I’ve been spending some time with the new BMW 330i, arguably the most important car for BMW right now. The Bavarian brand has been building up some serious momentum with the launch of its flagship range including the new 8 series, 7 series and X7 SUV. These are all significant vehicles for the brand but the most important to their bottom line is indeed the 3 series. The textbook compact sports sedan, this mid-spec 330i model gets into the thick of things starting at around R650 000. This new G20 model has a lot to live up to and we’ve found that it delivers by the boatload, but maybe not as we expected.
The new, larger, more refined and technologically advanced 3 series represents a significant improvement over the previous model and my 8-year old sister says that it’s the best car I’ve brought home, ever. A bold statement from someone who knows her knows her stuff, so I didn’t take this comment lightly. The 3 is now based on BMW’s Cluster Architecture (CLAR) platform, the same that underpins the likes of the larger 5 and 7 series. That’s a great base to kick things off from, but expectations are now in the stratosphere.
Powering the 330i is a buttery smooth 2.0-litre 4 cylinder unit good for a healthy 190 kW and 400 Nm. All the grunt is sent to the rear wheels via an 8-speed auto. The inevitable 0-100 km/h run is over in only 5.8 seconds and I assure you that’s more than enough for the public road. The engine delivers its torque from a low 1 550 – 4 400 rpm making it one of the most flexible turbo petrol engines on the market. It doesn’t sound particularly sweet though but in sport mode, a deep synthesised bark makes up for it. Crack the window just a bit and you can hear the turbo whooshing away. Select comfort and all becomes whisper quiet with the 8-speed auto working in the background like a ghost. We managed an average of 8.2 l/100 km over the 7 day test period, this is particularly acceptable as much of my time was spent in horrendous Cape Town traffic.
The new 3 series feels big around town, well, because it is! This G20 is nearly as long and as wide as an e39 5 series and pays the price for not feeling quite as nimble as a lesser-powered Alfa Giulia for example. First impressions were pessimistic it felt as though the 3 has become a neat retirement car something a Passat driver would aspire to, quiet, spacious and cosseting. It effortlessly hauls and at highway pace and 120 km/h feels pedestrian with the EcoPro driving mode allowing the car to coast along saving fuel. On the open road, a more respectable consumption of 6.6 l/100 km was achieved. The 3 may have lost some of its effervescence with its maturity but a tremendous balancing act is being pulled off here, wait until it’s raining and the ESP is dialled back then you’ll have the opportunity to realise it’s spark is still there, just needing some persuasion to entertain. The suspension is just about as firm as it should be, with quick steering and enough grip it hustles around bends with enjoyable balance.
This specific test vehicle has easily over R100 000 worth of options fitted and curiously doesn’t have blindspot monitoring or steering-mounted shift paddles, so as always spec your 3 series with your budget and needs in mind. Have a play around on the BMW configurator and you’ll shock yourself with the combined cost of the list of the available options.
We forgive the new 3 series for its faults because it’s a consummate all-rounder doing everything just well enough to edge ahead of the accomplished competition from Mercedes-Benz and Audi. It deserves a test drive. We look forward to testing the new entry-level 320i, powerful 330d and performance-orientated M340i.
In a nutshell:
BMW 330I Sport Line
A hard to fault 3 series from an on-form BMW
Expensive options and not as sharp as it used to be
Engine: 1 998 cc, 4-cylinder turbo petrol
Power: 190 kW @ 5 000 – 6 500 rpm, 400 Nm @ 1 550 – 4 400 rpm
Claimed performance: 0-100 km/h 5.8 sec, top speed 250 km/h (limited)
Tyres: 225/50/R17 (18-inch Optional)
Economy: 6.4 l/100km (claimed)
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
CO2 emissions: 147 g/km
Price: From R 676 016