Growing up, there were a number of German cars synonymous with being the benchmark in their class – names like Mercedes-Benz S-Class, Volkswagen Golf, and Porsche 911.
Another one of those is the BMW 3 Series, which has long been regarded as the luxury sports sedan to beat, though it hasn't always set the standard.
The previous-generation 3er was rather attractive and fun to drive, but by today's standards it was getting a little old, and there were some annoying gaps in tech and quality that really didn't live up to BMW's luxury schtick.
Fast-forward to now and we have the all-new G20-generation 3 Series hitting Australian showrooms, and just on looks alone it has catapulted the Bavarian marque back into contention in the premium medium-sedan class.
My beloved colleague Kez has already shared his thoughts on the entry-level 320d, so for this test we're looking at the stand-in flagship of the launch range – the 2019 BMW 330i priced from $70,900 before on-road costs.
In generations past, the 330i nameplate has signified an inline six under the bonnet, but the last iteration changed that. Like its forebear, the G20 330i features a turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine under the bonnet.
Don't be fooled, though, the 2.0-litre four-cylinder unit with forced induction packs plenty of punch despite its small displacement. Peak power is rated at 190kW at 6500rpm, while its maximum torque figure of 400Nm comes in between 1550 and 4400rpm – the latter barely above idle.
Just for reference, the last six-cylinder 330i to be offered locally was the E90-generation 3 Series in 2006, which put out 190kW at 6600rpm and just 300Nm at 2500rpm from a naturally aspirated 3.0-litre inline six.
Compared with the previous-gen 'F30' 3 Series, the new 330i develops 5kW more and 50Nm more from the same displacement.
Drive is sent to the rear wheels via an eight-speed automatic sourced from German transmission specialist ZF, which can be left to its own devices or toggled manually via the steering-mounted paddle shifters or the tiptronic mode for the shift-by-wire selector.
Since the 3 Series is billed as more of a driver's car, let's start with its on-road performance.
Immediately when you hop into the low-slung driver's seat – which is very comfortable and supportive, mind you – the 3 Series gives off a sporting vibe. Then you grab your hands around that chunky M leather steering wheel, and that feeling is reiterated further. BMW has made this thing for you to drive, not simply ride in.
Pushing the standard keyless start button fires up that 2.0-litre turbo we mentioned earlier, and it actually sounds pretty good. One thing with downsizing is that the brawny exhaust notes associated with larger engines are lost with smaller displacement and complex exhaust systems that reduce emissions, though the new 330i does not follow that trend.
Performance from the turbo petrol engine is surprisingly brisk, though the previous model was hardly what you'd call 'slow'. Acceleration is muscular and nicely linear, while the eight-speed automatic offers snappy and intuitive changes as the speed climbs.
BMW quotes a 5.8-second sprint from 0–100km/h, which is faster than a lot of hot hatches. We didn't get a chance to officially test that claim against a Vbox, though by the seat of the pants, this reviewer certainly isn't doubting that figure.
Most owners aren't going to be engaging in traffic light drag races, though, so what's more important is the 330i's everyday drivability, and again it delivers.
Whether you're just putting around the 'burbs, stuck in stop-start Melbourne traffic, or travelling down a country freeway, the 2.0-litre turbo is smooth, refined, and gives you a raspy exhaust note under load that puts a cheeky grin on your face.
It certainly feels comfortable at just about any speed or driving environment, and really that's what luxury sports sedans are required to do. Very much like hot hatchbacks, these need to be pretty good all-rounders.
The 3er handles well, too, like any BMW should. While the steering could use a little more feedback, it's quick and direct, and the chassis feels nimble and balanced when you hit a series of bends, certainly more so than the car it replaces. You can thank the new platform for that, which saves up to 50kg depending on specification while upping torsional rigidity.
Those looking for an even sportier edge can tick the box for the M Sport differential on the rear axle, which is $1846 on its own or forms part of the $2000 M Sport Plus package. However, it's not exactly perfect.
