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The BMW 330i xDrive Sports Wagon killed them all

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I don’t have many regrets in life. I wish I wasn’t a Mets fan. Probably shouldn’t have asked out Jennifer Rebello in the ninth grade. And when it comes to cars – damn it. I picked an F30 in Estoril Blue as my daily. It should have been this F31 – a BMW 330i xDrive Sports Wagon.

Is it my fault BMW doesn’t sell wagons here anymore?

2018 BMW 330i xDrive Sports Wagon

2018 BMW 330i xDrive Sports Wagon Quick Take

Get one:

One of the best-looking wagons ever made. Super-comfy and ergonomic cabin. Still relevant in features and performance.

Don’t get one:

Egregious handling and steering. Can sometimes feel cheap. No inline-six available.

Soul Score: 6

BMW makes a three-legged dog, but it’s awfully loyal and sweet.

The 2018 BMW 330i xDrive Sports Wagon Overview

2018 BMW 330i xDrive Sports Wagon

Maybe. You see, I wanted this car, but my partner at the time did not. I remember it so clearly – stop me if you’ve heard it before:

“Why would you want a station wagon?”

Let’s applaud BMW for trying. This isn’t a station wagon – wrong S word. No, it’s a Sports Wagon! Sounds way cooler. At any rate, to maintain relationship bliss I ordered the sedan, and the rest is history.

2018 BMW 330i xDrive Sports Wagon

BMW wagons are history too, as I’m sure you know by now. They will be back in the form of the M5 Touring, but we’ve also missed out on so many wonderful ones like the G81 M3 and even the 335/340i from this F generation. Perhaps part of the issue is just that – BMW’s four-cylinder options are simply meh – not really exciting. Come on BMW – give us the motors we really want!

For this test, I found a true unicorn – a post-LCI model with a digital dash in that favorite blue of mine. Let’s see if we can prove my ex wrong with some xDrive fun.

Performance: 5. Try your best

The sin the F3X has always committed was in its badge – this is a B-M-W 3-S-E-R-I-E-S. They are the best of the best, no? Never needed an M3 to have fun, they all were.

If you’re looking for the poster car of when BMW became mainstream and thus, truly boring, here it is. I’ll explain why.

Engine

2018 BMW 330i xDrive Sports Wagon
A digital cluster is a rare find on an F31.

A car does not need to induce nose bleeds and push you into the back of your seat to be fun, and indeed, this one does not. In 2016, BMW replaced the N20 with this B46. Specs were very close – 248 horsepower, 258 lb-ft of torque. We’re talking minuscule changes here. Peak torque comes on 200 RPM higher in the B46, around 1,400 RPM, and it’s a satisfying punch in the gut off the line.

The problem is once you leave the line – the B46 gives little reason to wind out to the 7,000 RPM redline. You know the sensation – staring at the tach as it swings from 5,000 to 7,000, waiting for anything to happen.

2018 BMW 330i xDrive Sports Wagon
Twin pipes give away the engine type.

Come on. Do something.

Put this thing inside a Toyota and you’d never guess it’s from a company with “motor” in its name.

The sound out of twin chrome tail pipes isn’t inspiring, with a sort of groan as you dig your foot into it. Sounds like an underachieving teenager.

“Ohhh fiiine, why won’t you just leave me alooooone..”

It’s okay though. Never kills the driving experience. It’s just one you won’t wake up in cold sweats for.

Transmission

2018 BMW 330i xDrive Sports Wagon
The LCI made the Sport Transmission (and paddle shifters) standard.

Though this transmission is now a generation old, it’s still very good and does its part to save the engine’s responsiveness with snappy upshifts and quick wits.

Part of that is thanks to a brain that’s tied to the car’s GPS – it knows what’s coming down the road and shifts (or doesn’t) accordingly. LCI 330i cars all have the sport transmission, an optional omission on my 328 that I never got over leaving off the build sheet. Another regret.

The ZF box feels as if it were taken directly from the 340i (it was), and it’s a bit that helps save the 330i.

