Call me an oxymoron, but I don't get the whole sports wagon thing. Fast wagon, sure. Hey kids! Watch Daddy wipe the smile off that smug bastard in the baby car. But "sports wagon" clearly implies high-speed cornering. Centrifugal force has this nasty habit of upending juice boxes, sending toys into black holes and making protective mothers scream with homicidal fury. I'd like to say BMW's 325xI Sports Wagon (SW) is an ideal high performance load lugger for lifestylers who don't share my domestic concerns, but I can't because it isn't.
The 325xI Sports Wagon's basic proportions look promising enough for wagon-loving corner carvers– should enough of them exist to establish a consensus. Although it's a fair distance between the front and rear wheels, the SW's overhangs could double as window ledges, and the car itself is athletically compact. Or not. It's hard to tell. Thanks to BMW's kooky "flame-surfacing", their 3 Series five-door's perceived size depends entirely on the viewing distance, the angle chosen and the amount of time spent staring at the thing. Taken as a whole, the flat-nosed SW says "road rocket" like a pepperoni pizza says "dessert."
Any doubts about the SW's actual dimensions disappear when you sit in the second row. To compensate for the rakish roof, the rear chairs are angled backwards. Even so, there's just enough head and leg room to accommodate normal-sized adults, but not enough to relieve the overall feeling that Mom's station wagon got shrunk in the wash. The SW's helmspot doesn't threaten to violate your human rights, but you still might want a word with the international taste police. Our test car served-up a queasy farrago of red leather, black plastic, polished chrome and burled wood– with a bit of flame-surfaced rubber running across the dash for good measure. (More aesthetically restrained combinations are available, and recommended.)
In fact, the 325xI Sports Wagon looks like it was designed at night. I mean that in a good way. Darkness transforms the SW from overworked, overwrought domestic appliance to slinky, mysterious uber-babe. Mr. Bangle's odd swage lines shed their random aggression. Pools of blue light cascade from the door handles. The cabin's jarring angularity softens in BMW's trademark interior glow. Suddenly, you're back in an Old School Bimmer, where minimalism and functionality impart a profound sense of automotive mastery. If only the good vibes weren't so vampiric…
And so we come to the nub of the matter: driving. By all accounts, the SW should be a terrific steer. The 325i sedan is a world-class masochist: it begs for a proper thrashing and generously rewards any Dom driver who obliges. But the SW comes laden with more than just expectations. Thirty-five large buys you 430 pounds of four-wheel-drivery, whether you like it or not. Mountain men and gully girls will be well pleased with the extra traction, but anyone else should give this some serious thought…
There's no question BMW's answer to Audi's quattrology is a clever piece of kit– Munich's system taps into the Dynamic Stability Control computer to transfer power from front to back (via a multi-disc clutch) and/or side to side (via electronic braking) as and when a wheel or set of wheels loses grip. It's equally obvious that Bimmer's anti-slip gubbins is a genuine passion killer. The first indication that all is not ultimate driving comes through the wheel. The SW's steering is positively ponderous. It's the heaviest helm I've felt since supercars were sweat boxes. While there's still plenty of road feel filtering through the controls, man, do you have to work for it.
The SW's throttle is another mechanical throwback to the bad old days. More specifically, the wagon's DOA go-pedal harkens back to the W124 Mercedes E-Class. Your right foot can tap along to the killer tunes blasting from the SW's Premium Sound System ($1200) without the slightest effect on forward progress. Thankfully, the 325iX Sports Wagon holsters BMW's 3.0-liter, sweet-spinning six, complete with Valvetronic and Double-Vanos power extraction technology. So when you finally manage to roust the SW's powerplant from its default torpor, she'll get-up and go with admirable alacrity. In other words, it ain't slow.
The handling ain't half bad neither. Although the suspension crash bang wallops over serious potholes, the little load lugger hangs on through the bends with brand-faithful poise and safe-as-houses understeer. If the SW's front seats were a bit more supportive, and Bimmer's chassismeisters had dialed-out just a bit more body lean, the SW might even have lived-up to its marketing promise. As it is, the 325xI Sports Wagon is a pricey hatchback for well-heeled schleppers happy to sacrifice driving pleasure for all-weather security. Like they say: if you don't get it, it's not for you.