BMW 3-Series: Brilliant Allure
An executive sedan that you’ll enjoy driving.
There’s an unlikely docility about BMW’s 330i, I think, as I feed the test car into traffic for the first time. There’s not a hint of snappiness in its pull off and steering, too, feels relaxed. I check the drive mode – it is set for comfort, just right for the conditions.
The journey is easy, soothing even. The longer I’m behind the steering wheel, the more I appreciate the vehicle’s demure demeanour. The car feels responsive – but in a cossetting, comfortable kind of way, the exhaust-note a low burble in the background. Still, I begin to wonder whether BMW – having moved production of the 3-Series from Rosslyn, near Pretoria, to plants in Munich and Mexico that were especially developed for G20 assembly – has substantially changed the character of the car. I needn’t have worried.
Next day, on roads with little traffic and with the drive mode set to sport, the 330i reveals some of its performance credentials – pleasing powerful acceleration; a flat stance in sweeps; impeccable balance in the chassis; accurate, well-weighted, crisp steering; excellent brakes and a far more strident exhaust note.
With a wheelbase extended by 41mm compared to that of the F30 predecessor and its front and rear tracks widened by 43mm and 21mm respectively, the car feels immensely stable on the road, the glued-to-the-tarmac sensation heightened by a lower centre of gravity, a weight reduction of 55kg and a body that BMW claims is about 50 % stiffer than before. What my experiences behind the steering wheel tell me is that, while the brand has underlined its commitment to sporting refinement, it hasn’t forgotten the other attributes that help to make motoring pleasurable – unimpeachable smoothness and pampering in bumper to bumper journeying, for instance. In my view, the G20 – at least in 330i form – represents a vehicle that will nonchalantly mould itself to many forms of driving tastes.
First, the cabin looks impressive. Perhaps stung by criticism that the previous 3-Series lacked some of the alluring qualities incorporated by rivals, BMW stylists have somehow contrived to make the interior feel more luxurious and roomier than it did before. Finishes are pleasing to the eye and to the touch, imparting a high sense of quality. Seats are supportive without being tight or constrictive. The interior is light and airy. There’s a good amount of storage space for oddments. And the pertly styled rear end houses a boot that looks small but which offers 480 litres of luggage space – exactly the same amount as that accommodated by the predecessor.
The designers have added a plethora of new-to-market tech, too – including a host of elegantly-rendered, clear digital displays for the driver – along with traditional smart phone interfaces and connections and, for the comprehensive infotainment system, controls that respond to hand movements, voice commands or old-fashioned button pushing or knob turning. Passengers in the back get a separate climate control console, a 12V charging point, and a twinset of USB sockets. Options include a 12,3-inch touchscreen display to replace the centrally positioned, 8,8-inch standard unit; an expanded instrument panel cluster; a Harmon Kardon surround sound audio system; a wireless charging pad; and a head-up display.
From a propulsion perspective, the 330i is powered by the latest version of BMW’s 2,0-litre, four-cylinder, petrol-fed engine – a turbocharged unit that produces 190kW and 400Nm. It is coupled to a slick, fast-shifting eight-speed auto ’box, with drive going to the rear wheels. Fuel economy is a claimed 6,4 litres per 100km – but expect higher consumption figures in real world conditions, especially if you prefer to exploit the vehicle’s sporty nature. On the latter point, a word of advice: While the engine pulls impeccably with barely a low growl in the low and mid reaches of the rev range, it tends to sound strained the closer the tach needle gets to the red line.
That said, the cabin is very well damped against noise, vibration and harshness. At cruising speed there’s barely a whisper of wind or tyre rustle in the interior, though the stiff sidewalls of the 18-inch, low-profile run-flats with which the test car was shod fared less well in silencing the sharp crack of rubber meeting ridge-like imperfections in the road’s surface. In all, though, the 330i represents one of the most accomplished business-class compacts on the market, its many virtues far out-weighing its few drawbacks. If you’re looking to buy an executive sedan that you’ll enjoy driving, you’re unlikely to be disappointed.