Steering and Suspension

2018 BMW 330i xDrive Sports Wagon
A well-earned reputation from the helm.

The core problem of any F-generation, all the way up to the M3, is the steering box. It is dead, sloppy, and uncommunicative. Feels like you must turn the wheel a third of the way for anything to happen, and there’s absolutely no build-up of effort as you turn. BMW has since improved it on the G20, and perhaps a bit of blame can go to the winter tires on this car, but there are no excuses.

Missing from this BMW 330i xDrive Sports Wagon, and in fact any F3X I’ve ever driven, is the Adaptive Sport Suspension. That fact, combined with those winter tires and a raised ride height because of xDrive, means this isn’t a very Ultimate experience. Would it surprise you that this car pulls just .8 G on a skid pad?

2018 BMW 330i xDrive Sports Wagon
The car is a let down in the handling department.

It’s always weird – the 330i crashes over bumps with such violence that you always immediately check the dashboard for warning lights – yet it wants to play. I can feel the lack of body roll and eagerness to rotate direction. But it’s held back – feels unfinished.

My advice here is to put on a good set of summer tires, option the Adaptive suspension if you can, and install some lowering springs, even coil overs. If the ride is rough, might as well get the reflexes you want.

Brakes

2018 BMW 330i xDrive Sports Wagon
Optional M Sport brakes add a bit of M to the outside.

Equipped with optional M Sport brakes, the 330i hauls itself down with ease. They look the part too, with blue calipers and an M badge poking out through the wheels. It’s easy enough to perform this upgrade yourself if you’d like, but to find a wagon with them is nothing short of a miracle. Cross-drilled discs also improve looks.

The review might not sound glowing from a performance perspective, but we’ve gotten through the worst of it. Tempered performance makes sense for what this car is supposed to be; it’s how it feels that’s off.

I can sense the engineers fighting for a more direct 3 Series. They’ve only partially succeeded.

Utility score: 10. Hell yes, Brother

BMW 330i xDrive Sport Wagon
A better looking M3.

Naturally, a wagon makes a more practical car than a sedan, but it’s also how the 330i xDrive Sports Wagon is packaged that makes it a star.

Start with the hatchback itself – wide, with a door that swings waaay up out of the way. If you don’t need the entire door open, just pop out the glass and let that long 4×6 piece of timber hang out the back. The cargo area itself is accommodating, and if you fold down the rear seats, cargo room rivals an X3.

BMW 330i xDrive Sport Wagon
I love this feature. Only the X5 has it on BMW SUVs.

Speaking of, that back seat might be a bit tight, but it works, even with two child seats clipped in. Taller drivers like me might need to push up the front a bit, so be wary if you’re long of leg.

BMW 330i xDrive Sport Wagon
Some of the best seats I’ve had in a common car.
2018 BMW 330i xDrive Sports Wagon
It can haul two child seats, but you may need to scooch up in the front.

The optional Sport seats are a must, and are the standard by which all “normal” cars should be judged. I have driven these things over 200,000 miles, and they remain one of the most comfortable I’ve experienced. Medium-sized side bolsters, a long bottom cushion, and enough shoulder support for my meaty top. Well done.

Fuel Economy: 8. Yea, but…

BMW 330i xDrive Sport Wagon

I have raised this point before, but allow me to reiterate it. The B46 manages just two two miles per gallon more than a 340i with a B58 under hood.

This is an easy decision, if BMW were to give you the choice. Since they don’t, I guess you can just enjoy the 27 MPGs the 330i offers.

You might not have that choice, but you do have this one: BMW’s lone remaining diesel option before they killed it completely. You can get up to 40 MPG on the highway with it, but with just 181 horsepower, it’s the slowest 3 Series made by far. I’d stick with the gas option here.

Features and Comfort: 8. Not dated yet

2018 BMW 330i xDrive Sports Wagon

The F3X generation really was as good as it got for the 3 Series. It’s (arguably) the best-looking outside, and the most ergonomic inside.

