The ubiquitous 3-series, in wagon (Touring) format. Lots to like.
Review and interior photos by Tom Sedens, stock pictures of exterior.
Click on any picture to see a larger version.
Sorry about the stock pictures. Mother Nature conspired against me during my review week, making it impossible to keep the vehicle clean long enough to get from a car wash to a place where I could get decent pictures. I don’t do it very often, but I decided to use stock photos for the exterior of the car.
Shockingly, my review car came in Mineral White. Not sure if the rest of Canada is the same, but it seems like about 7 out of 10 BMW 3-series cars are white in Edmonton. It’s not a bad thing, as they look good in white, but it’d be nice to see them in a different colour once in a while too. Anyway, the 3-series proportions are well done, and remain intact in the Touring, and it’s a sleek-looking wagon. The 19-inch alloy wheels, shod with chunky 225s up front and downright massive 255s in the back, look fantastic!
Once you get in, the car doesn’t feel very big inside – as a matter of fact, we felt it was a bit cramped until we got used to the wide console and transmission tunnel. To be clear, it’s not a small car – it just feels smaller inside than the exterior might lead you to believe. BMW’s choices of materials are pretty nice, with most of it being soft touch plastics. I like the splashes of brushed metal trim inside – they do a nice job in breaking up the hugely black surfaces, and are much nicer (and in my opinion more suited to the 3) than the wood trim I’ve seen in other 3-series cars. BMW does steering wheels well, and the heated one in my review car was no exception. It feels great in hand, and just does its job well.
I found the heated seats in Dakota leather to be fantastic – very comfortable and with outstanding bolstering. Front and centre is the 3-series’ nice wide floating screen, controlled by the iDrive interface. I’ve noted it before – iDrive isn’t my favourite but I have slowly adjusted to it and have started to understand its ways. My review car’s harman/kardon sound system was outstanding. Below it is a dual-zone climate control system and above is a huge panoramic sunroof overhead with a powered sunshade. Equipped as my reviewer was, I had access to a bit of driver assistance technology – front and rear parking sensors, back-up camera and a nice, crisp heads-up display.
The two outboard seats are comfortable in the back, and the foot room and leg room were more than enough for me. I also found decent head room – I’m 5’10” and had a couple of inches to spare. The middle position is a write-off – the seat is very narrow, the floor tunnel you need to straddle is huge and the centre console comes way back. Even my kids hated sitting in the middle back there. Of interest, I found it was pretty cheap that BMW doesn’t include anything further than air vents for rear passengers – no plug, etc. At this price level, that’s not acceptable. Anyway, the back seats are pretty good for two people.
There was a surprising lack of storage space around the cabin. There’s a tiny space under the armrest lid, a glove compartment and a small open tray at the front of the centre console. Thankfully, this is a wagon, and once you pop the power lift gate, you get to see what all the “Touring” noise is about. The cargo space isn’t actually all that huge on paper, at 495 litres, but obviously the extended roof line presents a significant upgrade in usable trunk space over the 3-series sedan. Should you need more, the rear seats fold in a very flexible 40/20/40 split, and if they’re all folded down, the cargo space increases to 1500 litres.
I found a couple of extra touches that made this wagon even sweeter in my opinion. There’s a deep well under the trunk floor – it’s not huge but I would find this very useful. BMW also includes a fairly commonplace removable, retractable tonneau cover to visually and physically secure your stuff in the trunk.
But then there’s the mesh pet barrier which is very cool. It comes up from the back of the rear seats. When the seats are in use, the pet barrier can click into place in the roof right behind the rear passengers. The feature’s flexibility is the neat thing here, as the barrier is also usable when the rear seats are folded down. It can scroll all the way to the ceiling when it’s folded forward with the rear seats, which will allow for a pet barrier right behind the front seats.
And finally, for an added dash of flexibility, you can pop just the glass pane open, which allows you to quickly drop stuff into the cargo area, or to quickly retrieve said items.
