 Series wagon at 5.5-inches. Overall the allroad is in the same price range but has a more modern interior, more cargo space, more power, and the added ground clearance to make it the better option of the two.
The Audi A4 has always been a thorn in the side of the 3 Series, especially in recent years with its drivability and tech features. The 2018 model starts at $39,200 for the 190 hp TFSI ultra Premium Plus with its 190 hp 2.0-liter turbocharged engine, seven-speed automatic transmission, and front-wheel-drive. At the top of the range is the 2.0 TFSI Prestige quattro, making 252 hp from its turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with seven-speed transmission and all-wheel-drive. The A4 is newer than the 3 Series Wagon and has a better interior. It also offers a brilliant ride to rival the BMW. However, being a sedan, the A4 only has 13.0 cubic feet of space compared to the 17.5 inches offered on the 3 Series Wagon. The Audi is newer and better than the 3 Series, but if its space and practicality you're after, the 3 Series Wagon wins hands down.