When BMW swapped in the chubby 5-series GT for the 5-series wagon in its U.S. lineup, aficionados of the 3-series wagon (including us) began fretting that their beloved carryall would be yanked from our market, too. Fortunately, the 5-series GT has failed to move the needle at all with traditional wagon buyers, and BMW didn’t want to completely abandon its slice of annual station-wagon sales in the U.S. (about 10,000 to 15,000 units per year). So it lives. Hallelujah.
The 2014 Touring, as the Germans call it when they’re not using its F31 internal code, adopts all the changes from the new F30 3-series sedan. (It’s sold here as the 3-series Sports Wagon.) Despite what we’d previously been told, the only model making the transatlantic trip will be the 328i, motivated by BMW’s 2.0-liter turbocharged four coupled exclusively to an excellent eight-speed ZF automatic. (That means no 300-hp 335i, no diesel, and no manual.) Buyers again will have the ability to choose between rear- and all-wheel drive.Wagon a More Roomy TailFollowing the example of the F30 sedan, the new wagon is longer than the last model; the stretch here is 3.4 inches, two of which have been added to the wheelbase. The extra length adds 0.7 inch of rear kneeroom and bumps luggage capacity with the rear seats folded by 4.0 cubic feet to 64.9.The lift-over height into the cargo area is lower than on the preceding car, and the liftgate opening is several inches wider for easier loading. The hatch is now power operated, and the rear window once again can be opened independently of the sheetmetal. BMW offers the hands-free ability to open the hatch by waving your foot under the bumper, provided the proximity key is with you. This is a feature we’ve seen on European Passat wagons and the latest Ford Escape.There are a couple of storage compartments under the trunk floor. The forward one has some deep wells, and the rearmost one can hold the roll-up luggage cover when you need it out of the way for taller cargo.Overall, the new model looks a bit sleeker, thanks to the increased length and a beltline that rises more sharply than before. Inside, the wagon looks just like the latest sedan. It has all of that model’s new features, such as the engine stop-start system; an “eco pro” driving mode; electrically boosted steering; and Sport, Modern, Luxury, and M Sport trim options. The list includes an available head-up display and an automatic parking system.Drive One, and You’ve Driven Them BothThe 2014 wagon drives much like the sedan, feeling poised and balanced overall. The steering is a little light and lacking in feel, but it is accurate. Torsional stiffness is said to be up by 10 percent, and the wagon certainly felt solid and was particularly quiet, which is not easy to achieve when the cabin is so large and extends over the rear axle.The turbocharged four pulls strongly, and we estimate a 0-to-60-mph time of about six seconds, or 0.3 to 0.4 second slower than a 328i sedan. Even in throttle-dulling eco-pro mode, the transmission is always willing to find the right gear quickly, according to the demands of your right foot. The stop-start system stays out of the driver’s way in operation, but you definitely know when the engine turns on and off. Engine noise and vibration at idle and during startup will have to be reduced by an order of magnitude before these systems become transparent.
The new Sports Wagon will go into production next spring and arrive here shortly afterward. Pricing hasn’t been announced yet, but if we apply the sedan-to-wagon increase from the prior generation to the new one, we’d expect a base price of about $40,000 for the rear-drive wagon and a two-grand premium for all-wheel drive. For fans of station wagons, the fact that a new five-door 3-series is here at all is good news. That it looks great and drives competently might be considered bonuses.