Part of the enhanced specification of the 330i (which we'll get to in full later) is adaptive M suspension. Key word there is 'adaptive'. Despite the dampers being able to adjust depending on which drive mode you've selected (Comfort, Sport, Eco, Adaptive), the 330i is pretty firm across the board, and because of this the ride can be a bit unsettled, even at speed.
You'll feel just about every imperfection of the road surface one of your tyres rolls over, and while many will be fine with that in isolation, it can actually be quite annoying on the open road.
During a stint on Melbourne's Eastlink freeway, which is a pretty new and smooth stretch of road, there was a point where I actually yelled out in frustration because I was struggling to keep my head still as the 3er just wouldn't settle down. I double-checked the drive mode was set to Comfort, too.
Sure, the M Sport-equipped 330i is on 19-inch alloys shod with run-flat tyres (225/40 front and 255/35 rear to be precise), but the whole point of adaptive suspension is to be adaptive. So the 3er misses out on top marks there.
Another gripe is how the idle stop/start system engages, which at times can feel a little jerky. The technology cuts the engine out pretty much as soon as the vehicle comes to a stop, which can exacerbate the feeling of inertia when coming to a standstill. It seems to be a minor issue with many BMW models, and isn't a total deal-breaker. You also have the option of just turning it off if it annoys you, too.
Conversely, the new 3 Series has made a huge improvement in the area of NVH, with a significantly reduced amount of road and wind noise entering the cabin even on rougher stretches of road, and you don't get any kick-back through the wheel over bumps and corrugations. It certainly feels very solid.
As for fuel consumption, we saw an indicated 8.8L/100km over the course of a week, which involved more than 600km of mixed driving with an average speed of 32.2km/h according to the trip computer.
There was a good mix of urban, city and highway driving thrown in, though we struggled to get anywhere near BMW's official 6.4L/100km combined claim. Still, for a medium sports sedan capable of hitting triple figures in under six seconds, a sub-9.0L/100km result in real-world driving is still a respectable result.
We had plenty of opportunities to test out the 3 Series's various driver-assistance systems, namely the new adaptive cruise control with stop&go and lane assistant, which pretty much drives the car itself on the highway – and it actually works, though you must have your hands constantly on the wheel otherwise everything lights up and yells at you.
The standard surround camera system and all round parking sensors made parking a cinch, while the large head-up display offers a clear, bright view of driver information without being a distraction.
Now that we're on the topic of features and equipment, let's dive a little deeper. The 330i adds numerous bits and bobs over the 320d for a relatively minor $3000 outlay, including the aforementioned adaptive suspension system, the extended suite of driver-assistance systems like the adaptive cruise and lane-control systems we mentioned earlier, real 'Vernasca' leather upholstery, comfort access, larger 19-inch alloys, and the Parking Assistant Plus package (360-degree cameras with 3D view and an automatic reversing assistant).
Standard features from the 320d up include eight airbags, a head-up display, autonomous emergency braking in forward and reverse, lane-departure warning, lane-change warning, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive LED headlights with LED fog lights and daytime-running lights, high-beam assist, anti-dazzle mirrors inside and out, automatic wipers, electric front sports seats with memory, and three-zone climate control.
Despite the comprehensive safety suite, the new 3 Series currently remains untested by both Euro NCAP and ANCAP.
There's also a standard 12.3-inch digital driver's instrument binnacle and 10.25-inch central navigation display running BMW OS7.0, DAB+ digital radio, a 20GB hard drive for music storage, wireless smartphone charging, a three-year subscription to BMW's online infotainment services including wireless Apple CarPlay and remote functions, a 10-speaker 205W sound system, and the no-cost option of the more elegant Luxury Line or athletic M Sport packages.
Our car has the M Sport pack ticked, meaning you get the sportier bodykit and interior details, along with beefier M Sport brakes.
It's a pretty comprehensive spec sheet, though you'd hope so when you're spending $70K before on-road costs.
There are several cost-option packages, too, one of which was featured in our test car – an electric sunroof ($2900), a 'Sensatec' leatherette-trimmed dashboard ($900) and configurable ambient interior lighting ($700).
Also adding to the as-tested price is our tester's beautiful Portimao Blue metallic paint, which commands a $2000 premium.
