BMW 330i xDrive
COME BACK, KID
It was in 1977 that I first saw BMW’s all-new 3 Series on the street. It was a deep burgundy, spotlessly clean and, when compared to the mustard yellow of my ’74 Alfa sedan, drop-dead gorgeous. With its predecessor, BMW’s 2002, serving for many of us as the quintessential sport sedan, the unified, organic design of the ‘3’ seemed almost next-century – and we weren’t even out of the ‘70s. Today, almost 50 years later, BMW’s 330i straddles the line between the last century and this one, while the company’s electrified lineup presumably provides customers with the Ultimate Clean Machines.
The 3 Series, of course, has been the foundational underpinning of Bavarian Motor Works since its U.S. launch in 1976. At that point it was available as a 2-door sedan with but one powertrain, a 2.0 liter SOHC four with fuel injection – the ‘i’ in 320i. You did, however, get two choices in the car’s center console: True Believers opted for the manual trans, while those new to the brand (and probably new to luxury imports) opted for the automatic. The automatic, at that point, was ill-suited to small four cylinders whose horsepower was derived from revs, and whose torque – without those revs – was almost imperceptible. If there is an automotive purgatory, it’s populated by the original 3 Series with but two pedals.
Now in its seventh generation, the 3 Series comes as only a 4-door sedan, while the ‘4 Series’ descriptive is given to both a 2-door and a Gran Coupe 4-door. (Intuitive, right?) And as with most things automotive, with each of those successive iterations the platform has grown. In 1980, when I began selling BMWs at John Roberts in Dallas, the 320i stretched 177.5 inches on a wheelbase of 101 inches, was but 63.4 inches wide and weighed just 2400 pounds in its 2-door-only form. And it cost, according to Car and Driver magazine, just $12,000. Less than 45 years later the 330i 4-door is eight inches longer on a wheelbase of 112 inches, and is 72 inches wide. It now weighs – with BMW’s xDrive all-wheel drive – 3,700 pounds, and starts at $44K.
There is, of course, good news: The 330i turbocharged four cylinder delivers 255 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. That delivers an 0-60 of just 5.6 seconds with the aforementioned all-wheel drive, an improvement of over 4 seconds when compared to what the rear-wheel drive 3 Series delivered in 1980. If ever there’s a direct comparison for the ages, it’s what we regarded as fast in the ‘80s relative to what we consider quick today. Thankfully, the 330i is competitively quick, while delivering an EPA estimate of 24 City/33 Highway and 27 miles per gallon Combined.
In the walk-up, BMW’s design delivers what we’ve come to expect from the 3 Series. In this iteration the sheetmetal takes on a more angular character; it’s less fluid or organic than its predecessors. This isn’t a bad thing, but seems to separate itself further from the Eurocentric forms of its immediate past. Thankfully, the godawful grille has been left to the 4 Series – the 3 Series has a modification of what we’ve seen before, but it’s not a distortion of what we’ve seen before. Also of note: our press 3 Series was finished in Brooklyn Gray, a distinct – albeit presumably hip – departure from Eurocentric names (think Chamonix) more common in the past.
The balance of the 330i 4-door impresses as clean and uncluttered (‘undeniably sporty, unmistakably BMW’ – per the press release), with a reasonable amount of greenhouse for navigating your urban jungle, while enjoying the scenery on those scenic drives. And if it’s an overnight, not only will two kids fit comfortably in the back seat, their stuff will fit into the trunk’s 17 cubic feet of space.
Behind the wheel, the 255 horses offer the appropriate amount of git-up-and-go, with no apparent throttle lag and, if slipped into ‘Sport’ mode, the level of immediacy you’d hope. The console’s ‘Comfort’ setting enhances efficiency, giving you more of that Accord ambience you enjoyed in the last pay grade, while Eco Pro improves efficiency even further. With these engineering tweaks to optimize economy, however, you begin to wonder why BMW didn’t simply keep its diesel…
If there’s a disconnect behind that wheel, it’s not in the 330i’s performance envelope; rather, it’s with the video arcade – make that cheap video arcade – displayed immediately in front of you. At one time the Germans represented the ‘go to’ for business-like, informative gauge displays that dispensed with the design BS typically offered by the domestic OEMs. This thing, with a digital display melding into the dash’s infotainment system, puts equal emphasis on road speed, engine speed and what’s playing on Sirius/XM. Really? Really.
Much better is the perforated SensaTec-covered seating, offered in Tacora Red. The buckets are supportive, while the rear bench will take most of what two adults – even us American adults – can throw at it.
With the base of $44K for the all-wheel drive xDrive, I’d add BMW’s Dynamic Handling Package for $1200 and call it a day. Even better would be BMW’s product team spec’ing a stripped variant of a rear-wheel drive 3 Series, with no nanny aids, real gauges and a manual trans for just under $40,000. At that point it could once again strike a chord with 20-somethings – while being less of an Accord for 50-somethings.
If I was at the showroom, I’d take the $54,000 BMW wants for this well-equipped (but not loaded) 330i xDrive and opt for a M240i xDrive. I’d sacrifice two doors and some interior volume, but I’d have a viable alternative to a more focused sports car, with a semblance of all-season capability. And I’d order it in BMW’s Alpine White…’Brooklyn’, I think, would be better on a Buick.