Test drive: Mark Gallivan reviews the 2019 BMW 330i
Leading motoring writer Mark Gallivan takes the 2019 BMW 330i out for a test drive. Here is what he thought.
Now before we even approach the awkward truth about the new BMW 3 Series, there’s one other fundamental question. What is the new BMW 330i doing in Luxury Lifestyle Magazine in the first place? Coming in at £39,165 in M Sport spec it’s not exactly what you’d call the last word in loquacious luxury. A BMW i8 is. Certainly the 7 Series is and the M5 or new X7. It seems the puny 330i with 258hp and a 0-62mph time of 5.2 seconds does look like it’s pulling a fast one and gate-crashing the Zegna VIP party. But there good foundation to suggest the new 3 Series is now a class leading car that is now one of the Bavarian’s car maker’s finest cars to drive. Provided your joints are up to it. More on that later.
Mind you, like Ian Dury said, there are reasons to be cheerful. The new G20 generation BMW 3 Series is bigger than before. So big in fact that it almost has a similar footprint to an early noughties BMW 5 Series. As a result, there’s ever so less of the slightly cramped feel within the last 3 Series. BMW decided to try me out in its most potent mainstream petrol at launch, the 330i M Sport 2-0 litre in the strikingly vivid Portimao Blue that included a Technology Package, M Sport Plus Package, Comfort Package. BMW do love their bundled packages.
The M Sport Plus Package is important though as it includes an M Sport differential and adaptive sports suspension. You also get 19” doublespoked alloy wheels with hateful run flat tyres that when combined, err on the wrong side of firmness on pocked marked roads. I dare you – drink two litres of water, wait twenty minutes and set off in the car in the most aggressively firm Sport suspension setting clicked in place.
I’d wager you’ll last roughly fifteen minutes before your bladder is pummeled by the suspension and starts to scream. BMW claims the new car is 25% stiffer overall with rear-wheel drive but firm suspension or not the meaty feel of the chassis is tremendous. The diff and adaptive suspension help transform the new 3 Series into quite a step up from the last car. And starring in a leading role is the new car’s steering. Banished is the last generation car’s dead feel at the straight ahead position along with a vagueness that combined with poor weighting at turn in that made owners mutter the first awkward truth – the last 3 Series was off the pace and more about Joy than the Ultimate Driving promise we expected.
The new steering is an electric set up with 2.3 turns to lock and gives good weighting and sharp inputs that come pretty close to the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio’s hype sensitive feedback. As a partner for great drives BMW has nailed the steering this time. Get going in the 3 Series and away from traffic an onto your favourite roads and you’ll quickly hit the next awkward truth, the new 3 Series is now one of the finest BMW’s to drive as a proper non-M powered hardcore tool. You’ll have to pay far more money to get similar fun in such a rounded package.
The turbocharged four-cylinder 2.0-litre engine is a peach with 258hp but with a thick torque band with the first two gear ratio shortened, the race up the 8-speed ZF auto is faster. Gearchanges are precise from the torque converter automatic where trouble usually looms and any likelihood of slurred gearchanges is successfully eliminated. I would have liked the sound from the exhausts to be louder when Sport mode is selected. In the 330i the exhaust bark is a relatively muted affair and a sharper of aural crackle and bark would have matched the firm suspension setting. That seems peculiar as BMW goes to the trouble of piping the sound artificially through the sound system.
The interior has been revised but in the week I drove the car, the new digital readout failed to convince me. Time for another awkward truth the old analogue layout was easier to read and the new rendering is frustrating to use. That was the only thing I missed from the old car. There is evidence of cost cutting by BMW in certain parts of the interior trim that’s hidden from view. Though, this is more a case of keeping the pricing keen against the 330i’s rivals. But this is a new 3 Series that makes no excuses for how it drives – it’s brilliant in all necessary dynamic ways and is excellent fun in all conditions. Maybe this G20 generation 3 Series has a perfect place in this magazine after all. It’s sufficiently powerful, sufficiently big and helps the wealthy occupy their favourite pastime – keeping a firm grip on wealth while not paying over the odds for something that is now a class best.