I’ve known for a while this has been coming, and frankly, it has been worrying me a little.
I haven’t driven a new BMW in a long time, but for the past year I have been driving my own 3 Series. It’s 16 years old and somewhat beaten up on the inside, but still very comfortable in an old but good car kind of manner. The tech is, of course, old school but with a little upgrade it has enough to do what I need. The engine is a three litre straight six making enough power for me get in trouble, but its handling is crisp and reactive enough for me to get straight out of it again.
So being handed the keys to a new BMW and go play with it worried me. I don’t want to fall out of love with my car and, and having made it through the seven month itch, I don’t want to wish for a younger model.
So, I took the key to a fresh 330i and immediately hooked up the Bluetooth up to see how iDrive is getting on, and the good news is that iDrive is now exccellent. The idea of putting a big knob that controls the stuff on the screen just where your hand falls when your elbow is on the centre rest is ergonomically excellent. It just took some development to get the software to this point.
The nice thing about the system is not having to try and hit a touch screen with a fingertip, and ultimately not distractedly trying to use fine motor skills while doing seventy miles per hour to make a music selection. Just twiddle the dial to go through the menu, then press the giant button in the middle and there’s your Kraftwerk playlist.
Well, my Kraftwerk playlist because I like stereotypes on my stereo. This wasn’t the surround sound package, but the nine speaker system sounded good whatever I put through it before even touching the settings.
This one was the auto. I’m not going to talk about the packages much because I didn’t take much notice – I only had two days with it and I wanted to get to know it as the Ultimate Driving Machine, not the Help You Drive Machine or the Show People How Much You Earn Machine. I can, and should, tell you that it didn’t have the M Sport or Track Handling packages.
Anyway, the 8 speed auto is as smooth as you want, but it also has the Steptronic mode so the stick or the paddles can be used to control the gears. The transmission also features an automatic stop/start system to save fuel at the traffic lights, and because I didn’t read the manual I didn’t know it was coming. The first time it kicked in it felt like someone had given me a little tap from behind or something important had broken. It’s quite abrupt and maybe I would get used to it long term, but I’m not convinced and it does dent the luxury car experience a little.
For the luxury bit of Luxury Sports Sedan, the leather is very nice and the seating position is faultless and adaptable to my six foot and a bit frame. The steering wheel and seat adjustment gives you no excuse to not have it in the right position wether you want to drive properly or affect some sort of lean like the cool kids do. I did do a couple of hours straight driving and the seats inspired no fatigue whatsoever.
The interior is perfectly acceptable for a $38,000+ car. The build quality is great, it has soft plastics in the right places and the lovely cut down the middle of wood topped of with the iDrive dial… but it’s a little bland overall. Of course there are options to choose that will give you color/material accents and stitching so factor that into price if you’re not a minimalist. The sound deadening is excellent except when it gives way to the exhaust note of which we’ll talk about in a moment. The ride in comfort mode is compliant enough and soaks up the awful roads around my city very nicely.
But you want me to stick it in sport mode and give it some beans to see what the four banger is like with it’s twin scroll turbo is like, right?
Happy to oblige.
What’s immediately obvious by its absence is the complete lack of lag from the twin scroll setup. Its pretty much seamless and I found myself having to hunt around the rev range to try and figure out when they were coming on.
The obvious thing to note here is BMW made its modern name on the smooth delivery of its inline six cylinder engine, and as far as I can tell they have gotten as near as they physically can with a four banger with forced induction. The torque is there, but even with the exhaust tuned to sound like a six cylinder it’s not quite close enough to the butter zone engine smoothness that would convince you it’s the right engine for a BMW.
However, driving it like my old model 330ci for the first day I was getting an indicated six miles per gallon better from the new car. If you account for an old but still strong engine and a variation in accuracy in readings as being say… two miles per gallon, then that’s still quite a difference in terms of cost of ownership. On an unscientific highway trip it was showing a satisfactory 32 American freedom miles per gallon.
But then come the corners and all that disappears from the mind. The exhaust is a little rough sounding and I personally like it. I thoroughly enjoyed carving up and down my local mountain road and it sticks to the ground like a BMW should. It changed direction through a set of tight S bends with the confidence I expected from a 3 Series. To the point I couldn’t resist going back and doing them a few more times. For professional thoroughness, I’m sure you understand.
It has the sharp and pointy turn in one expects to hear of in a mid size BMW review, along with the 50/50 weight balance I feel obliged to mention. I got zero brake fade coming down the mountain enthusiastically, and the braking is as firm and consistent as it needs be despite being on the ContiProContact tires I’m most definitely not a fan of.
SSR stands for Self Supporting Runflat.
So, did I fall out of love with my old 330ci for a newer model?
No. I didn’t.
It’s a completely different BMW. A different weight, size, engine and transmission. There’s no real comparison other than the new BMW would definitely pass the “if I was blindfolded and drove this car, would I know it was a BMW before I died?” test.
The 3 Series DNA has not been bred out by a long shot. It’s comfortable, it’s well built, it’s quick enough to get you in trouble but well behaved and tuned enough to get you out of trouble. It’s good looking enough for people to know you spent some money and it’s refined and performs well enough to justify that money.
The 330i is a solid car for people that want to drive a BMW and enjoy themselves when they get out of traffic. That sounds like a flat statement, but if that was the mission statement then it was met but not excelled upon. I suspect given a week rather than a few days I would have grown more accustomed to the engine and liked it for more than its handling and iDrive system. The track handling package seems to be the one package I would go for – $2,300 for better brakes, suspension, steering and Michelin Pilot Super Sports is definitely the enthusiast option. The M Sport package for three grand seems more about looking the part than being the part.
But I’m not buying a new BMW, so I’m going to sign off and take the little old manual coupe version up and down the mountain.