It's a bit of a mixed bag, to be honest. While you can argue over the detailing, styling-wise it cuts a dash by looking substantial and purposeful on the road, without ending up visually humdrum like some of its rivals. Inside it is smart and well laid out, too, and there’s something of the current generation 5 Series in the layout of the 8.0in sat-nav screen and the buttons on the central stack. Admittedly, the materials aren’t up to 5 Series standards, but nonetheless they are appropriate for the class.
Start it up, though, and you are left in no doubt it’s an oil burner. A discordant diesel rattle erupts, followed by a noticeable buzz through the cabin at idle. Both qualities are present when you are on the move, with tingles through the steering column between 2000-3000rpm, and diesel clatter all the way to the red line.
Neither is it a prodigious performer. Once you get past the initial low-end lag, it picks up smartly from 1750rpm, but the flow of torque feels largely spent as the rev-counter sweeps past 3000rpm; the combined effect of noise and wheeziness means you learn quickly not to rev it out. Road noise is an issue as well, although wind noise is well stifled.
The dual-clutch gearbox doesn’t feature on the Sportswagon’s pros list, either. It’s clunky at low speed, particularly when it’s cold, making squeezing out of a tight parking spot an act of deep concentration and deft footwork. Still, once you are in the flow of things, it changes smoothly through the gears, even if it occasionally refuses to accept your request for a lower gear when using the paddles to shift down manually.
You get the feeling that the engineers couldn’t make up their minds on how this car should ride: should it be sporty or cotton-woolly? The consequence of their indecision has wrought a car that is neither comfortable nor particularly sharp to drive. It spends much of the time fidgeting and thudding over surface imperfections - more so in town, less so on the motorway - but pitch it in to a turn and while it hangs on well, with a degree of throttle adjustability, there’s little finesse.
The main problem is the steering, which feels light and a touch vague around the straight-ahead, then suddenly chucks in resistance that’ll fatigue your forearms as you apply lock. This disregard for control-weight consistency is one of the reasons you never quite gel with the Sportswagon.