If you ever need proof that the automotive press is not exactly connected with most consumers, just ask one of us what vehicle we like.
This is what we'd say: A European diesel wagon with a manual transmission. It's efficient, taut, fun and completely un-American.
Americans, at least the ones who buy cars, eschew wagons -- even if the word sport is attached to it. They dislike diesels and shun manual transmissions.
The 2010 BMW 328i Sports Wagon is as close to that machine as we'll see on American roads. My test vehicle opted for BMW's stalwart 3-liter inline six that runs on gasoline and an automatic transmission that offered paddle shifters for a little sporty fun. But the xenophobe-buying American consumers won't touch this vehicle; well, a couple will. That's a mystery to many of the automotive press, including myself.
This is a great little car. It can haul. And by that, I mean it can carry lots of stuff in the back (there's 58 cubic feet of space behind the second row, so you could stack up a foursome's set of golf clubs and a cooler), as well as carry the foursome. It can also haul, and by that, I mean go fast.
The gutsy little magnesium and aluminum block six-cylinder engine creates 230 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque. Sure, lots of cars make more power, but those aren't BMWs. And most certainly are missing that nearly perfectly balanced feel on the road. It weighs just 3,500 pounds and seems to glide along the road. This is in part due to the independent suspension that provides a firm ride, but not one that feels overly aggressive.
Wagon is sporty on the road
My test vehicle included the optional M sport package, which adds 17-inch performance tires, sport seats, aluminum pedals, a different steering wheel and some added aerodynamic features on the body. It's tough to make a wagon look sporty, but BMW manages to do just that.
More importantly, it feels sporty on the road. The steering combines that great firm feel that makes you speed up in curves. The body remains extremely flat through turns and this wagon accelerates out so well.
The Steptronic automatic transmission also adds a nice racy dimension. Typically, I try out the manual override on an automatic transmission a couple of times during testing but then quickly forget about it. But on the BMW wagon, I found myself using it more and more, enjoying the car's quick acceleration onto the highway and stretching the rpm on the engine to enjoy the full torque curve.
There's also a practical side to this car that BMW usually lacks. The wagon, somehow, wipes away a lot of pretentiousness some European cars have, as if the owner knows some secret he refuses to share with his neighbors. No, a BMW doesn't make you better, and tossing down $36,000 won't win you any friends -- if it does, are they a really a friend?
But this car just feels so comfortable. The racing seats hold you in place snuggly and there are a lots of luxury features that you'd expect. Dynamic Cruise control, auto dimming rearview mirror, rain sensing wipers, heated dual power exterior mirrors and heated windshield washer jets are all features designed for drivers.
Other features, such as Bluetooth connectivity for hands-free phone operation, personal music player integration and a two-way power glass panoramic moonroof, add another layer of sophistication.
Interior wraps you in luxury
When you sit inside the BMW Sports Wagon you feel wrapped in a cocoon of leather and luxury. There's a soft red tint to the lights at night and when you gun the accelerator, the car filters out all of the outside sounds except the engine.
The BMW wagon is the ultimate sleeper car for people who like to hide the fact that they love driving. It can help a friend move on the weekend, drop everyone off for school in the morning and still let mom or dad carve up a few mountain roads.
Maybe that's why the automotive press likes these kinds of cars so much. They are the practical racers we can get away with owning because no one is the wiser.
The BMW 3-Series Sports Wagon adds the cache of German engineering, ride and handling to boot.
So automotive journalists were half right -- as it's unlikely diesels will ever really take off in America and manual transmissions are likely to be only a generation away from disappearing all together on American highways.
Still, it's better to be half right, than half wrong. So I'll take the wagon, and keep on driving.
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