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Normally, I couldn t care less whether or not a car has four-wheel-drive. The weight penalty exacted by all those extra bits and pieces only affects the performance of the most anemic vehicles. Even if buyers only use the extra traction provided by variable four-corner oomph to rocket out of a snow-covered parking lot a couple of sale days a year, even if it s just the thought that counts, why the Hell not? You pays your money, you reduces your chances of death and dismemberment. But the BMW 325xi Sports Wagon offers a compelling case against its own intelligent four-wheel-drive system: it's a passion killer.

Let s start with steering. The Boys from Bavaria only recently regained their rep for sublime helmsmanship (provided you stay away from Active Steering). The rear-wheel-drive 325i s tiller delivers the most satisfying tactility and precise tire guidance you can find outside of a Porsche showroom. The 325xi Sports Wagon s steering is, in contrast, preposterously ponderous. I reckon it s the most under-assisted power steering money can buy. There are longer boats with a shorter turning circle. Not to put too fine a point on it, aiming the 325xi is hard work.

And then there s the go-pedal — or, I should the say, the "fer Christ s sake, let s GO!" pedal. The 325xi Sports Wagon s rear appendage and four-wheel-drivery add about 500 lbs. to the base sedan's curb weight. On an objective level, the performance differential doesn t appear bothersome (e.g. 7.3 vs. 6.7 secs. to 60mph). Subjectively, the 325i wants to skedaddle, while the 325xi needs a big old kick in the ribs just to get it off its ass. In fact, the Sports Wagon s Dead Man s Throttle feels like it was lifted directly from an old Mercedes E-Class, back when your right foot could tap dance on the gas pedal without the slightest effect on the speedometer.

That said, hammering the 3-Series Sports Wagon s sweet-spinning six without mercy is an exercise in aural delight that will just about get you out of your own way. And the diminutive load lugger handles well enough at speed. The only blots on its cornering copybook are the seats lack of lateral support, a tendency to lean through the turns and God-awful suspension crash when surmounting potholes. If you cane the 325xi Sports Wagon 24/7, you could probably live with these barriers to ultimate driving. Why bother? So you can carry a grandfather clock while doing so?

I m sure there are BMW owners who genuinely need a top-notch four-wheel-drive system. I m equally certain there are [childless] Bimmer buyers who prefer a miniature wagon (a.k.a. long-wheelbase hatchback) to a trad four-door. But I m not entirely convinced there are many such niche fillers willing to trade a huge chunk of brand-implied driving pleasure for occasional extra traction and a fifth door. BMW missed a trick by making its four-wheel-drive system standard in a small, swage-intensive load lugger that costs 40 large. I guess that getting what you paid for isn t always what it s cracked up to be. [by Robert Farago]


Jalopnik Reviews: 2006 BMW 325i, Part 1 [internal]