2008 BMW 3-Series Wagon Performance

$4,872 - $5,144

2008 BMW 3-Series Wagon Performance Review

Note: This performance review was created when the 2008 BMW 3-Series Wagon was new.


Performance: 9.0

The BMW 3-Series Wagon has the sort of strong performance that BMW is famous for, with a good engine and excellent handling. "Driving this BMW makes it easy to forget you're piloting a wagon," says the San Jose Mercury News. "BMW engineers never fail to make the 3 Series the best-driving vehicle in its price class." And Edmunds says "for those who put driving dynamics above all other concerns, none will satisfy like the BMW 3 Series."

Acceleration and Power

Unlike some other 3-Series cars, the 2008 BMW 3-Series Wagon comes with only one choice of engine -- the weaker one of the two offered in other BMWs: a 3.0-liter V6 that can produce 230 horsepower and 200 pound feet of torque. But this doesn't mean it isn't exciting to drive. According to the Los Angeles Times, "This is by no means the fastest AWD wagon out there -- may I suggest something in a Subaru? -- and its dearth of displacement can become noticeable at drive-for-your-life freeway speeds. But around town the car is capable of truly gratuitous bursts of quickness and bright, vivacious snarls of induction and exhaust noise." Edmunds agrees: "The standard, normally aspirated engine is a little light on low-end torque, but it moves the car around smartly." According to The Auto Channel, "you will not win the traffic light grand prix but how important is that with three kids and a trunk full of shopping, soccer boots and Gatorade? Would I like a bit more power? With four people and all the ski gear probably yes. Under normal circumstances -- probably not." But Forbes writes, "Unfortunately for performance enthusiasts, the BMW 3 Series Wagon does not get the turbocharged engine that's offered in the 3 Series Coupe and Sedan." The Environmental Protection Agency rates the rear-wheel drive BMW 328i with automatic transmission at 18 miles per gallon city and 27 mpg highway and with manual transmission at 17 mpg city and 27 mpg highway. The all-wheel-drive BMW 328xi is rated at 17 mpg city and 25 mpg highway with either transmission.

The manual transmission gets even better reviews than the engine. Consumer Guide says that it "has silky smooth shift action," while the Detroit News writes, "I did love that buttery-smooth six-speed manual gearbox." This transmission comes with a special feature called the start-off assistant. "A new feature -- and instantly lovable -- is the start-off assistant," says the Los Angeles Times, "which prevents the car from rolling back while the driver is shifting into first gear (it holds the brake for a one-count after the driver lifts his or her foot). It's a lot easier than trying to heel-and-toe the throttle and brake." Kelley Blue Book likes it too: "Order a 3 Series with a manual transmission and you'll enjoy the benefits of this subtle but effective helper that automatically applies the brakes for a few seconds whenever you're stopped on a hill to help prevent the car from rolling backwards while you engage first gear."

The automatic transmission is fairly well received, but it isn't perfect. "Automatics change gears smoothly," says Consumer Guide, "but downshifts tend to lag behind throttle inputs, and some testers complained of exaggerated low-speed engine braking." The Auto Channel says, "My test car had the automatic, and while it decreases acceleration a bit -- figure half a second to 60 mph -- it works well enough that even in spirited driving on my favorite twisty roads I never missed the manual."

Handling and Braking

Handling is an area where BMW excels and even the entry-level 3-Series is a joy to drive. "No matter which model you choose," says Edmunds, "the 3 Series' world-class suspension, steering and brakes will provide hours of entertainment on twisty two-lane highways." In a comparison of the 3-Series Wagon with wagons from Volvo and Audi, the San Jose Mercury News prefers the BMW's ride and handling. Kelley Blue Book says, "There's a precise feel to the steering and the well-sorted suspension provides exceptional confidence through even the most challenging corners."

Unlike some other wagons, the 3-Series Wagon has a suspension tuned for taut, sporty handling. "The front and rear suspension setup enables crisp, neutral handling for fun, spirited driving and a compliant ride," says Forbes. The 3-Series Wagon has a double-pivot suspension in front and a five-link rear suspension, that the Detroit News and others note as supple.

The 3-Series Wagon's steering and braking are first rate. The Detroit News says "the steering is pinpoint-precise" and "the brakes are simply outstanding." Several comment on the 328i's optional Active Steering feature. "This high-tech adjunct to the standard power steering varies the effective turning ratio to correspond with vehicle velocity," writes Kelley Blue Book, "making it easier to maneuver at low speeds while enhancing stability under freeway cruising conditions." Forbes says this feature "offers more immediate steering response, but purists may favor the standard steering for its simplicity and unfiltered feedback."

All Wheel Drive

The 328xi is BMW's all-wheel drive version of the 3-Series Wagon. It uses BMW's xDrive system to coordinate the motion of both axles, sending torque where road grip is needed most, especially under slippery conditions. Normally it splits the torque 40/60 between the front and rear, though it's capable of sending all the torque to the front. At the same time dynamic stability control (DSC) guards against the car turning too rapidly. "How does it work?" asks Motor Trend. "With good winter tires, like a rally champ on Arjeplog's ice circles and snow routes. You can mindlessly floor the throttle, and the DSC will work with xDrive to get you motivated efficiently, if not quickly." The Auto Channel says that it "all works quickly and seamlessly, and the result is pure sports car handling."

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