When BMW introduced its new-for-2014 diesel 3-series wagon, we begged to get our hands on a long-term tester for obvious reasons. The 328d xDrive Sports Wagon is a rare and appealing combination for the enthusiast with cargo-hauling needs: wagon body style, efficient diesel engine, and all-wheel drive. Sadly, a manual gearbox isn't offered, leaving the 328d one superlative jewel short of the holy grail. At least with a base price of $43,875, the 328d can offer somewhat of a value.
Our car, however, arrived with a whopping $58,000 window sticker due to a mile-long list of options, including some $10,000 in luxury and appearance add-ons. Considering BMW calls this a Sports Wagon, it'd be easy to argue that our tester's performance-enhancing extras—namely $650 M Sport brakes and a $1000 handling package, which adds adaptive dampers and quicker-ratio steering—should come standard.
Rather than dwell on the spec sheet, we got behind the wheel and hit the road. The 328d quickly became everyone's go-to car for long hauls, thanks to its 525-mile highway range and composed ride. During a 1500-mile, 24-hour trek from Ann Arbor to Atlanta, staff road-trippers applauded the supportive seats, cup holders that swallowed venti-size Starbucks, and the glorious 16-speaker Harman/Kardon stereo that crisply blasted their playlists. In a car that can travel more than seven hours between highway fill-ups, those comforts are particularly welcome.
This car is more than a freeway cruiser, though. On back roads, Sport mode stiffened the suspension, added steering effort, and sped up the powertrain response. That didn't improve steering feel or the lines of communication between chassis and driver, but the BMW still proved plenty capable of spirited driving on 18-inch Bridgestone Potenza S001 summer tires. With a rear-biased torque split, the xDrive all-wheel-drive system allowed the 3790-pound wagon to slide gracefully through corners without stability control stepping in to ruin the fun.
Unfortunately, things weren't nearly as smooth under the hood. The 328d is the first 3-series sold in the United States with BMW's N47 2.0-liter, a turbocharged four-cylinder diesel that delivers 181 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque. We're accustomed to modern diesel engines—especially those from Germany—that are remarkably quiet, but this particular one exhibits noticeable clatter, especially during start/stop.
That auditory harshness was taxing, but the 2.0-liter paid dividends by averaging a spectacular 38 mpg during our test, and we wasted not a single mile driving to the dealership, thanks to BMW's famously long oil-change intervals. Instead, we just kept road-tripping.
Still, some complaints arose during our 10,000 test miles. After a jaunt to Chicago, Editor-in-Chief Larry Webster decreed that "somebody should kill this stupid shifter," the same phallic gear selector that's been driving us crazy for years, because it requires you to push forward to go backward and vice versa. A few drivers complained of poor rear visibility, and the less patient among us noticed turbo lag.
Overall, though, the 328d xDrive Sports Wagon won us over by blending sportiness and efficiency into a cohesive, utilitarian package. The highest praise came from Art Director Matt Tierney, a man constantly hustling two children and a whole mess of camera equipment, who asked: "Whom should I call at BMW to buy it?"
Apparently, he has places to go.