Automobiles

[REVIEW] 2019 BMW 330i xDrive M Sport

The iconic BMW 3-series has long been a benchmark for sports-sedan greatness. When you look at the history of the 3-Series as a whole, it’s easy to see how the model got to where it is today and why it is still regarded as the benchmark of the compact sport sedan class.

40 years on, this all new G20 3-Series doesn’t offer up any surprises. With the Bavarian having more rivals than ever thanks to new global players in the game, both electric and gasoline powered, this seventh-generation 3 Series has to do more and be more to be competitive.

After all, the 3 Series is central to what BMW is all about. It is the epitome of the company’s highly successful and brilliant “Ultimate Driving Machine” marketing campaign.

So the question is, with almost all of its components being entirely different from the last, has it raised the bar?

Exterior design

One of the aims for the 3 Series designers was, ‘don’t make it look like a 5 Series’.

The new car is comfortable yet sporty, respectable and yet smart. Through decades of careful evolution, the BMW 3 Series has become a standard to which everything else similar is inevitably measured again.

The all-new Bimmer is bigger than before, but the extensive use of lightweight materials help it weigh even less. Overall, the body is almost 8 cm longer, stretching the use of the classification “compact”. The front track is up by 4 cm.

There is greater use of aluminium, particularly with the hood, front fenders, suspension and drivetrain. Overall, the weight savings are more than 110 pounds despite the growth in the car’s length and width as well as the improvements. made in torsional rigidity.

The car’s new CLAR platform, underpinning a host of BMWs from this car to the X5, is purported to be lighter and 25 percent stiffer than the previous generation F30’s 3 Series’ architecture. The car is solid and quiet, and it quickly attenuates big hits before they can send a shake through the structure.

The 3 Series’ unmistakable front end is more prominent than ever, while other exterior details such as the obligatory Hofmeister kink are subtly evolved. Gone are the circular “angel eye” daytime running lights and in place are more modern looking LED accents.

The new coachwork has very taut metal along the sides with subtle but sharp creases. Presumably because it’s more slippery and also because of pedestrian protection regulations, the hood is held low over the front wheels.

Interestingly, the G20 is also one of the few recent BMWs without the air curtain outlets behind the front fenders. Apparently in this car, they would have made no difference as the shape was already slippery enough.

Driving Impressions

A new generation of the BMW 3 Series is always a big deal given this sports sedan’s reputation. This model has extra weight on its shoulders given the competition from Mercedes-Benz, Genesis, Audi, and even Tesla.

To compete, for now, BMW continues to offer two smooth and potent gasoline-powered engines. As tested, the 330i features a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that makes 255 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque The new M340i pairs with a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six that produces 385 ponies and 369 lb-ft.

Each engine pairs with an eight-speed automatic transmission and standard xDrive all-wheel-drive in Canada. Due to its low uptake, a manual transmission is currently not offered.

But don’t poo-poo the lesser 330i. Whether you’re driving with one or four passengers, the 2.0-liter engine feels powerful for a car of this type.

It’s a peach of a power plant and has a wonderful character. For a turbocharged four-cylinder, it’s remarkably smooth and blissfully keen to rev out to 6,800rpm. This latest version of the B46 turbo 2.0-litre has been fitted with a lighter crank, improved direct injection, reduced internal friction, and new engine-management programming.

At low revs, the diesel-like clatter that plagued the last-generation 330i has been vastly reduced.

The newly re-tuned eight-speed transmission shows the engine to its very best advantage. There’s no significant torque-converter slip and the changes are super-snappy yet perfectly smooth. It always seems to be in the right gear and shifts at the right RPMs.

A lot of this credit goes to the fact that the transmission is now linked to the GPS satellite navigation system and keeps topography and geography into account. While this technology is not new to BMW, it is the first time that it has been implemented on the 3 Series.

Handling-wise, there are two different suspension setups, with either regular or adaptive dampers. My test vehicle was fitted with the latter. I really liked being able to configure the suspension and steering in different ways with the Sport Individual mode.

Arguably, the overall driving ex­peri­ence isn’t so different from the previous generation 3 Series. However, BMW has improved the steering and handling. In addition to a sportier suspension tune and 19-inch wheels with run-flat Bridgestone Turanza T005 summer rubber, the M Sport bundle also adds the quicker Variable Sport Steering.

This epiphany was obvious with the 3’s newfound steering feel that provided road-surface information and variable effort. It’s sharp and accurate without feeling nervously direct. Compared to the Audi A4 and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, it feels far more connected and less deliberately isolated, particularly in comparison to the Audi.

Moreover, it’s the sum of all the parts that makes a BMW a BMW. It’s all matched just so deliciously well. The vehicle’s roll, yaw, steering responses blend together so you can place the car on the road just so.

Yes, in Sport mode the ride is notably taut. But the dampening feels solid but yet never harsh. There is never a sense of fragility even through the harshest bumps thanks to the rigid new structure.

The latest generation xDrive all-wheel-drive operates without fuss or muss. Still rear-wheel biased with respect to the torque split, the system provides excellent traction, allowing the 330i xDrive to complete the 0-100 km/hr run in about 5.6 seconds.

