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"Really? It's a wagon with an automatic transmission. It's only got 180 horsepower!" That's what the uninformed said when I raved about my time in the 2014 BMW 328d xDrive Sports Wagon. The car doesn't draw attention to itself and largely flew under the radar over the course of my testing.
But the diesel Sports Wagon has a secret -- when its torquey, unassuming engine combines with the optional M Sport upgrades and Dynamic Handling package, it becomes a rather good driver's car that balances comfort and efficiency with grin-inducing performance. This flexibility -- the ability to seamlessly tack a backroad blitz onto the end of your 40 mpg commute -- is hard to find and is what makes this particular BMW so special.
Pop the hood with a double-pull of the release to reveal a 2.0 liter, 4-cylinder TwinPower Turbo Diesel engine that outputs 180 horsepower, 280 pound-feet of torque. This engine sounds and feels like what you'd expect a turbo diesel engine to; it's a little loud, a little rough, and is satisfyingly torquey.
Power flows through an eight-speed sport automatic transmission that features paddle shifters, launch control, and wicked quick shifts when placed into its Sport program. As automatics go, this one is nearly as quick as a dual-clutch unit and is pretty smart about its gear selections. The tall 8th gear takes advantage of the diesel's low-end torque for exceptional fuel economy.
The 328d sports wagon is only available in the xDrive configuration, which indicates that its an all-wheel drive model.The torque split is 40:60, front-to-rear, but it can shift up to 100 percent of the grunt either way as necessary.
In addition to the Sport, Manual, and Normal settings for the transmission, the driver can select from Comfort, Eco Pro, and two Sport settings for rest of the vehicle. Comfort is the default mode, which optimizes the throttle and engine performance to their most balanced settings. Sport sharpens the throttle mapping for more responsive performance. Sport+ builds on that by loosening the stability control for more dynamic driving. Eco Pro adjusts the engine's performance and transmission shift program for better fuel economy while simultaneously adjusting the performance of the climate control system to further boost the miles per gallon.
In all modes except Sport and Sport+, the BMW also utilizes an Auto Stop-Start system that shuts the engine down when stopped, for example at a traffic light, to reduce fuel wasted to idling. The diesel engine's restart is quick, but it's not smooth, coughing to life with noticeable effort. Drivers who find this bit annoying can disable the system with the touch of a dashboard button.
The EPA reckons the 328d xDrive Sports Wagon is good for 35 mpg combined, 31 mpg in the city, and 43 mpg on the highway. I averaged 41 mpg during my testing. My driving was pretty highway heavy with many miles spend cruising in Eco Pro mode with a few extended sessions of Sport+ mode corner carving when a particularly good back road opened up.
Now, 180 horsepower isn't an overwhelming amount of power; dropping down two gears for a pass with a quick double tap of the paddle shifter doesn't result in a neck-snapping bang of acceleration. Rather, the 280 pound-feet of torque comes on in a linear surge. This is a cruising engine and a very drivable one at that with a broad powerband. It feels just as strong when you're taking it easy as it does when you're flogging it.
Our example wasn't equipped with many options.
The first was a $1,000 Dynamic Handling package that adds an Adaptive M suspension and variable sport steering. The Adaptive M suspension features firmer components for a sportier ride, but both it and the variable steering are adjustable with the four drive modes. In Sport+ and Sport, the suspension and electric power steering firm up. In Comfort and Eco Pro, the ride softens up and the steering effort is lightened.