Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2014 BMW 328i Touring

We’ve been blessed by the wagon gods here in the offices lately. I mean, sure, Jonathan Yarkony might have got the bigger, badder, “pale horse of the apocalypse” one, but the one I got was pretty darn sweet, too. Actually, scratch that, it wasn’t just “pretty sweet, too.” It was better. Mostly because this one can be driven here in the real world where 99 percent of us live. You know; the one where we actually have to monitor our fuel consumption.

First, some caveats: I enjoy turbocharged engines; I enjoy wagons; and I enjoy BMWs. This review is going to be positive, in many, many ways. I tried, really hard, to find something I didn’t like about this car – really I did – but there wasn’t. Well, it was all-wheel drive and not rear-wheel drive, but that just means I couldn’t be quite as silly as I might otherwise have been. There were benefits attached to the xDrive system, which I found useful on a white-knuckle ride up the snow-covered 401 to Montreal.

So what is this thing? Well it’s a 2014 BMW 328i xDrive Touring. That “Touring” means it’s a wagon. This one is “Glacier Silver Metallic”, or for us regular folk: silver. The interior is “Coral Red Dakota Leather”, or for us regular folk: swinger’s-bar red. This particular car has a 2.0L turbocharged inline-four that produces 241 hp between 5,000 and 6,500 rpm, and 258 lb-ft of torque between 1,250 and 4,000.

It will allegedly scramble to 100 km/h in 6.3 seconds, and hit a top speed of 210 km/h. It will absolutely put a smile on your face. To broaden that smile, BMW added the M Sport Line package for some sexy look-fast bits, and the M Performance Package with some sexy go-fast bits.

The look-fast bits include M Sport badging, M leather steering wheel, and aerodynamic package, and the aforementioned red leather seats. You also get the automatic transmission with sport mode and paddle shifters in the M Sport Line add on.

The go-fast bits include a brake upgrade (okay, technically this is a slow-fast bit), 19-inch wheels with 225/40 rubber up front and 255/35 rubber out back, adaptive M Suspension and variable sport steering. There is also a head-up display as a $1,500 standalone option.

The ooh-that’s-nice bits also thrown in included a heated steering wheel (win), keyless entry, navigation, surround-view parking cameras, a Harman/Kardon sound system, lumbar support, Sirius XM, blind spot detection, lane departure and collision warning and ConnectedDrive services that includes a wi-fi hotspot. There are also heated rear seats, sunshades and additional storage compartments to assist rear-passenger comfort.

To put all that another way, this car is loaded. Loooaaa-ded. And you can carry an Ikea bookcase in the back! Well, you can after you fold flat the 40/20/40 split-fold rear seats. But before you get too excited, I should tell you the price tag is equally loaded - $65,920 as tested for this model. Maybe I should become a stock broker. Then again, BMW is simply stocking the cupboards so we can evaluate all conceivable options, and you can customize your BMW in any way you’re willing to pay for.

But how does it drive? Well, I’ve been holding back until now, not wanting to get too excited too early, but I’ve listed the option packs and talked about the colour… so I guess now it’s time to talk about the car’s handling dynamics.

“I am Jacob’s goofy grin.”

The little turbo four-pot sizzles, hauling the 1,715-kg chassis up to speed in a way that is surprising and entertaining. The raspy engine note is addictive, the seat-push is just plain fun. Justin Pritchard hopped out of this and exclaimed, “I don’t remember this feeling so fast!” Mrs. Jonathan Yarkony said, “I think I'm finally starting to realize why BMW drivers have such a bad reputation – they can't help it. The car is just too good, in every area, not to try and push it to its limits.”

Well said, Hannah.

The steering wheel is just direct and well-weighted – it’s not even adequate to call it communicative – the steering wheel does so much more than talk back to the driver, it makes jokes with them and eggs them on. The steering wheel alone is a bad influence.

Then you get to the accelerator pedal. The turbo-four spins up quickly and freely, with a surge in acceleration exactly matched to the engine note. Not in an “oh my god you’re wringing my neck” kind of way, but in a gently rising, “we’re getting all excited together” kind of way.

The gearbox is a conventional torque-converter eight-speed with flappy paddles and sport mode – and it fires through changes quickly and willingly. If you want a lower gear, it gives you the lower gear. Bliss. Oh, and if you want to use the gear lever in sequential mode – it is actually set up correctly! Forward = down, back = up. Just like it should be.