Unlike the higher-end BMWs, the rear differential is open and the system does not have the ability to mechanically torque vector laterally. Presumably this functionality will be saved for the upcoming M3.

Granted, it’s not a sports car, but among normal-peoples’ sedans you won’t find one that’s much more fun than this car.

Interior Gadgets and Comfort

Inside, the 3 has a modernized design complete with excellent materials and impressive build quality. BMW claims the sedan has improved outward visibility and the interior is even quieter than its predecessor.

Whether you’re driving on a canyon road or just down the street, the new 3 Series will feel like a bigger car—because it is. The wheelbase has increased by 1.6 inches, and the overall length grew by 2.9 inches. Up front, the 14-way seats strike a commendable balance of comfort and support.

Second-row passengers will immediately notice the increase in legroom. There’s now also enough headroom to accommodate the average tall passenger, but the driveshaft hump does sacrifices some footroom for a third person in the back. The back seat isn’t huge, but it is comfortable. It’s possible for three adults to sit there without intolerable touching.

The trunk is now bigger and can conveniently be opened or closed hands-free. This is thanks to a new power trunk lid function, borrowed from the 5 and 7 Series sedans.

Sit in the driver’s seat and the first thing you’ll notice is the sizeable 12.3-inch-inch screen located in the instrument cluster. Integrated with the latest iDrive system, the system generally works well.

The attractive looking virtual gauges occupy the outer part of the 10.3-inch display and the centre can be configured to display the GPS navigation map. While I found it attractive, admittedly, the layout is much less configurable than Audi’s virtual cockpit system.

Like other current model BMWs, the 3’s speedometer and rev counter frame the screen symmetrically, like hands cradling binoculars, and really only the map can be permanently displayed between the two.

A larger 10.3-inch iDrive touchscreen sits atop the centre of the dashboard and controls navigation, vehicle settings, phone, wireless Apple CarPlay, and my car’s optional Harman/Kardon audio system.

While there is a bit of a learning curve for current BMW owners used to the previous generation iDrive layout, the new menu structure is for the most part very logical. There are attractive and high-end looking graphics, fonts, and menu designs, and there are more customizations than ever before.

I’m very impressed that BMW took the time to match the colour of the actual car with a colour matched version of the virtual car in the onboard systems. It’s a small touch but a nice one that is just damn cool and speaks to the attention of detail that one can find from the company.

You can interact with the infotainment system by touching the screen or by turning and pushing the iDrive controller next to the shifter. Gesture control, optionally available, allows you to adjust the volume and more by just twirling one’s finger in the air near the screen.

The system can now be programmed to accept custom gestures too, so you can virtually select your favour tasks with literally a snap or poke of your fingers.

The plastic around the air vents and centre console has a nice design that looks polished for a modern BMW.  The knurled knobs look and feel expensive.

At night, you’ll enjoy playing with the ambient lighting and choosing between a handful of colours.

Perhaps as a step towards preparing its customers for autonomous vehicles and the extension of the car as a living room, BMW has introduced a couple of interesting new features in the iDrive system.

Called “Caring Car’, this feature basically allows the vehicle to help you either revitalize or relax. In it you get two choices: Vitalize and Relax.

The 3-minute Vitalize program will open the windows, the moonroof, raise the music volume and lower the AC temperature to get you hyped again. It will even vary the fan speed every few seconds to simulate a breeze.

The ambient lighting colour is also adjusted, and the system can play a preset BMW-provided soundtrack (or your own favourite song). The way I see it, it’s meant to keep you going if you get tired on a long stretch.

Relax mode is basically the opposite and warms up the car (at 23 degrees!) and changes the ambient lighting to a soothing orange/red. It too has its own dedicated soundtrack.


Final Verdict

Overall the G20 3 Series is a polished, accomplished all-rounder for many users. However, trouble is looming ahead with cheaper electric cars. In particular, the Tesla 3 already starting to eat into 3 Series sales thanks to its competitive price point, perceived high level of technology, and arguably lower operating costs.

With new competition in the segment, it’s difficult for the Bavarian to stand out like it did for decades. BMW will have to keep on innovating to keep its target demographic interested and happy.

With the 2019 330i, BMW tried hard to bring the car back to the top of the sport sedan list and it succeeds for the most part. The new 3 Series is dynamic, sporty, and—yes—fun.

Once again, it sets a new dynamic benchmark for the compact luxury sports sedan market as well as featuring the very latest of BMW’s tech, and a promising, if not yet complete, range of engines and transmissions.

The car’s low body roll and good grip make you want to go back to the twisty roads for more, or perhaps even take the longer way home on your daily commute.

If any model presents an open goal to get back to basics, it’s a new 3 Series, the BMW that still defines the brand. The 3 Series never really stopped being a good driver’s car and this one continues to be better than ever.

Andrew Ling
Andrew is a proud car and tech geek who has worked in Surrey for over the last 10 years. He comes from a communications/marketing background and has worked for automotive-related companies such as Edmunds.com, BenzWorld.org since 1999. From track driving, to rally driving to autocross, he has done it all! When he’s not reading about the latest automotive news, he can be found outdoors snapping pictures at various events around town.
X
X