It’s no secret that I love wagons. After I was born, I was driven home from the hospital in a Volvo V70, which is when this longroof obsession likely started. When my friend Jimmy gave me the opportunity to spend some time behind the wheel of his all-wheel-drive 2012 328i wagon (E91) with a proper manual transmission, I jumped at the chance.
I had owned a rear-drive 2000 323iT wagon (E46) for about 2½ years and loved every single moment of it (other than the several times it left me stranded). The E46’s 2.5-liter inline six was rated at 170 horsepower and 181 pound-feet of torque, giving the 3,300-pound wagon a terrifically useful power band. It rotated well moving through the twisties thanks to the wagon’s extra rear weight and rear-wheel drive. Because of my love of the E46 wagon, I had high expectations for the E91.
From the start, the E91 felt far more refined than its E46 predecessor. The E91 328i came equipped with a three-liter inline six engine, producing 230 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque. The turbocharged four-cylinder N20 engine didn’t come until the following model year, so this was still all naturally aspirated goodness. The E91 has a bit more power than my E46 323iT, but that’s a good thing, since the E91 weighs about 200 pounds more.
As a place to sit, the interior felt more mature than the E46’s. Given the fact that this E91 is a newer car than the E46, BMW certainly stepped up the cabin’s fit and finish. I particularly enjoyed the simplicity: no bump, no nonsense.
On a drive, the E91 felt like home: direct, smooth, and comfortable. The notchiness of the ZF box felt just right, and rowing through gears was a pleasure. This particular wagon was factory-delivered with the M Sport exhaust, and this OEM upgrade really brought the car to life. I’ve always had problems with manufacturers tuning vehicles—especially turbocharged vehicles—for pops and bangs on deceleration; I think that they make the car feel robotic and fake. In the E91, all of those crackles and pops are natural, and really added to my connection with the car. There was no better feeling than nailing that fourth-to-third downshift under an overpass; the sound of the engine and exhaust echoing off the bridge was pure joy.
Speaking of third gear, it has to be my favorite gear for this E91’s powertrain. Moving between second, third, and fourth gears on fun back roads was a blast. While I wasn’t able to fully drive the car in anger (you can thank densely settled suburbia for that), all of those great characteristics that I remembered well from my E46 wagon carried over into the newer E91 chassis.
As for the all-wheel-drive element, I’ve driven this generation of xDrive on other platforms before, most notably Jimmy’s old E92. In wagon application, xDrive felt particularly at home in the E91. Living in Vermont during most of my rear-wheel-drive E46 wagon ownership, there wasn’t a day that went by when I didn’t wish that I had all-wheel drive. Spending time with the all-wheel-driveE91 confirmed my suspicions; this would have been a far more capable car for me during New England winters!
The most surprising part of the E91 was how comfortable and compliant it was on the rougher Massachusetts back roads. The suspension did not feel ten years and 100,000 miles old. The relationship between the suspension and steering felt quite natural. Driving the E91 as a momentum car was a ton of fun—not something that I expected from judging the car on paper.
Spending time with the E91 had me reminiscing about the good times with my E46 wagon, but also appreciating the improvements that BMW made to the next generation across the board. The E91 felt like a step up, and dialed things up a notch. It might just be time to go out looking for one of my own.—Tucker Beatty