European sport touring vehicles such as the BMW 328i Sport have given respect back to the long maligned station wagon here in the US of A. In fact, there are many among my ranks of auto media who would go into cardiac arrest at the mere mention of those two words (station wagon) in a social setting. I for one, love to do just that to see the blood rush from those pompous faces. The station wagon has a wonderful place in my memory and history of the automobile in the states. The station wagon, like the interstate highway system, grew up with the baby boomers of which I hold a lifetime membership.
To be fair the BMW 328i Sports Wagon is nothing like the station wagon of those early days. In fact, nearly all of today’s wagons could quite literally drive circles around the old American station wagon. The BMW that was my ride this week just screamed out to be driven through the coastal mountain roads of Northern California. This BMW also proved to be just as able and comfortable while making numerous runs to the San Francisco Bay Area.
This brings me to a delema many of us run into during our jaunts to San Fran; Finding a good place to stop for a respite. This day one of my favorite cafes in the little village Hopland was closed. With disappointment I tried to think of where I might stop on my southward run. As I departed Hopland a bright new banner caught my eye, proclaiming a new family café open in the Brutacao Winery Schoolhouse tasting room.
I was surprised to find my new place to stop in the Zinful Chef Café where Chef and owner Sean Thomas and his wife Denise make some of the best home-style biscuits and gravy I have tasted. And, don’t even get me started on Denise’s corn beef hash. Personable and home-town friendly, Sean and Denise make the Zinful Chef Café my new Hopland stop point.
Happily, the 328i Sports Wagon was equipped with xDrive all-wheel drive system that gives all four tires a firm grip on the road. Each wheel providing drive power gives a neutral feel to the car’s handling as this BMW darted through mountain curve after mountain curve.
Thankfully, BMW understands that their vehicles equipped with an automatic transmission must also have manual shifting along with steering wheel mounted paddle shifters. I realize most owners may not avail themselves to the control and added fun injected into the drive by these little devices. I am here to tell you, if your vehicle has them, use them, you will be surprised at the driving fun you will discover.
Power for the BMW 328i Sport Wagon comes from a tried and true four cylinder, TwinPower turbocharged engine that was fitted to an 8-speed automatic transmission. This little engine may be considered a base offering it is, however, nowhere basic in its fun. With 245 horsepower and 350 lb ft. of torque this engine jumps at the mere tip of the throttle and holds you firmly to the back of your seat through the gears not matter if in manual or automatic mode. Not only does this engine provide excellent response on takeoff, it is responsive when passing slow vehicles and merging into freeway traffic. There are no performance tradeoffs with this car for having a squared off rear roof. Along with this performance comes typical BMW smoothness. Through the entire rpm range, this engine feels confident with nary a shutter of misdirection.
All-wheel drive is another engineering feature I prefer to have on my vehicle. Performance drivers also like the idea of have a surefootedness of all four wheels putting power to the road. All-wheel drive doesn’t get the notice it deserves in passenger cars. That is a short coming for many because recently all-wheel drive has become readably available on many passenger vehicles. It is also a feature I highly recommend, and not necessarily for inclement weather. Having all four wheels putting power to the road is just as important during good driving conditions.
That performance, in part, is the reason European automakers are able to continue attracting buyers to their wagons when others fail. Wagon owners in the US have become more demanding. They no longer want a vehicle that just hauls all their stuff; they want an exciting driving vehicle along with that functionality,
My test vehicle was not one that was considered to be fully equipped as it didn’t have navigation or a full complement of high tech gismos to entertain me. Just pure, unadulterated BMW fun driving. My test car was equipped a good collection of features which allowed easy access to most of the usual controls such as sound system and climate control viewed via easy to read center dash display. Once familiar with the control knob it was easy to toggle through any of the menus to find the function I wanted.
As a performance orientated automotive company, BMW always seems to put performance and fun driving experience on equal level with luxury and comfort. One does not normally outweigh the other no matter the level of the experience. The 3-series has long been an important factor in the BMW platform. With my experience behind the wheel of the 328i sport Wagon I can see this is not going to be a short lived position even though the numeric badging may change, I think we can be quite confident BMW will not forsake those individuals who continue to want versatility along with functionality in a wagon body style. We may never see the return of the American wagon with rear facing rear seats and big V-8 engines. However, there are enough buyers who desire classic designed wagons to entice manufacturers like BMW will continue to bring us wagons with plenty of spirit.