BMW 3 Series 2011

BMW 330d Review

$108,700 Mrlp
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Some car companies make a big fuss about their cars delivering both power and efficiency - for BMW, it’s just common practice.
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The BMW 330d Coupe is literally in a league of its own. Some car companies make a big fuss about their cars delivering both power and efficiency - for BMW, it’s just common practice.

The problem with reviewing a BMW is just how much each variant can differ from the rest. Take the BMW 3 Series for example, as it’s available in at least 27 different variants. This includes a wide variety of diesel or petrol engines either in manual or automatic. Then there’s the body shapes: wagon, sedan, convertible or coupe. Then there's the extensive options list which lets you customise your car in many different ways. I am yet to drive a BMW 3 Series that felt anything like the one before it – despite being inherently the same car.

So when it came time to pick up the BMW 330d Coupe, I had no idea what to expect. This is a good attitude to take because every car is different. BMW’s 330d is powered by a 3.0-litre turbo-diesel engine that delivers 180kW and a staggering 520Nm of torque. To put those figures into perspective, the 3 Series flagship, the BMW M3, has 309kW and 400Nm of torque.

That means this ‘down-to-earth’ diesel coupe has more torque than its more expensive high-performance cousin. That’s a good way to start.

If you’re stuck in your old ways you probably wouldn’t expect much in the form of performance from a diesel but let me assure you, with 520Nm of torque on tap the 330d is a proper sports car. The Germans have being doing diesels properly for decades and the refinement of this 3.0-litre turbo-diesel is top notch. The official 0-100km/h time is 6.1 seconds, which is a lot slower than it feels. Meanwhile, fuel economy is a measly 6.2L/100km for the combined cycle (after a week of aggressive driving, the test car returned 7.4L/100km average usage).

But enough about facts and figures, you simply wouldn’t buy a car as interesting as a 330d Coupe if you failed to make an emotional connection with it. From the outside it’s a very aesthetically pleasing design, particularly in black. The bright white glow radiating from the ‘angel-eye’ LED daytime running lamps is a refreshing change in a sea of straight DRL designs.

The side and three-quarter view is very BMW: sleek but modern. It’s not trying to be pretty because it doesn’t need to - its sporty and aggressive design hints at what lies underneath the skin. There is a certain difference between BMW’s styling and that of Mercedes-Benz C-Class Coupe, the two German companies are clearly targeting different buyers.

It also commands a different type of respect. The 330d is at the forefront of diesel engineering. It’s a near perfect blend of economical motoring without sacrifice. Some markets have access to a 335d, which offers even more power and torque. Since Mercedes-Benz doesn’t currently offer a high-powered diesel in the C-Class Coupe, the 330d’s main competition comes from the all-wheel drive Audi A5 Coupe 3.0 TDI. The Audi is a few thousand dollars less but delivers similar performance figures (176kW and 500Nm). It would be unfair to compare them head on, as the A5 Coupe is more subtle and elegant in its design while the BMW is sporty and aggressive. This also reflects in their driving dynamics.

Our test car was fitted with a $2920 electric sunroof and $8900 M Sport Innovations package, which although may sound a little pricey at first, is actually a very worthwhile investment as you get an upgraded 8.8-inch colour monitor with satellite navigation, numerous interior improvements, a much nicer M steering wheel, Harman/Kardon sound system (which could almost justify the asking price alone), M aerodynamic package, light-weight 18-inch double-spoke alloys (19s optioned here) and most importantly, M Sport suspension.

Within a few days of driving the 330d Coupe you can easily begin to explore its ride and handling credentials. Like all BMWs of late, the 330d is, by nature, a sports car. The rear-wheel drive layout aided by a heavy steering feel, perfect front-rear weight distribution, balanced throttle control and excellent braking performance make the 330d a tremendous drive. Around the twisty mountain roads of Mount Glorious here in Brisbane, the 330d test car was pushed in and out of tight and hairpin corners repeatedly. Its M sport suspension ensures there is little to no body roll while the lag-less power-delivery from the 3.0-litre diesel made me question my undying love for the 335i. The six-speed automatic transmission is a far cry from the seven-speed dual-clutch system now found in numerous (petrol-powered) BMWs but still does a good job.

The M Sport suspension can be a little hard at times (you can option it with less stiffness, if you desire) if all you do is drive around town, but if you’ve got even a modest interest in spirited driving, you’ll quickly realise the trade-off is worth it. The chunky M Sport steering wheel is a godsend and fits perfectly in your hands. If you must, you can use the steering wheel mounted paddle shifters (which, annoyingly, move with the steering wheel) to manually change gears. The electronic nanny controls do tend to interfere a bit more than I would like, but a little bit early is better than a little bit late.

Being a well-balanced sports car doesn’t mean the 330d doesn’t bite. With that much torque going to the rear wheels, wet weather is not your best friend. If things get a little out of hand, a whole heap of driver-input correction is done by BMW’s array of electronic gadgetry. This includes (but is not limited to) automatic stability and traction control (ASC+T), cornering brake control (CBC), dynamic brake control (DBC), dynamic stability control (DSC) and dynamic traction control (DTC).

Essentially, if you decide to take a corner but have gone in a little too fast, taken the wrong line or hit a wet patch mid-corner, the car’s on-board computers will quickly jump to your aid. As that sinking feeling of “oh oh” is just about to rush through your synapses, the 330d has already begun applying brake or power to individual wheels, greatly influencing the car’s behaviour and direction. In a few milliseconds, your potentially near-death experience has turned into a “look how good I saved that one” feeling. For the purists, you can indeed turn most of these controls off, but given how much fun you can have with them still on, I wouldn’t recommend it.

The interior of modern day BMWs is a subject of much debate in the CarAdvice office. Some of us think their simplicity is perfect but I am of the thought that it’s just a little too basic. Compared with the Mercedes-Benz C-Class Coupe, the 3 Series Coupe’s interior is more spartan in its design and organisation. However, the iDrive system coupled to the 8.8-inch high-resolution screen is a better choice than Merc’s COMAND system.

Native support for Bluetooth telephone connectivity is standard but we couldn’t get the wireless music audio streaming working as easily. USB input will let you plug in your iPhone/iPod or a simple memory stick to enjoy your music. The Harman/Kardon Surround Sound System is top notch with excellent bass and clarity.

BMW’s sport seats can feel a little tight if you frequent KFC but are otherwise snug and very supportive. The 330d can accommodate four adults comfortably even for long distance drives. There are a few reasons this is possible but the primary one is that it’s designed for Germans, and Germans are tall.

It's hard to fault the $94,700 BMW 330d Coupe. If I had to be pedantic I could say the diesel engine sound can be a little too intrusive when in traffic, but then again, that's why the stereo is so good. If you've got about 100k to spend on an ultra-sophisticated European coupe and have a soft spot for performance diesels, it's almost impossible to look past the 330d. The reality is, whatever your needs, BMW has a car to match. You can't beat their driving dynamics and inherently engineered sporty nature.

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