Travel to Europe in the summer and you'll be met by an army of sport wagons heading for the Mediterranean coast. Full of children and family detritus, they are the default choice of Europe's upwardly mobile families, while sedans are reserved for the longer of tooth.
That's why, in the Old World, the 2013 BMW 3 Series Sports Wagon is as much a sure-fire hit as the next iPhone. It's everything Europeans look for in a family vehicle.
In the U.S., though, the situation remains puzzlingly different. Wagons, even the sporty kind, have taken a backseat to crossovers and SUVs. In fact, with annual sales of its wagons flatlining at around 15,000 cars per year, there were rumors that BMW wasn't going to even bother importing the new 3 Series wagon.
Thankfully the rumors weren't true, but the introduction of just a single engine variant — the 328i — smacks of a half-hearted effort. Available with either rear- or all-wheel drive, the 3 Series Sports Wagon goes on sale next spring priced from around $37,000, or $2,000-$3,000 more than the equivalent sedan. Still not a bargain, so will it sell?
The Transformation The original E30 Touring (as it's known in Europe) began life as a skunkworks project. Frustrated by a need to carry more kit, an ingenious engineer butchered his sedan with a hatchback rear. The BMW board liked what they saw and a new model was born.
Four generations later, the premise remains largely the same. Forward of the B-pillar, the Sports Wagon is identical to the sedan. Aft of the B-pillar, life gets more interesting. The roof line extends to a modest tailgate spoiler, while the angles of the rear windows are defined by an exaggerated version of BMW's traditional "Hofmeister kink." The comparatively shallow rake of the tailgate is a non-too-subtle reminder that BMW places the emphasis on sporting versatility rather than outright practicality.
In common with its sedan brethren, the Sports Wagon has grown compared with its predecessor. Overall it's 3.8 inches longer, of which 2.0 of those inches are in the wheelbase. The rear track is 1.9 inches wider, helping balance the car's proportions. While far from radical, the latest 3 Series is a handsome evolution of traditional themes, and the days when the wagon version would pose as a stylist's afterthought are long gone. To our eyes, the Sports Wagon is as appealing as the sedan.
Can't Feel the Wagon From Behind the Wheel We've been down this road before. Although the wagon is 175 pounds heavier than the sedan and marginally less rigid, you'd be hard-pressed to tell the difference between the two. We've criticized the latest 328i sedan before for not being quite as sharp to drive as its E90 predecessor, but this must be weighed against significant improvements in the ride quality, fuel efficiency and overall refinement.
These attributes seem especially well suited to this version of the Sports Wagon. We drove this car in tandem with the 2013 BMW X1, and while BMW has done a fine job of making its compact crossover feel like a sedan, you can't quite beat the laws of physics and the benefits of the latest-generation chassis technology. With its lower center of gravity and beautifully resolved setup, the Sports Wagon offers a level of driving pleasure that no SUV can match. The ride quality is excellent, and on the twisting back roads of our German test route, the 3 Series revealed all the poise, agility and fluency expected of a car in this price range. It was a reminder why, despite the rise of the SUV, wagons remain so popular in Europe.
Plenty of Power Even the oft-criticized electromechanical steering system is improving with familiarity (or with BMW's subtle evolutionary tweaks). In Comfort mode it feels disappointingly lightweight and artificial, but in Sport it's nicely weighted and pleasingly linear in response. It's a shame though that, unlike Audi, BMW won't allow you to tailor the setup to your exact requirements. You can't for example, have Sport steering with Comfort chassis options.
In common with the sedan, the 328i boats BMW's 2.0-liter inline-4. Code-named N20, it benefits from a twin-scroll turbocharger and direct injection to deliver 240 horsepower at 5,000 rpm and 258 pound-feet of torque at a lowly 1,250 rpm. Mated as standard to ZF's excellent eight-speed auto (there's no manual option), BMW reckons the Sports Wagon is good for zero to 60 mph in 6.0 seconds — just 0.1 second slower than the sedan. Top speed is electronically limited to 155 mph.
EPA fuel economy figures have yet to be released, but we'd be surprised if they differ greatly from the sedan's 23 city/34 highway and 27 combined. The Sports Wagon boasts the full complement of BMW's auto stop/start and brake regeneration technology, together with an Eco Pro mode that works with the driver to minimize consumption.
