BMW'S CONFIDENCE IN ITS 3 SERIES IS VERY WELL-FOUNDED, AND THE UPDATED 2016 BMW 330i IS A VERY GOOD CAR, MADE BETTER.
Without tearing up the rule book, a set of subtle changes have helped keep the 330i fresh - there’s the new badge for starters, with the 330i now stepping in for the 328i.
It comes with a new engine and a few equipment adjustments.
Importantly, the new 330i retains the athletic feel of the 328i, the eager performance and a high-quality interior.
Vehicle Style: Luxury mid-size sedan
Price: $69,900 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 185kW/350Nm 2.0 4cyl turbo petrol | 8spd automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 5.8 l/100km | tested: 8.1 l/100km
Under the bonnet there’s an all-new engine - part of the modular BMW engine family that the company is spreading across its entire range. Once again it doesn’t signify a huge change, but it offers some slight improvements.
And inside - you guessed it - just subtle alterations, and nothing drastic.
BMW is confident in its formula, so things remain familiar. Of course, for those who want to stand out in a crowd, the subdued 330i might not quite hit the mark.
But if you enjoy driving, and a finely-honed blade, you will find a lot to like and a lot that's familiar in the new 3 Series 330i.
- Standard equipment: Dual-zone climate control, sliding front armrest, auto lights and wipers, heat reducing glass, head up display, LED headlights, 360 degree camera, front and rear park sensors, leather wrapped multi-function steering wheel, push-button start, 18-inch alloy wheels, Dakota leather seat trim, proximity key
- Infotainment: iDrive controller, 8.8-inch display, satellite navigation, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, 20GB storage, and DVD drive, DAB+ digital radio
- Cargo volume: 480 litres
While a choice of 'equipment packages' for your new BMW remains, the Modern Line has vanished, and Sport Line and Luxury Line remain, along with the M Sport package.
Our test car was the Sport Line 330i, and, as a result, came trimmed with black gloss and coral red adorning the dash and door inserts, black Dakota leather, a sports wheel with red stitching, red instrument scales, and LED ambient lighting.
Typically, there is a firm feel to the front seats of the 3 Series, and they may not at first give the impression of long-range comfort, but they are supportive in all the right places. A low-set sporty feel for the driver's seat works perfectly if you decide to indulge in some enthusiastic pedalling.
In the rear there’s enough room to seat a pair of adults, but the centre tunnel intrusion makes three abreast more challenging.
The optional sunroof fitted to this car also shaves off a bit of headroom up front, but leaves things relatively clear in the back.
Another 330i feature is the larger 8.8-inch iDrive display - it looks more at home than the smaller 6.5-inch standard item, with a bright and clear display that’s easy to view, even in glarey conditions.
Otherwise, the interior brings together a collection of quality finishes, assembled with precision. While the new C-Class offers a little more ‘flash’ and the XE can look a little humdrum, the business-like 3 Series presents a pleasant middle-ground.
Boot space remains unchanged at 480 litres, and a blend of spacious door pockets, but a slightly more compact glovebox and console are the in-cabin storage options. A new sliding cover tops the cup-holders, but the omission of an electric park-brake wastes some valuable real estate.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 185kW/350Nm 2.0 litre four-cylinder turbo petrol
- Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, rear wheel drive
- Performance: 0-100km/h 5.8 seconds
- Suspension: Aluminium double-joint spring strut front, five-link independent rear, with Adaptive M suspension
- Brakes: Four wheel ventilated disc brakes, single piston floating calipers front and rear
- Steering: Electric power steering, turning circle: 11.3m
BMW’s new family of engines offers something of a ‘cut to size’ approach. The 330i’s four-cylinder is modular, being built off the same basic component set of the 318i’s three-cylinder and the 340i’s six-cylinder.
It’s also the same engine as you’ll find in the 320i, but with clearly more muscular power and torque outputs - offering 185kW of power at 6500rpm and 350Nm of torque from 1450 to 4800rpm.
Compared to the outgoing 328i, that’s 5kW more, while torque stays the same, but comes on tap 200rpm later.
You’d be hard pressed to pick the difference between the two. Put them back-to-back and the new car shaves just 0.1 of a second off the 0-100km/h sprint, coming in at 5.8 seconds.
(But the previous engine was something of a highlight in the 3 Series line-up, and, really, not that old. So we're pleased the new engine hasn't taken things backwards.)
Importantly, it is a smooth and quiet unit that can be noodled around town, offers a responsive and nicely progressive throttle and very brisk acceleration.
And, if you want to delve into its reserves, it certainly doesn’t disappoint.
As a weekend getaway-machine, the 330i mixes a taut but comfortable ride with responsive steering and sporting handling. Find yourself on a winding strip of road and the 330i will readily warm to the challenge. It can really fly if given its head.
A solid block of torque available across a broad rev range puts a whole lot of thrust on tap, with really eager throttle response.
The rear-wheel-drive chassis is beautifully balanced; the 330i is certainly a front runner in the handling stakes, although Jaguar’s XE comes threateningly close.
Adaptive M suspension, standard in all 3 Series variants except the 318i, helps with that feeling of agility, able to firm up when you demand a sports car, but with a more supple approach to the daily commute. The latter being something you'll welcome given the 330i’s 18-inch wheels and low-profile rubber.
Steering is firmly weighted and offers a decent amount of feedback. It is bettered for feel, in our view, by the Lexus IS and the Jaguar XE wins by a nose for it’s precise and agile steering feel.
Typically, there is a little more road-noise in the BMW than in some competitors, but barely intrusive unless on very coarse blue-chip bitumen.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - the 3 Series range scored 36.67 out of 37 possible points.
Safety features: Six airbags (dual front, dual front side, full length curtain), rear view and 360 degree cameras, dynamic stability control and traction control, ABS brakes with brake assist and corner brake control, front seatbelts with load limiting pretensioners.
BMW Active Protection can also detect an accident situation and prepare the car by closing the windows and sunroof, and tensioning the seatbelts to better prepare the cabin against impact.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
While the interior finish of the C-Class is exemplary, the C250 is outgunned by the more powerful 330i. The newly turbocharged Lexus IS doesn’t seem as polished inside, but the new turbo engine gives it the torque boost it needed.
Jaguar still needs to do some work to get the XE up to speed for luxury feel (but it 'works' as a sport sedan). And, with a new A4 coming, perhaps some buyers may wish to hold fire until they can check it out.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The competition in this premium sedan class is cut-throat, and getting even more bloodied. Where the badge once sat clearly above the pack, the BMW 330i has a tougher fight on its hands than the 328i before it.
Personal preferences rather than any particular failings are likely to guide buyers in their final choice in this premium sports/saloon segment.
But for sheer balance, for beautiful on-road feel and for the sporting soul that lurks beneath, the 330i maintains its place at the top of the segment.
There are changes inside and out in keeping with the change to the new badge, but those famous BMW dynamics remain intact. For the driver in you, that’s BMW’s biggest reward.