Test Drive: 2016 BMW 328i xDrive Touring

While North America's automotive marketplace is awash in wagon-like vehicles of various stripes – from mainstream compact hatchbacks to luxury CUVs to hulking eight-passenger SUVs – the classic sedan-based wagon is as rare these days as hen's teeth.

The classic sedan-based wagon is as rare these days as hen's teeth.

Not counting jacked-up wagons like Audi's A4 Allroad, the few true wagons that remain are spread thinly across almost as many segments as there are available models: There's the Mercedes-Benz E-Class in the mid-size premium segment, the Volkswagen Golf Sportwagon in the compact mainstream segment and, competing against each other in the premium compact market, there's the Volvo V60 and the BMW 328i xDrive Touring, soon to be joined by the Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

I was set loose in a Black Sapphire Metallic 328i xDrive Touring for a week, and the first thing to note is that mouthful of a name. I'd have used the briefer and more encompassing "3 Series Touring", except there's little choice to encompass: While the 3 Series sedan is available in North America with a range of four-cylinder and six-cylinder gas engines (or a four-cylinder diesel), automatic or manual transmissions, and rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, the 3 Series Touring is available in only two flavours, with either the 241-hp four-cylinder gas engine or the diesel, paired exclusively with the eight-speed automatic transmission and xDrive all-wheel-drive system. No six-cylinder engine, no manual transmission, and no rear-wheel drive.

That's the bad news (especially, from an enthusiast standpoint, the lack of a manual) but the rest is all good news because in most every other respect the 328i xDrive Touring is exceedingly well thought out, solidly engineered, and thoroughly pleasurable to drive.

Depreciation Appreciation: The BMW 3 Series Wagon

For 2016 BMW has tweaked things ever so slightly, with changes including revised front struts (they now feature a five-bolt upper anchor point versus the old three-bolt anchor point), new rear dampers, and a redesigned electric power steering system. Stylistically there are some slight changes to the lower portion of the front fascia (the air intake grilles are wider) and the headlight internals have been changed to move the headlights further apart. Apparently the rear bumper has been slightly modified as well, but if so the change is so subtle that I missed it entirely. That's hardly a problem, mind you, as the F31-platform Touring remains a handsome looking wagon with nice proportions and a road-hugging stance, especially when fitted with my test car's big 19-inch double-spoke wheels.

 

Inside there are some new trim details, but otherwise the cabin remains entirely familiar, and identical to the 3 Series sedan from the rear seatbacks forward. That means there's firm but thoroughly comfortable and supportive seating for two up front (upholstered in oyster white leather in my test car), with ample room for two adults in the back, or three in a squeeze. Soft-surface materials are deployed everywhere it matters (including the glove box door and console side), and there's cloth-wrapped A and B pillars (the aft pillars are plastic wrapped), and brushed aluminum trim scattered tastefully about. My test car was semi-customized with gorgeous dark red sycamore wood inserts from the Individual line across the dash, lower console and door pulls. One feature the Touring gets that the sedan doesn't is a big panoramic glass sunroof that keeps the interior light and airy.

Aft of the rear seat is where the wagon magic happens, and BMW's designers have clearly put in some extra effort here to get things right. Right off the top I appreciated the separately openable rear glass, which pairs up with some additional slides for the privacy cover that let you pop the cover up (rather than retracting it all the way) when loading small items through the open glass. Hands-free opening is available for the rear hatch, so if you've got your hands full all you need do is swing your leg under the bumper and the hatch opens up to reveal 495 L of space with the rear seats deployed, and 1,500 L with them folded. The rear seats have 40-20-40 split folding capability, making the Touring a perfect mountain-sports vehicle since it lets you carry four people plus skis or boards.

Beyond the basics, the cargo area is thoughtfully fitted out with a 12V outlet, various luggage hooks, and a pair of under-floor storage compartments (the rearmost of which is designed to stow the privacy cover when it's removed). Optional gear includes cargo straps, a cargo net, and a dual-purpose privacy cover with net-style pet barrier.

During my week with the 328i xDrive Touring it swallowed everything I could throw at it, up to and including carrying a mixed set of sails for a 36-foot sailboat (we're talking about three heavy bags here, each the size of an extra-large large suitcase) while still transporting myself and three passengers.

Behind the wheel, the 328i xDrive Touring offers the same impressively dynamic and well-rounded driving experience as its sedan siblings. In 328i trim BMW's 2.0L twin-scroll-turbo four-cylinder churns out 241 hp and a resounding 258 lb-ft of torque, hooked up to a conventional eight-speed automatic in the 328i xDrive Touring – good enough to hustle from 0-100 km/h in about 6.3 seconds when pushed. I found the car to be an effortless performer (speed limits sure do come up quickly!), and while four-banger's throaty growl doesn't offer quite the aural pleasure of BMW's silky-sounding inline sixes of yore, it is purposeful sounding and never intrusive.

