Yet BMW never stopped offering these chariots—and was even able to convince Cadillac, over time, that wagons are so desirable that the General Motors luxury division will bring out a midsize CTS version in May.
The 535i wagon comes with a beefed-up, 300-horsepower 6-cylinder engine boasting twin turbos for BMW's trademark performance soul.
The wagon also comes with an array of technological magic so complex that the owner's manual devotes 23 pages to mastering the iDrive system that brings it all to life. While wagons generally are aimed at a crowd whose VCRs blink "12:00," BMW equips them with iDrive that caters to the microprocessor crowd.
The wagon excels at carrying people and cargo while being easier to maneuver and much easier to park than a minivan, sport-utility and some crossovers.
But it falls short in fashion. Recognizing this, BMW puts its performance stamp solidly behind the distinctive twin-port grilles.
The 3-liter, twin-turbo, inline 6 guarantees plenty of zip without lag when leaving the light or pulling out to pass. The guts of a sedan, though not the glitter.
With xDrive, plus standard stability and traction control, the wagon is secure on wet or dry pavement and on the straightaways or in the corners and twisties.
One problem, however, is how much 300 h.p. puts performance ahead of mileage: 16 m.p.g. city/24 highway. 'Nuff said?
The cabin is designed for comfort on trips short or long. The center console/armrest separating driver/front passenger stands tall to help hold each in place in aggressive motoring. The rear seat offers good room in all areas but one—tootsie space under the front seats for those in back.
Neat touches include a ski-bag holder and pass-through between rear seat and cargo hold ($900), quick-folding rear seat backs and power tailgate (part of a $2,500 package).
A section of the cargo floor lifts to expose a divided area to keep packages in place, while the cargo wall has pull-down grocery bag hooks, power plug and compartment for first-aid kit. A pull-out shade hides cargo, and a pull-up net slips into roof holders to provide a haven for your pet. Attach the net only from the rear of the wagon—and win entry into the Guinness Book if you do it in one try.
Other goodies include a cell-phone cradle and iPod/USB adapter ($400) under the center armrest and cupholders that slip out of the dash at the push of a button (only one did). Oh, and when the car is locked from the outside, buttons to unlock it are disabled inside, so a thief who manages to get in can't use the door to get out.
The wagon starts at $55,800 with power sunroof, AM/FM stereo with CD/MP3 player audio system, rain-sensing wipers, Bluetooth phone technology, anti-lock brakes and iDrive.
Then get out your checkbook for the host of options: night vision to show anything that gives off heat—animals, people or other vehicles—in or along the road at night or in rain/fog ($2,200); lane-departure warning that beeps if you wander into another lane ($950); active cruise control that beeps and applies brakes as you close in on the vehicle ahead ($2,400); navigation system ($1,900); head-up display that projects vehicle speed and distance to major crossroads in the windshield ($1,200); park-distance control with ultrasonic sensors in front/rear bumpers to beep when cutting it too close when parallel parking ($750); and multicontour seats that adjust side bolsters to occupants ($1,200).
The wagon could do with fewer of these costly options and a few more buttons/knobs to replace iDrive, which makes the simple things too complex.
Read Jim Mateja every Sunday in Rides. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org