Grab a fully-loaded one like this, and admire the fact that some car companies still aren’t quite caught up despite the now six-year age gap.

The way it should be

2018 BMW 330i xDrive Sports Wagon
The 330i still have plenty of relevant features.

Here it is – peak BMW design. Aside from the larger sunroof, the inside of the F31 is identical to other variants, and that’s just fine with me.

Once you sit inside those comfy Sport seats, you’ll find a sort of prehistoric digital dash – but it looks great, and though this is the last time a 3 Series would have the option of an old-school tach, the car feels more special set up like this.

2018 BMW 330i xDrive Sports Wagon
How is this not better than an all-digital control?
2018 BMW 330i xDrive Sports Wagon
Wagons get a larger sunroof.

The M Sport steering wheel is the perfect shape, and everything falls easily at hand. The HVAC controls are so good – why did they take this away? Missing is a SYNC button – a sin for the OCD among us (me). LCI models have gloss black trim and smoother digital numbers in white that make the cabin feel more modern.

2018 BMW 330i xDrive Sports Wagon
iDrive 6, with touch screen no less, is easy to navigate.

Clues to the age of the car lie in the CD player, small iDrive screen with 6.0 software (still works well), and hand brake you need to yank up. It was a great place to drive long distances, and though it’s not as premium inside as a G20, it’s held up well.

So fresh, so clean

2018 BMW 330i xDrive Sports Wagon
M Sport is a must.

Maybe the G8X hate would be less if this car weren’t so pretty. The wagon is the best-looking version of all, almost as if they designed this one first.

While you can get a pedestrian-looking 330i, this example is much improved with the M Sport Package, 18-inch M star-spoke wheels, those red calipers, even the M Performance front lip and side decals. Naturally, I love Estoril on this car.

2018 BMW 330i xDrive Sports Wagon
M Performance Decals are a nice touch.
2018 BMW 330i xDrive Sports Wagon
As are updated LCI LED headlights.
2018 BMW 330i xDrive Sports Wagon
Lovely red caliper poke through M Sport wheels.
2018 BMW 330i xDrive Sports Wagon 2018 BMW 330i xDrive Sports Wagon

LCI models have some nice upgrades, including revised LED headlights and taillights, but if you go bare bones you still get halogen headlamps. Remember, this car was designed well over a decade ago.

The BMW 330i xDrive Sports Wagon is my hall pass

2018 BMW 330i xDrive Sports Wagon

On the surface, this is a car that feels as if anyone could have made it. The motor isn’t special, the cheap bits can creak over bumps, and the handling – yeesh.

I’d often lament that I couldn’t have my 328 transform into my E92 with the touch of a button, but I’d (sort of) get my wish later on with the G80. That car combines the comfort and effortlessness of this 330i with the speed and power of an M3. As it stands, this BMW is too soft, too lazy to really be a true 3 Series the way we think of them.

2018 BMW 330i xDrive Sports Wagon

And yet – this is a great car. They are reliable, efficient, comfortable, useful, good-looking and even sort of rare. I sometime fantasize about going back in one just like this wagon, but make it more Mike. You know – lowered suspension, summer tires, an S55 swap…

Wait, did I just make an M3 Wagon?

Well BMW, rest assured that Mrs. Machines has no interest in limiting my automotive purchases, so if you bring that G81 here, I’m ready. I might even call it a station wagon.

2018 BMW 330i xDrive Sports Wagon

2018 BMW 330i xDrive Sports Wagon Specifications

Vehicle Type: Front-engine, all-wheel drive, five-passenger, five-door wagon.

PRICE

Base: $45,645

POWERTRAIN

2.0 liter twin-scroll turbocharged inline-four
248 horsepower @ 5,200 RPM
258 lb-ft @ 1,450 RPM

DIMENSIONS

Wheelbase: 108.7 in
Length: 182.8 in
Width: 71.3 in
Height: 56.5 in
Curb Weight: 3,867 lbs

FUEL ECONOMY

Combined / City / Highway: 27 / 23 / 33

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