As you may already know from my previous stories, I’m a big wagon guy. My first car was a Volvo V70 wagon; it brought me home from the hospital and years later took me to high school. From there, I graduated—see what I did there?—into what I would consider my first proper car, a 2000 323i Touring. Over the years writing for BimmerLife, I’ve had the opportunity to drive a bunch of fun wagons, and the latest is a 2018 Glacier Silver Metallic 330i sport wagon (F31 chassis code).
I was never a huge fan of the 2013–2019 F3X-generation 3 Series. I never found them all that pleasing to look at, they have less feel than generations prior, and they had put on a bit of weight compared to the outgoing E90-generation cars. I thought I knew exactly what to expect with this F31: a comfortable daily, that does the trick around town. However, I was surprised with what this little wagon had to offer.
Initially, the F31 did exactly what I expected; it was a comfortable daily driver. Comparing it to the previous E91 wagon, it’s far better in its day-to-day experience, with better tech, comfy seats, light steering, and an incredibly smooth ride in reference to the atrocious road surface (thank you, MassDOT), and it was quite quiet in Comfort Mode. It would really be a pleasure to cruise to and from work in this car. I really had no complaints about floating around town or picking up the kids from soccer practice.
Flipping through the rocker switch on the console, I moved up into the Sport setting. As with so many other BMWs of this era, this is where things get more interesting. The first thing I noticed was the change in steering feel; in Comfort, the steering is almost comically light, and you feel almost nothing through the front end. In Sport, all of that changes; the weight of the steering increases, and the road translates much more through the wheel. It’s certainly subjective, but for me, this was far more enjoyable for the driver.
In Sport mode, the transmission’s shifting also becomes more sporty, hanging onto gears a bit longer and using more of the rev range. While this is fun at times, I wish that I had known I could set the steering to Sport and the transmission to Comfort. With a car like this, if I want to attack a mountain road, I would use the paddles to shift and wouldn’t need to rely on the transmission’s more sporty setting. It became slightly annoying, even after an hour.
Speaking of the transmission, this is what I was most surprised about. Whenever I have the opportunity to drive something new, I go in with a close eye on the relationship between the engine and gearbox. This partnership can be the difference between a good and a great driving experience. In the F31, I was impressed with how the eight-speed ZF8 transmission and the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder B48 engine worked well as a package. The ZF shifted well, far better than I expected from “just an automatic.” Outside of the transmission’s Sport setting, the paddle shifts were plenty quick enough to have some fun. Paired with the B48, it was a blast to move through the powerband.
The car is quick around town, too. It’s not a M car, but it’s not a Lada, either. The little B48 engine moved the wagon around with ease despite its weighing 3,800 pounds. As many others have said, I also wish these wagons had been offered with the six-cylinder turbocharged engine of the F80 M3 (S55) or even the 340i’s B58, but for a four-pot, the B48 gets the job done and is fun to drive.
That’s why I think BMW sold so many of these in the Northeast; it does just enough of everything to be a great family car. It is perfect for sleeping children on a road trip, but given the circumstances, it can be a lot of fun on a twisty back road. If you don’t want a crossover, this 3 Series wagon was about the only thing you could get during its time. When it was being sold new, the F31 had few competitors in the small-wagon market (niche, I know), its only real rival being the Audi Allroad. Holistically, the BMW as a package is better. I found it edging out the Audi on the day-to-day side of things, aside from the Allroad’s superior ground clearance, but the F31 is far more fun to explore the powerband on a back road.
Over the years, BMW has given us so many great wagons, and the recent news of the next-generation M5 Touring potentially returning to U.S. shores puts a smile on my face. The F31 had plenty of Bavarian wagon pedigree to uphold, and in my experience, it proved a fitting successor to its ancestors. I am excited to see what comes up next in BMW’s long-roof lineage.—Tucker Beatty