Under the Hood
You won’t find anything new here. The turbocharged 2-litre 4-cylinder carries over, as do its 240 HP and its 258 lb.ft of torque. The 8-speed transmission is familiar as well, and so is the xDrive all-wheel drive system. Don’t take my ho-hum description of this as a negative – these are all good things and didn’t require improvement.
BMW rates this drivetrain at 10.6 L/100 km (22 US mpg) in the city and 7.2 L/100 km (33 US mpg) on the highway. We ended up averaging 11 L/100 km (21 US mpg), with very city-centric driving – mostly commuting, some short freeway jaunts.
If you haven’t been in one, know that the BMW 3-series is nice to drive. Depress the push-start ignition (the car has defeatable auto start/stop technology to save a few drops of fuel, by the way) and you get a little snarl from the 4-banger. You can choose from several driving modes – Normal, Sport, Sport+ and Eco Pro, all of which impact the car’s responsiveness, shift points and suspension settings. The engine provides strong but smooth acceleration and the torque comes on line at low RPMs if you’re calling for them.
I really like the 8-speed transmission. I find it to be exemplary in terms of its intelligent programming and smooth, quick shifts. Other manufacturers could learn a lot from this box. The 3’s ride is Euro-sport-sedan firm, and pretty comfortable. While handling is no longer the razor-sharp forte of the 3-series, it is still good. There was definitely some body lean into corners, which surprised me. But the car is highly competent and agile enough to be fun, particularly when the adaptive suspension is firmed up in the sport driving modes. The variable sport steering is good stuff too.
The upgraded M Sport brakes are terrific, and they look good too, with their blue calipers peeking out through the wheel spokes. I thought the xDrive all-wheel drive system is pretty darn good – it still feels rear-wheel drive-ish (that’s a plus to me), and competently scrabbles for traction when it needs to, including on some of the terribly icy residential roads I drove on. While the car was mostly quiet in terms of engine and wind noise, I found a lot of road noise during my time with it, but I attribute some of that to the winter tires.
I felt like I was dealing with my kids during certain parts of each day with the 3-series. Because I had to tell it everything more than once. You have to push the ignition button twice to turn the car off – once for the engine, another time for the electronics. Then you have to yank the door handle twice – once to unlock it, then to open the door. I’m not sure why they force us to do that.
Also, and if there’s a way to get around this, please correct me. I couldn’t find it in the settings, and in speaking to other owners of these cars, I don’t believe they were able to find a solution either: the car can’t be set to unlock all the doors when you turn it off and get out. Now I invariably put my “stuff” – my work briefcase, my coat, my groceries, whatever – in the back seat on a normal day. That means that I have to remember to unlock the rear doors before getting out of the car, or I need to get my fob out to do it when I’m standing outside. While this might sound trivial, it drove me absolutely nuts because by the end of my week with the car, I still hadn’t remembered to unlock the doors manually, and I’d be standing in my garage, trying to get into the back seat only to find the door still locked. Incredible irritating. And I’m hoping that something was missed and that an owner can actually program the car’s settings to automatically unlock all the doors upon turning it off and getting out. Help?
Anyone who knows me knows I’m a life-long wagon fan. I love them! The BMW 328i Touring is definitely a nice car that’s easy to live with and drive, and it provides some added utility over the sedan. If you’re after individuality, the 3-series isn’t for you. They’re not as special as they used to be, because you see a whole lot of these out there – although very, very few in the wagonized “Touring” trim. So I suppose picking this 3-series would set you apart from the crowd.
WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) was high, as she is a wagon fan. She enjoyed driving it but was surprised that the car, as a whole, wasn’t nearly as big on the inside as the outside might have led her to believe.
It’s a pricey little wagon, to be sure, but BMW has done things well here. If you’re one of the few people in Canada that understands why wagons are awesome, put this one on your list. It’s worth checking out!
Pricing: 2016 BMW 328i
Base price (xDrive Touring trim): $48,050
Options: $5,400 Premium package enhanced; $1,900 M Performance package; $895 metallic paint
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $58,440
Disclosure: Vehicle was provided by BMW Canada.
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