In total, our 330i M Sport has a retail sticker of $77,400 plus on-road costs.
From a design perspective, I personally am a huge fan of the G20's look, mostly. The front is very modern BMW with a wide, low nose incorporating sleek, slim headlights and a contemporary interpretation of the company's kidney grille.
The polished bi-colour alloys really suit the M Sport package and this beautiful metallic blue paint you see here, and the muscular proportions give the 3er quite an aggressive and athletic stance on the road.
At first I wasn't sure about the rear, particularly the new LED tail-light arrangement. While the slim lighting units look at home on the company's coupe models, it doesn't really match any of the sedan range.
In fact, to this reviewer, you could easily mistake it for the Lexus IS from the back if you take out the badge – whether that's a good or bad thing is up to you. The design does grow on you, though.
Hopping inside, you're greeted by a cabin that feels almost two generations ahead of the previous car. The overall perception of quality is a huge step forward, there are plenty of soft-touch plastics, stitched leatherette surfaces across the dashboard and door tops, lovely (optional) configurable ambient lighting, and metal-like garnishes that further enhance the ambience. In short, it's a nice place to sit.
However, I personally am not a huge fan of the Aluminium Tetragon trim inserts scattered throughout the cabin – why can't you just do brushed alloy, BMW? – but that can be easily fixed by opting for one of the wood options or alternative 'Aluminium Mesh Effect', which are all no-cost options for the 330i.
As mentioned earlier, the front seats are lovely. There's plenty of support and bolstering in the sports seats to keep you in place without holding you hostage, and there's a range of electric adjustment courtesy of the controls on the side. The standard memory function and electric bolster adjustment are further pluses.
We love the new BMW OS7.0 interface that powers the infotainment system and driver's display, too. It looks modern, is super quick to respond, and is fully featured.
There could be a little more room for customisation in the digital instrument cluster, though, given the vast real estate available, and there were numerous occasions when we experienced bugs with the wireless Apple CarPlay – a major one being it just wouldn't connect after multiple tries.
Finally, BMW offers a wireless smartphone charger that accommodates larger phones – a little bugbear of mine with older BMW Group models – which is also reliable and keeps your phone juice topped up between destinations.
Moving into the back, the increased dimensions – particularly the 41mm longer wheelbase – are definitely noticed. You can actually fit normal-sized adults in the back now in relative comfort, though overall it still could be improved. Leg and head room are pretty good, even for six-foot-one-ish me behind my own driving position, though the narrow and high middle seat is best left for kids.
Rear amenities include separate climate controls and air vents to the front, and two USB-C charging ports. There's also a fold-down centre armrest with cupholders, and map pockets behind both seats.
Further back there's 480L of space under the bootlid, which is the same as the previous-generation car. You can flip down the rear seats to fit longer items, though if you're going to be carrying large loads regularly, you might want to wait for the 3 Series Touring, or even look at a 5 Series.
In terms of ownership, the 3 Series is covered by BMW's three-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty with three years of complimentary roadside assistance. While we tend to knock BMW for offering just three years of cover when many mainstream brands are offering five years and up, it's pretty par for the segment. Infiniti and Lexus do offer four-year programs, though.
As for servicing, buyers can opt for pre-paid packages rather than paying per visit. The 'Basic' cover asks for $1565 for five years or 80,000km, whichever comes first.
That's an average of $313 per year, and covers all the necessities like engine oil, filters, spark plugs, brake fluid, and overall vehicle checks. If you haggle hard, you might get it thrown in or heavily discounted, too.
BMW doesn't have set servicing intervals, either, instead letting the vehicle's on-board sensors and computers decide when maintenance is due. If you divide 80,000km by five years, though, it works out to 16,000km annually.
To conclude, the BMW 330i is a luxury sports sedan more than worthy of your consideration. It's fast, fun, luxurious, and well-equipped.
We'd warn about the harsh ride if that's not your thing, but other than that there's not a whole lot the new 3 Series does wrong, particularly with that fantastic 2.0-litre turbo under the bonnet.
Bravo, BMW. You've set the benchmark once again.