BMW will be offering both rear- (sDrive) and all-wheel-drive (xDrive) models, although for now we've only been able to test the former. There will also be the option of M Sport and Adaptive M Sport suspension systems, in common with the sedan. Both options add worthwhile capability, albeit at considerable cost.
Increased Versatility The increase in length benefits both passengers and cargo. There's a modest but useful 0.7-inch increase in rear legroom over the previous model, while the rear luggage area has grown by just over a cubic foot for a total of 17.5 cubic feet with the seats in place. Fold them down and this extends to 53.0 cubic feet.
Just as significant as the tail of the tape is this wagon's versatility. This is where the Sports Wagon scores over similarly sized SUVs. The trunk lip, for example, is just 24.4 inches above the ground, making it easier to load heavy items. The rear seats are split 40/20/40 to allow longer objects to be carried without unnecessarily penalizing passengers, and there's space under the trunk floor to hide valuables out of sight.
The cargo cover can also be stored under the trunk floor when it's not required, and BMW's engineers have conjured all manner of hooks, nets and straps to help you secure your load for some BMW-esque cornering. Pay extra for the "storage" package and you can even have a reversible trunk floor if you have a penchant for carrying dirty loads.
BMW has also engineered a couple of neat tricks into the rear hatch. A button on the rear wiper arm opens the glass area independently of the main door, which can prove handy in tight spaces if the trunk's full. The main tailgate is electrically powered, and if you opt for the Comfort Access option, you get what BMW calls a Smart Opener feature. It opens the hatch if you have the key present and extend a foot beneath the rear fenders. It's a trick found on the new Ford Escape so it's not exactly novel at this point, but once you use it, you realize it's actually quite handy.
Still a Wagon Worth Having From the driver seat, only the scene through the rearview mirror will identify the Sports Wagon as something different from the 3 Series sedan. The multi-adjustable driving position and beautifully executed fascia are all present and correct. The view down the hood is also as common as the driving experience. The wagon, like the sedan, continues to tread an enviable line between sport sedan and business tool.
For all the thoroughness of its execution, BMW admits that it has modest aspirations for this car in the U.S. For now at least, there will be no 335i wagon and don't even ask about the brilliant diesel version that's offered in Europe. Instead, they reckon the 328i will continue to serve traditional wagon buyers without seeking out new conquests.
For us, this remains one of the great mysteries of the American automotive landscape. The Sports Wagon is a 3 Series sedan that costs only a little more, drives just as well, is arguably better-looking and comes with enough space to serve an average-size family. What's the catch?
Other than its lack of an elevated seated position, there isn't one.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.
2013 BMW 3 Series Overview Edmunds experts have compiled a robust series of ratings and reviews for the 2013 BMW 3 Series and all model years in our database. Our rich content includes expert reviews and recommendations for the 2013 3 Series featuring deep dives into trim levels and features, performance, mpg, safety, interior, and driving. Edmunds also offers expert ratings, road test and performance data, long-term road tests, first-drive reviews, video reviews and more.
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We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.
Consumer ratings and reviews are also available for the 2013 BMW 3 Series and all its trim types. Overall, Edmunds users rate the 2013 3 Series 3.3 on a scale of 1 to 5 stars. Edmunds consumer reviews allow users to sift through aggregated consumer reviews to understand what other drivers are saying about any vehicle in our database. Detailed rating breakdowns (including performance, comfort, value, interior, exterior design, build quality, and reliability) are available as well to provide shoppers with a comprehensive understanding of why customers like the 2013 3 Series.
Review This summer I ordered my 328 exactly they way I wanted it and waited for two months for it to arrive. My steering wheel had a vibration between 40mph and 60mph and at first thought the tires were breaking in. Sent to the dealer after a few weeks and the loaner they gave me had the same problem but WORSE!!! I've since discovered that BMW was made aware of a "potential" steering wheel vibration between the speeds of 40mph to 60mph in February 2012. Sold me my 328 without testing it and traded my 328 convertible, which I would have kept if I'd known the new sedan had this problem. I'm in the process of returning the vehicle. Trying to work out a deal to buy a 5 series now.