Fuel economy is rated at 10.5/6.9 L/100 km (city/hwy), and my test car was showing a medium-term average of 10.8 L/100km when I picked it up with just over 1,000 km on the odometer. I didn't quite do this well during my week with the car in mostly city driving, getting closer to 11 L/100 km, and my best average was 9.2 L/100 km on a longer trip with about 70 percent highway driving. To help boost economy around town the Touring has auto stop/start technology that shuts off the engine at traffic lights, but I found it a little too eager when shutting down ("Hey, I hadn't finished stopping yet!") and rather prone to becoming temporarily unavailable for one reason or another. No matter, it can be easily disabled if you decide you don't want it on.

BMWs are renowned for their balance of ride and handling, and the 328i xDrive Touring doesn't disappoint, with a firm yet supple ride and precise, drama-free handling. The revised electric power steering system is nicely weighted, and while the steering feel remains a little muted compared to BMW's past hydraulic setups there's certainly enough feedback now to properly discern what's going on under the tires – an improvement I commented on in my driving notes even before I'd had a chance to read about the changes.

My test car was fitted with a $1,900 M Performance Package, which added BMW's Adaptive M Suspension, variable power steering, M Sport brakes and the big 19-inch alloy wheels. Together with BMW's drive mode selector the adaptive suspension provided a range of driving modes to suit the road conditions and my mood – these included Comfort, Sport, Sport+ and EcoPlus, with Comfort being the default upon startup. Regardless of the mode selected, the 328i felt well-planted in the corners and enjoyable to flick through the gears using the standard-equipment paddle shifters, while Sport and Sport+ modes significantly sharpened the car's steering and throttle responses, firmed up the suspension, and made the exhaust even growlier (there's no official word on whether the Touring now uses BMW's Active Sound Design system, but I'm guessing it does). The M Sport brakes were massively effective and confidence inspiring, though perhaps a little grabby at low speeds.

It should be noted that the Touring carries a little more weight over the rear axle than the sedan (it weighs 86 kg more and has a 48/52 front/rear weight balance versus the sedan's 50/50 balance), but unless you're blessed with mad driving skills and access to a racetrack it's unlikely you'll be able to tell the difference. Far more influential on the handling is the fact that the Touring can only be had with all-wheel drive, but on the plus side, with 60 percent of the car's power normally sent to the rear wheels BMW's xDrive permanent all-wheel-drive system is very nicely balanced. During my time at the wheel it provided confident grip and capable performance even when pushing things hard on rain-slicked streets. Certainly the 328i xDrive Touring handles light years ahead of even the sportiest of CUVs, so it fulfills that part of its mission with aplomb.

In terms of pricing and equipment the Touring starts at $48,050 and comes standard with leather upholstery, automatic climate control, heated front seats, keyless entry with pushbutton start, leather-wrapped tilt and telescoping steering wheel, rain-sensing wipers, auto-dimming interior mirror, dynamic cruise control, LED headlights, LED fog lights, heated power outside mirrors, 18-inch alloy wheels, and a standard infotainment/audio system with Bluetooth integration, USB input and an excellent satellite navigation system with detailed graphics and split-screen capability. In addition to its $895 metallic paint and $1,900 M Performance Package, my test car was fitted out with BMW's $5,400 Premium Package Enhanced, which added a heated steering wheel, auto-dimming exterior mirrors, adjustable lumbar support, alarm system, head-up display, park distance control, rear-view camera, comfort access and superb-sounding Harman/Kardon audio with satellite radio. This brought the total to $56,245 before freight and taxes, and while that's not an insignificant chunk of change (and in base form it's nearly $4,000 dearer than the base X3) it's by no means out of line considering the level of luxury and equipment you get. It's certainly reasonably competitive with similarly equipped premium CUVs, or Audi's tall-riding A4 Allroad Quattro (starting at $47,300), or Volvo's V60 wagon ($45,000 by the time you outfit the comparable T5 AWD version with leather upholstery), and if you value either handling or rarity then it's a veritable bargain.

Warranty:
4 years/80,000 km; 4 years/80,000 km powertrain; 12 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 4 years/unlimited distance roadside assistance

Competitors:
Audi A4 Allroad
Mercedes-Benz E-Class Wagon
Volkswagen Golf Sportwagon
Volvo V60

2016 BMW 328i xDrive Touring
2016 BMW 328i xDrive Touring
Base Price $48,050
Optional Equipment $8,195 (Premium Package Enhanced $5,400, M Performance Package $1,900, Metallic Paint $895)
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $2,095
Price as Tested $58,440
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 8.2
9 Interior
7 Fuel Economy
8 Exterior Styling
9 Performance
8 Comfort