I mentioned earlier that this was an xDrive model, and that meant I couldn’t be as silly as I might have been in a rear-wheel drive model. I can tell you that xDrive made me feel a lot more confident, though, as I drove up to Montreal from Toronto. My little road trip was all so I could learn to drive properly in snow (read: do mad skids) at the BMW Winter Driving Experience. But on the way up, I wished I’d already passed the course. The 401 was a quagmire of unplowed snow and slush with heavy winds and thick blankets of the grotty white stuff. I passed an upside-down Eagle Talon, three jackknifed trucks and two snow-covered ditch bunnies. It was about as hairy a drive as I’ve experienced, but the 328i xDrive never so much as slipped. It was surefooted and secure at all times.

The benefits of xDrive are not relevant when braking so I was ginger pulling into the EnRoute for a quick top-up of juice, but I needn’t have been. The pedal was firm but gave excellent feedback, and allowed me to pull up with confidence even on the mushiest of spots. The very good Pirelli winter tires receive a chunk of the credit here.

In all, the drive to Montreal and back shed a very favourable light on the BMW 328i Touring. Fuel economy wise I was impressed even though I only used Eco Pro mode for exactly 100 km, just to see how it was. During that 100 km I recorded consumption of 7.3 L/100 km and the Eco Pro gauge said I saved an extra six km. That’s a six percent saving – not bad.

I used about a tank and a half for the whole 1,000+ km trip. That’s not as good as Dan and Jonathan’s trip to Montreal and back on one tank in a Cruze Diesel and Jetta TDI but still it’s not bad consumption. I was at 8.7 L/100 km by the time I got back to Toronto. For the record, it’s a 60-litre tank. The EPA says I could have 7.1 L/100 km out on the highway in Eco Pro mode, which is close enough to 7.3 to seem about right to me. The EPA also says the BMW is good for 10.7 L/100 km in the city and 9.0 L/100 km combined – but the EPA doesn’t have a BMW driver’s right foot…  In Montreal I found the auto start-stop function useful to save fuel, but I was surprised by the roughness of the restart – it wasn’t as refined as Audi’s or even Porsche’s system.

The multi-adjustable seats with thigh extensions, lumbar support and heavy bolstering mean six hours straight in the car is a breeze while the head-up display not only looks cool but helps keep your eyes rested. The only feature missing from this car to make it a true highway god is adaptive cruise control – but on a snowy or sketchy drive I wouldn’t use that system anyway.

BMW’s iDrive remains excessively complex, but the wide touchscreen with split-screen capability display everything you need in a crisp, elegant way and the handily placed iDrive control knob is ergonomically perfect. Best of all, anything you want to access, you can get to with a real, actual button. With more time in the 328d, Paul Williams had a chance to delve deep into BMW’s ConnectedDrive with ARTTI in his couple months with the 328d, and found it could be extremely helpful if you take the time to learn it.

With the car in Sport Plus (aka Dynamic Traction Control or DTC) mode the engine revs high, at around 3,000 rpm at a cruising speed of 120 km/h; switch the car to Comfort or even just regular Sport mode and that drops by about 500 rpm. Either way the engine note is unobtrusive, and pleasant.  Sport and Sport+ modes also firm up the optional adaptive suspension and add more weight to the electric-assisted steering. The engine revs rise as the BMW transmission ignores the last two gears – keeping you on the cusp of the power range. It also makes you overtake other cars and trucks a little more aggressively than required.

The result is an incredibly engaging driving experience that leaves people like me grinning from ear to ear, and turns normally quiet and reserved people like Jonathan’s wife into road-warrior speed demons. And that’s all I have to say about that.

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Model Tested 2014 BMW 328i xDrive Touring
Base Price $47,830
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $2,095
Price as Tested $65,920
Optional Equipment
Premium Package - $3,700 (heated steering wheel, alarm, comfort access, auto dimming external mirrors, park distance control, navigation, voice recognition), M Sport Line - $3,250 (sport automatic with paddles, M Sport package, black roof rails, sport seats, M leather steering wheel, M aerodynamics package, Coral Red Dakota leather), M Performance Package - $1,900 (M Sport brakes, 19-inch wheels, adaptive M suspension, variable sport steering, Executive Package - $1,700 (universal remote, rear-view camera, lumbar support, Sirius XM, Harmon/Kardon sound), Drive Assistance Package - $1,350 (active blind spot detection, lane departure and collision warning, surround view), ConnectedDrive with ARTTI Package - $850, Rear Comfort Package - $750, Head-up display - $1,500, Metallic paint - $895