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Available BMW 3 Series 2013 Submodel Types: Sedan, Coupe, Convertible, Diesel, Wagon, Hybrid, Hatchback
Exterior Colors: Jet Black, Alpine White, Black Sapphire Metallic, Mineral Grey Metallic, Titanium Silver Metallic, Glacier Silver Metallic, Imperial Blue Metallic, Space Gray Metallic, Monaco Blue Metallic, Mineral White Metallic, Mediterranean Blue Metallic, Melbourne Red Metallic, Estoril Blue, Montego Blue Metallic, Platinum Silver Metallic, Blue Water Metallic, Orion Silver Metallic, Liquid Blue Metallic, Platinum Bronze Metallic, Crimson Red, Orient Blue Metallic, Steel Blue Metallic, Arctic Metallic, Sparkling Graphite Metallic, Sparkling Bronze Metallic, Jatoba Brown Metallic, Mojave Metallic, Deep Sea Blue Metallic, Estoril Blue Metallic, Silver Gray Metallic, Deep Green Metallic, Sonora Metallic, Mystic Blue Metallic, Atlantic Blue Metallic, Steel Gray Metallic, Tasman Green Metallic, Electric Red, Le Mans Blue Metallic, Bright Red, Oxford Green Metallic, Sunset Orange Metallic, Arctic Silver Metallic, Fern Green Metallic, Imola Red, Alpine White II, Alpine White III, Barrique Red Metallic, Black II, Brilliant Red, Calypso Red Metallic, Madeira Black Pearl Metallic, Samoa Blue Metallic, Siena Red Metallic, Titan Silver Metallic, Topaz Blue Metallic, Vermilion Red Metallic
Interior Colors: Black leatherette, Black SensaTec leatherette, Venetian Beige leatherette, Black premium leather, Black Dakota premium leather, Beige leatherette, Venetian Beige/Black SensaTec leatherette, Black Dakota w/Dark Oyster Highlight leather, Saddle Brown Dakota w/Brown Highlight leather, Oyster Dakota leather, Saddle Brown Dakota w/Exclusive Stitching premium leather, Gray premium leather, Beige premium leather, Black, Saddle Brown/Black premium leather, Gray, Black Dakota leather, Chestnut Brown premium leather, Black Dakota w/Red Highlight leather, Venetian Beige/Black Dakota w/Dark Oyster Highlight leather, Coral Red Dakota w/Black Highlight leather, Black SensaTec w/Red Highlight leatherette, Saddle Brown Dakota premium leather, Natural Brown, Saddle Brown premium leather, Coral Red Dakota w/Black Highlight premium leather, Coral Red/Black premium leather, Gray leather, Cream Beige leatherette, Black Dakota w/Red Highlight premium leather, Cream Beige premium leather, Venetian Beige/Black Dakota leather, Black w/Red Highlight leatherette, Saddle Brown Dakota w/Brown Highlight and Brown Lower Dashboard leather, Sand, Oyster/Black premium leather, Venetian Beige Dakota w/Dark Oyster Highlight leather, Cognac Dakota w/Dark Brown Highlight leather, Dakota Oyster/Black w/Dark Oyster Accent leather, Terra/Black premium leather, Venetian Beige Dakota premium leather, Coral Red/Black Dakota premium leather, Natural Brown leather, Black Dakota w/Exclusive Stitching premium leather, Black leather, Cream Beige Dakota premium leather, Gray/Black Dakota premium leather, Black suede/cloth, Oyster Dakota w/Dark Oyster Highlight premium leather, Oyster premium leather, Oyster/Black Dakota premium leather, Sand leather, Tanin Red, Venetian Beige Dakota w/Exclusive Stitching premium leather
Popular Features: Rear Bench Seats, Stability Control, Auto Climate Control, Audio and cruise controls on steering wheel, Trip Computer, Tire Pressure Warning, Post-collision safety system, Aux Audio Inputs, Multi-Zone Climate Control, Automatic Emergency Braking, Power Driver Seat, AWD/4WD, USB Inputs, Fold Flat Rear Seats, Bluetooth, Sunroof/Moonroof, Alarm, Upgraded Headlights, Heated seats, Electronic Folding Mirrors, Navigation, Parking sensors, Back-up camera, 2nd Row Bucket Seats, Keyless Entry/Start, Leather Seats, Apple Carplay/Android Auto, Heads up display, Blind Spot Monitoring, Upgraded Stereo, Soft Top, Lane Departure Warning, Power Liftgate/Trunk, Hardtop, 360-degree camera, Adaptive Cruise Control