In the early 1980s, after their Pontiac Phoenix disintegrated, my parents bought an Oldsmobile Cutlass diesel wagon—woodgrain, burnt orange paint and all. It rattled like a Peterbilt, stunk like a truckstop, was anything but sexy, but sparked my affection for both wagons and diesels. I’m weird.
While nothing you’d take to the club, it was efficient, perfectly-sized, and practical. Race ahead 30 years through a few trips to the gym and you get something like the 2014 BMW 328d xDrive Sports Wagon.
It wears the same face as other 3-Series models with the traditional twin-kidney grille and quad headlamps. It’s only when you move around to the side that you realize the roof goes on like Shaq on his back. Riding on 18-inch alloys with low-profile tires, the car has a wide stance. Taut lines look athletic and sophisticated, but appear understated until you look closer and realize how precisely they’re formed. Walk around the back, press a button, and power up the hatch to toss in a bicycle, stroller, or almost anything you can imagine.
Lift the hood to peer over the 2.0-liter turbo-diesel engine that delivers 180 horsepower, 280 lb.-ft. of torque, and near-hybrid fuel economy ratings of 31/43-MPG city/hwy. Typical of diesels, tepid horsepower is accompanied by ground-stomping torque that gives a slap in the back off the line, carried by smooth turbos as velocity climbs. An 8-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters, all-wheel-drive, and auto start/stop enhances fuel economy and all-weather performance.
As in most BMWs, the interior is a balance of serious driving environment and upscale luxury. I love our test car’s heated red leather seats, red-stitched leather-wrapped steering wheel, and alloy dash trim. Extendable lower seat cushions fit tall drivers. Big analog gauges, rain-sensing wipers, and automatic climate control make the car easy to drive. I could do without the optional red trim on the dash, which makes it look like a $16,000 compact over-reaching—not the right image for a car in this price range.
BMW’s Driving Dynamics Control with Eco, Comfort, Sport, and Sport+ modes modulate the throttle, steering, and suspension for vastly different personalities. Eco mode makes the throttle less sensitive to conserve fuel. Comfort balances handling with on-road relaxation. Sport mode tightens everything—the best choice for tearing up backroads.
During my time with the 328d, it was sunny, rainy, and on the way to see my parents, snowy and icy. In all weather, the xDrive AWD system never put a wheel wrong. Wafting along at 80 mph was as easy as sneezing with that thundering torque under-butt. BMW could work a bit on the diesel rattle, but on the highway, the car was smooth and quiet. I could settle in with all of my newborn daughter’s gear for a drive to the moon.
BMW’s 3-Series has been the benchmark sport sedan for decades, an absolute delight to drive. Those wanting something sexier went for the coupe or convertible. But, I think the Sports Wagon is the sexiest 3-Series of all. It looks suave with its 18-inch alloys and Sport Line package, but is also insanely practical. Press a button, flip up the hatch, and toss in all your stuff. Tap into all-wheel-drive and an efficient diesel for a car that loves to roam during all seasons.
A base price or $42,950, and $51,525 as tested, puts it against the Cadillac CTS, Audi Allroad, and Volvo V60 wagons.