America does not like wagons, plain and simple. Likely rooted in the belief that many people cringe at the idea of driving what their parents did, even modern compact wagons offering far superior style and driving dynamics can’t seem to escape an association with the full-size, woodgrain-cladded barges of now over a quarter century ago. With the few still offered selling in very low numbers, wagons are far and few between, and I’ve driven very few in my driving career.
So when clients of mine recently traded in this 2008 BMW 328xi Touring, I jumped at the opportunity to get a little seat time in this Bavarian beauty, before it went to auction. How it came into my 48-hour possession was that the following day I needed a vehicle to take to Vermont, as I’d be registering a car there for another one of my clients (our dealer runner who’d normally go was going to be out the rest of the week).
Rather than putting some 350 miles on a brand new demo, I decided this car would be a more logical choice, especially considering it would be going to auction. Plus, having driven neither a 3-Series Touring before, nor an E90 3-Series for an extended amount of time, I figured it would give me some entertainment and enjoyment over the 6-7 hour round trip. Additionally, could a wagon be more appropriate a vehicle to take to Vermont?
I took it for quick test drive just to assess its mechanical condition. All checked out fine apart from the tires, which had considerable tread wear. Still, I figured I’d take my chances, and after both my managers’ approval, took the 328 home with all the paperwork, ready to leave straight from home in the morning. I took the 328 to the gym at the crack of dawn (my preferred time of day to work out), and got to test it a bit more on the not yet crowded roads.
Like my own 228, driving this 328 was pure joy. Not quite as quick off the line, again somewhat affected by the poor tires, but still nonetheless an enjoyable driving machine. Its smooth inline-6 produced decidedly Teutonic tunes and redline revs in 1st and 2nd under hard acceleration. Braking was also excellent, with the slightest tap on the pedal producing a short, controlled stop, again the skid of the tires being the only demerit.
The E90 is an excellent chassis, always feeling solid and tight through the twists, turns, and bumps in the road. My most favorite part about this E90 3-Series was its steering, and how much muscle it required. The first time behind the wheel I honestly thought it was experiencing power steering failure. Of course, after a short drive I knew everything was fine, remembering how my mom’s 2007 X3 felt exactly the same way.
It’s only that the power steering in most modern cars (BMWs to some degree but they’re hardly the worst offenders) has become so overly electrically assisted to the point that we’re used to being able to steer with our pinkie finger. It was thoroughly refreshing having to put a little more muscle into it.
My plan to take the 328 to Vermont, however, fell through. All set and ready to go, I decided to give the tires a final once-over, now in the light of day. Apart from the fact that they were virtually bald, I noticed this on the front-right tire. A quick google search of “how far can you drive with a bubble in the sidewall of a tire”, gave me the answer I was expecting: you’re pretty much at the grace of the tire gods.
Considering that stormy weather was forecasted for later in the day and that this car had a Takata airbag recall out on it, the risks of having a blow-out and being stranded some 150+ miles away or worse, skid into another object and get a face full of shrapnel outweighed the benefit of getting to drive this on a seven-hour road trip.
Faced with disappointment, I swung by the dealer on my way, swapping the 328 for a pre-owned, ex-loaner 2016 Cooper S Clubman. While it still provided me with a smooth, sporty ride for my journey, it’s a car I’ve already had considerable seat time in and drive on a regular basis due to the fact that I sell them. Additionally, this Clubman was a front-wheel drive model, which I can firsthand attest is somewhat less fun to drive than the All4, which provides better handling and three-tenths quicker 0-60 acceleration.
Anyhow, I got my Vermont business done, getting back to the dealer around 7 PM that evening. However, reaching in my pocket for my keys, I realized that the set of BMW keys I pulled out were to the 2008 328, and not my own 2016 228 — I had left my own keys at home that morning. I was taking the next day off, as I had worked my normal day off earlier in the week, so with that, the 328 Touring became my wheels for the next two days.
Although nowhere near as thrilling nor empowering to drive as my 228 coupe, I honestly grew quite fond of this Sparkling Graphite 328 wagon and its more humbling personality. Driving it a bit more sensibly than my own car due to the tires and the fact that I was on a dealer plate, I had a chance to appreciate its comfortable qualities, and decidedly understated yet stately nature.
Now I feel like “understated yet stately” tends to describe the typical buyer of European luxury wagons. Boasting all the same luxury amenities, the clientele these wagons attract tend to be far less attention-seeking than those who’d go for a luxury SUV. Quite frankly, there’s something about these wagons that screams “old money” in a very loud voice.
Speaking of luxury, this 328 had just about every imaginable luxury feature available in 2008. Cold Weather, Premium, and Sport packages, 6-speed Steptronic transmission with paddle shifters, Comfort Access key-less entry, Park Distance Control, Navigation with voice recognition, Bluetooth, satellite radio, Xenon headlights, and rear privacy shades.
It was like taking a step back in time using its first generation iDrive infotainment system. I might be biased as I’m used to the current incarnation, but apart from its hesitant feedback, I found it completely intuitive and easy to use, contrary to the scathing reviews of it in the mid-2000s. BMW was a bit ahead of its time with iDrive, but now that most other automakers have implemented similar systems, it’s no longer an issue.
The interior was trimmed in gray Dakota leather, with superbly comfortable front sports seats offering 8-way power adjustments, 4-way power lumber support, and manual thigh cushion adjustment. Grey may be a somewhat somber color, but it’s a color BMW hasn’t offered in several years, and it was quite refreshing to see an interior with a completely color-keyed lower dashboard for a change. The burled walnut was classic BMW elegance, particularly the horizontal bands trimming the door armrests.
As stated, I grew quite fond of this 3-Series wagon in my short time with it, appreciating its many satisfying virtues, as well as its main deficiency in the form of those well past their prime tires. I’m not going to lie, the slight lateral drift experienced when accelerating through corners provided some thrills.
But I knew from the start that this was only to be a brief love affair, and these few days apart had me longing for my own baby. I was elated to get back behind the wheel of my 228 coupe, which is as far more exciting car on all levels. Yet I always value to experience of driving something new to me for a bit, and this 3-Series Touring really appealed to me. Should I ever be in need of something more practical down the line, a BMW Touring may have to be in my future. Although by that point it might be a grey market import, as I’m willing to bet that the next generation 3-Series Touring won’t even be sold here, as has happened with its larger sibling.