BMW’s 330d is an extraordinarily capable car with performance and fuel consumption figures that seem utterly implausible until you drive it.
BMW’s famous round badge, representing a spinning propeller against the colours of the company’s native Bavarian region, has always been skewed more towards the ‘driving’ experience than pure luxury.
Walking through the entrance to the entire BMW building at this year’s Frankfurt Motor Show was like walking through the automotive equivalent to the Guggenheim; such was the display of rare metal from the company’s past.
Guarding the treasure chest of new models and future concepts such as the Vision was a mint condition lightweight BMW 503 convertible from 1956, siting directly below a classic BMW 1602.
The 328 MM was another rare sight, but my personal favourite was the stunning 3.0-litre CSL (Coupe Sport Lightweight) from 1972.
Mind you, as good as the old Coupe looks, it doesn’t sound anywhere near as good as the potent E46 M3 CSL currently in service, but then again, there isn’t much that does, when the needle hits 8,000 rpm in that thing.
BMW’s current M3 is powered by a specially tuned V8 engine and will go from 0-100km/h in 4.6 seconds flat. On a German Autobahn, it accelerates up to a speed-limited 250km/h.
Another BMW 3 Series capable of 250km/h is their latest diesel powered four-door sedan, known as the 330d.
While it might look like nothing more than a typical 3 Series, make no mistake, this is the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing, but with an unexpected bonus.
What I mean by that is best spelled out in following numbers: 0-100km/h in 6.2 seconds, 250km/h, and 6.8L/100km.
BMW have shoehorned what must be the world’s finest 3.0 litre diesel engine into a family sedan, and in doing so, have created one of the most broadly capable cars I’ve ever driven.
I drove the car slowly for the first half hour, listening for any sign of diesel clatter each time I pulled away from a set of traffic lights. There isn’t any. In fact, even at idle, the 330d sounds like a mildly tuned in-line six.
But while this family style oil burner will comfortably undergo suburban taxi duties all day long, that’s just not going to happen when you know there’s a staggering 520 Newton-metres of torque sitting under the bonnet, waiting to be unleashed.
And pull it does, like an engine twice its capacity, and all the way from 1,750 rpm. In-gear acceleration is simply mind-blowing, but that doesn’t quite sink in until you nail the right foot a few times, just to make sure you’re still on the same planet, and driving a four-door diesel.
Keep your right foot into it, and the surge forward just doesn’t let up. It’s difficult to get your head around that there’s a diesel under the bonnet; it has no right go to this hard.
My mind starts to wander to a few weeks back, when we tested a Mini Challenge racecar at Queensland Raceway, and all I can think of is that if we were to put a set of semi-slicks on the 330d, this thing might just do the Mini, which is a purpose built race car from Germany.
From the moment you snuggle into the generous, yet surprisingly cosseted leather seats, you know this car is all about the driver. You sit deep into the car, with the steering wheel at the perfect position for maximum control.
The two-dial instrument cluster is clean and easy to read in a glance, while the steering wheel itself is thick rimmed, uncluttered and extra tactile.
It's not just quick in a straight line either, the rear wheel-drive 330d is just as handy through the twisty sections with a beautifully balanced chassis and near perfectly weighted steering. Turn in, point the car, and it tracks exactly where you want it to go.
But being rear wheel drive, with huge reserves of torque, it’s also easy to get a little too keen with the throttle in this car, and have the rear end step out for a moment or two. But that’s about it, a moment or two of predictable fun, before the highly effective Dynamic Stability Control steps in and straightens it all out for you.
Mind you, the grip from the not so large 17-inch wheels shod with split profile tyres (225/45 front, 255/40 rear) is beyond what I expected, and testament to its near perfect chassis balance. The car feels so planted at all times.
Stopping power is courtesy of the 335i brake set up, so there are no concerns in that department, only praise for their progressive nature and sure-footed pedal pressure.
While the conventional ZF six-speeder shifts are certainly smooth enough, it’s not the world’s quickest shifting box.
I’m not saying that the ZF detracts from the driving experience, because it simply doesn’t. But, there is no question in my mind, that if BMW ever made available the seven-speed double-clutch transmission in the 330d, the driving experience would elevate to the sublime.
That said BMW’s paddle shifters are mounted on the steering wheel itself, which allows you to both up-shift and downshift from either side, making life easier from behind the wheel.
As far as ride quality goes, the 330d leans more towards a sports suspension set-up than outright comfort. You couldn’t call it a harsh ride, as negotiating speed bumps and potholes is always compliant. Perfect if you like your driving.
For such an explosive performance package, there isn’t a lot about the styling of the car, to signify its blistering pace or handling prowess. It’s all a rather low-key affair with the 330d.
There are just a few hints such as the deep front apron with several air intakes, and the twin exhaust tips, but other than those, the 330d could pass for a mild mannered shopping car.
But the real bonus is all about fuel consumption, or rather, lack of it. For a family sedan, which doubles as a bona fide performance car, 7.8 L/100km over hours of ‘pedal to the metal’ style driving, simply defies logic.
Drive the 330d with a gentle approach though, and you will see average fuel consumption fall to as low as 6.8 litres/100km – in the city.
That translates into a financial benefit when buying this car, meaning less luxury car tax due to the 330d’s ability to sip fuel at less than 7.0/100km.
So far, I’ve focused mainly on the 330d’s ‘go fast’ talents, but inside the cabin is all five-star luxury, with a full inventory of creature comforts.
For starters, don’t bother taking the key fob out of your pocket, no need, just walk up to the car and presto, the doors unlock, ready for you to hop in and hit the start/stop button.
The rear seats are just as comfortable as those up front. Whatever grade leather BMW have used in this car, has a unique blend of qualities for being soft, supportive, non-slippery, and well bolstered.
Plenty of head and legroom too, no complaints from my 185 centimetre test subjects, who reported lounge style comfort during a two-hour journey on the Sydney to Newcastle freeway.
I must have been one of the few people in the world, that didn’t mind the original iDrive system back in 2005, I thought it was relatively easy to use, and I’m no Harvard graduate.
However, the new system is incredibly intuitive with destination inputs for the Satellite Navigation, taking no more than 30 seconds, or less.
The highlight though, has to be the optional 8.8-inch wide screen monitor, with the best colour resolution I have ever seen in any car. My only criticism would be the lack of street-by-street route guidance.
Other features include: Rain sensor with automatic headlight control; Multi-function sports steering wheel; USB/Audio interface; Electric front seats and mirrors with memory function; Bi-Xenon headlights; High-beam assist and Park Distance Control – front and rear.
Safety wise, it would be hard to get it wrong driving the 330d, as the list of passive and active systems is just as extensive, with Anti-lock breaking System (ABS), front; Automatic Stability Control & Traction Control (ASC+T); Cornering Brake Control (CBC); Cruise Control with brake function; Dynamic Brake Control (DBC); Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) with extended functions.
Passive safety systems include: Driver and front passenger airbags with occupant detector, front side airbags and curtain airbag for front and rear.
The 330d is a triumph for diesel power and one of the best driving experiences I have had all year.
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