2017 BMW 330i First Test Review

Arguably, BMW introduced the luxury sport sedan category to the States with the 1977 320i (1975 elsewhere). One might even argue they cracked that code even earlier if you consider its now-collectible sedan-based two-door 2002 predecessor. Since that time, the company has literally built its reputation upon and used the same “more rewarding to drive than its competition” strategy/skillset to expand its lineup over the years to variously include (1), 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and (8) Series cars plus a passel of SUVs.

Every seven-10 years (which is starting to look like an untenable epoch), BMW’s venerable 3 Series gets a whole-cloth replacement, and this sixth-generation (F30 in BMW code) has been with us since 2012. A year after that debut, a 335i xDrive proved its mettle, handily winning our Big Test: 2013/2014 Luxury Sport Sedans against an Audi S4, a Cadillac ATS4, a Lexus IS 350 AWD, and a Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design.

Sales Dip & Priorities Shift

The 3 Series has so dominated its segment and comparisons for these past 40 years because, unlike those that tried to copy the winning formula, BMW’s sport sedan adeptly walked the tightrope between being a luxury car and a sporty car that set several benchmarks. Its dynamics and driver feedback were noticeably better and more rewarding, but its comfort wasn’t necessarily sacrificed in the process. Sales peaked in 2007 at 142,490 but slipped to a low of 90,960 by 2009.

Track Performance & Fuel Economy

For its class, the power output of the new 330i engine (248 hp/258 lb-ft of torque) is middle of the road. On the low end, the Infiniti Q50 2.0t offers 208 hp, and on the high end lies the Alfa Romeo Giulia at 280 hp. We believe BMW went for smoothness and linearity instead of break-neck performance because when this engine and the 8HP50 eight-speed automatic are combined, it’s sweetheart marriage.

Real-World Driving

Nine Motor Trend staffers drove the car, and all were impressed with the new engine and driveline. “It still feels like there’s something more than a turbo-four under the hood to me,” said associate online editor Alex Nishimoto. “The engine just pulls and pulls. The transmission does a nice job of choosing the right gear for the job.”

In normal driving, the sound of the engine is muted and distant. But if you happen to be standing next to the car or inside with the windows down, the clatter of the fuel injectors makes the engine sound like a diesel. Regarding the common engine stop-start integration, we all felt it was quick to light the engine and among the least upsetting to the cabin—more so than the 328i. Again, integration and refinement are now king.

Interior & Cargo

The aging F30 3 Series, not due for replacement for another two years, is indeed showing its age. Sure, there’s something positive to be said and even a little comfort knowing exactly where things are and how they have operated since 1998. To wit, the headlight controller is unchanged. Resetting the trip meter with a single press of the black rectangle on the instrument panel remains.

Cargo volume is seriously commodious compared to others in its class. At 17.0 cubic feet, the 330i’s trunk is 6.6 cubic feet larger than one of the smallest (Cadillac ATS), and still noticeably larger than an average 13.0-cubic-feet trunk. There are also releases for the 60/40 split-fold rear seats, however, there’s no magic kick-sensor to open the lid.

Features & Options

Our test car was equipped with standard (and greatly improved) iDrive 5, plus the $1,950 Navigation system with a touchpad. More than simply an 8.8-inch high-res wide-screen/split-screen navigation system with real-time traffic (three-year subscription), it also offers pinch-zoom on the control knob/pad, voice-activation capability, BMW Online services, remote services (including stolen-vehicle recovery, remote door unlock), the smart-phone enabled My BMW Remote app (10-year subscription), and a host of other BMW apps. As good as iDrive has become with simplified/redundant menus, where BMW offers a welcome difference to other infotainment systems is the inclusion of eight hard, preset buttons that can store anything from mixed-source audio stations to destinations (such as home) to tire-pressure monitor display and even shutting off the display itself with the press one button. We particularly love this feature.