There's a common refrain among automotive writers as well as enthusiasts I run into who also — like me — happen to be fathers. They love station wagons. I'm not talking dads who remember Woodstock, but those who can recall when Lollapalooza toured the country and don't mind the anti-SUV body style.
For that group I present the 2014 BMW 328d xDrive Sports Wagon. I spent an entire day off with the kids in this white beauty, which not only had the wagon part down, but also all-wheel drive and a turbocharged diesel engine with 280 pounds-feet of torque.
Could it live up to my high expectations plus deliver the family-friendly goods?
Even Kids Are Style Obsessed
In terms of looks and luxury the 328d blew me away, and even my kids reacted to it like no other car I've ever brought home.
My 6-year-old son and almost 5-year-old daughter are used to getting in some pretty posh cars. But they hadn't seen a red leather interior until now I guess, because Carter shouted "Wow! This is the coolest car I've ever seen!" only after the door was open. Why did this color combination please him so much? "Red is my favorite color."
And while that may be enough to please a 6-year old, the 328d actually has a luxury interior that holds up to scrutiny. Not only did I dig the leather seats as well, but the little touches of red on the dash and doors gave this test car a dash of added class and cool.
Important Kid Features
I don't care if you're driving a $50,000 German station wagon or $20,000 economy car, there are some things every car should provide if you have kids.
One of the things that has proven the handiest for me as my kids age is the all-important cupholder. If there isn't a center armrest with two cupholders for them to share there better be one in the door so I can at least put their drinks somewhere where they won't roll around and spill. The 328d had a center armrest with cupholders, but my daughter's car seat blocked it from being used. Admittedly her Britax is rather large.
The car doors also don't feature cutouts for drinks. The BMW failed again.
Child Safety Seats
Where the BMW scored was ease of installing those car seats in the first place. BMW has built-in receptacles for Latch access that have little covers that pop off easily. I wish every automaker did this. The wagon also allowed for easy reaches to the tether anchors on the back.
Our day of errands and some fun included a trip to swim lessons at the local YMCA. That meant a big bag of towels and a change of clothes for the kids. Not a ton of stuff, but the amount of added luggage you'd stash in a trunk ... or hatch if you're a wagon owner.
Hit the key fob and the trunk opens on its own, and a quick toss and that's all you need to do. There is no heaving because the 328d's cargo floor is so close to the ground. This is where I always think wagons have an advantage over SUVs. You get the same amount of cargo area without the extreme access height. This is also a wagon attribute that will appeal to dog owners.
Does Dad Care How It Drives?
Our full review of the 328d will dive deeper into the car's performance, but I was a bit surprised the diesel version wasn't faster in normal driving mode. Sure, pop it into Sport mode and it scooted just fine, but in lazy-errand-running mode it was forgettable. I also didn't like the response from the transmission when upshifting during hard acceleration ... although that happened without the kids in the car.
After running all over town from the car wash to swim lessons to lunch to the park, I just wasn't won over ... and I wanted to be. The new Nissan Rogue I piloted the weekend before did the family-shuttling job just as well as this white beauty and cost nearly $20,000 less. The price of the BMW was even more significant when you consider it didn't have keyless entry, which infuriated me, nor did it have what I consider a kid essential: a backup camera or parking sensors.
It's a deflating experience when a station wagon can't completely win me over. I feel like I'm letting all those other dads down. I guess I'll have to keep looking for the next wagon par excellence.
Cars.com photos by David Thomas