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MOTORNET: On Your Command - The BMW 330i

On Your Command

SCOOP MOTORNET with Karl Ferguson
Images by Neil Mackenzie -

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‘Please take the next exit on your left. Then, turn right in 200 metres,’ says the modulated voice of BMW’s satellite navigation system. Failing to follow instructions does nothing to raise a non-automated response. Even a complete 360 will see the GPS based system pause for the briefest of seconds before re-plotting the correct course, and re-issuing instructions. It’s really quite frustrating…

There’s an unflappable quality in many German cars and the new BMW 330i is no exception. The new 3 Series is an important car for BMW, long having been the volume seller in the line-up though this mantle may be shifting by some degree to the entry-level 1 Series hatch.

Given this, it’s no surprise that while the 3 Series follows the controversial 7 and also 5 sedans in styling, it is noticeably more conservative – at least from a design perspective – than its larger siblings. Even so, it is an attractive looking car, borrowing design cues from the 1-Series particularly in the headlight treatment and from the 5-Series. The now familiar ‘flame surfacing’ marks the flanks of the 3, while the executive face is tempered by a more organic, rounded rear. It works, and works well, yet the design can appear overly busy from some angles for such a relatively small sedan. Some may also find it lacks the striking looks of the 5 for example. Equally, there are those that will find this a blessing.

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Familiar cues continue on the inside with the now familiar stop-start button making an appearance, as does the LCD screen and i-Drive system. It’s usual BMW territory, little different from its larger brethren. The test car was optioned with sensational-to-the-touch brushed aluminium trim, as well as BMW’s excellent sports seats. Overall, materials are generally of the standard you would expect and vastly better than those used in the X3. Fit and finish is excellent, as are the ergonomics, though placement of the window controls are a bit of a reach. Given that the car has ostensibly grown by a reasonable margin, interior space is at surprising premium. The interior is cosy rather than cramped, but extended travel with more than two adult rear passengers is not desirable. Storage space too is borderline inadequate. Finding even a suitable possie for the cell phone is a challenge…

Turn the key though (or in this case, push the button) and all shortcomings are forgiven. BMW’s superlative in-line six cylinder comes to life and if you didn’t know why this German marque was so popular before, you’ll find the answer definitely lies in the engines. Developing 190 kW, at 6600 rpm and an impressive 300 Nm of torque at a very accessible 2500 rpm, the 330i certainly delivers in the power department. The performance is engaging to say the least, the engine note satisfyingly feral as the tachometer races for the redline, the driver a more than willing accomplice. Of course, petrol engines don’t have it all their own way these days. If you’re into torque, then the 320 diesel would be worth considering as it produces a staggering 340Nm.

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Not surprisingly, BMW have got it right in the handling and road-holding department too. The test car was equipped too with the optional 18” wheel package (17” are standard) which I expected to have a pretty negative effect on the ride quality. I needn’t have been concerned. The 330i certainly has a sporty ride but unlike some BMWs, you won’t lose your back fillings on a misplaced pothole. Even the run-flat tires, which with their very firm sidewalls can be murder on ride quality, don’t seem to present much in the way of a problem.

When it comes to the twisty stuff, it’s a bit like all those modern day cameras – simply point and shoot. The car has bags of grip and the chassis is as responsive as any BMW I have previously driven. There is little in the way of either understeer or oversteer and with all the electronic trickery on board, the likelihood of ever getting into real trouble by overcooking a corner is rare.

The steering too is a marvel thanks to the migration of the active steering from the 5-series. It does take a little getting used, but once you settle into it, you wonder how you ever coped without it. At the risk of oversimplifying the technology that went into the steering, suffice it to say it works its magic by increasing the turning ratio at low speeds and reducing them at high speeds. In other words, it is easy to park. I sometimes found I needed to change my habits to avoid hitting other parked cars, but when having a go on your favourite black-top, it works a treat.

A great car then or just a mighty fine one? There’s no doubt that those who are already converts to the marque will fine upgrading to this model anything but a chore. It offers more power, more refinement, more equipment… pretty much more of everything. Pricing, at $105,900, is line ball with similar sized offerings from the likes of Mercedes and Audi. Of course, add in a few extras and the price can increase dramatically. The test car for example carried over $17,000 in options.

On the downside, it manages to feel a little soulless on first acquaintance. A few days behind the wheel helps the relationship, but with the Lexus IS250 and others knocking firmly on the door, there’s no denying that BMW still face some pretty intense competition for the executive dollar.

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