Mid-range, mid-sized, yet anything but middle of the road, the 2020 BMW 330i Touring is both polished and practical. As the sole 3 Series wagon for the Australian range, it’s also likely to be a rare and treasured beast.
The basics are much the same as the 330i sedan that came before it. You get a new platform underpinning the car, a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine producing 190kW and 400Nm, eight-speed torque converter automatic and rear-wheel drive.
Stats that are almost BMW staples by now. The difference, most obviously, is at the rear where the long-roof version lauds superior cargo capacity and flexibility over its sedan counterpart.
While the sedan boasts 480L of boot space, the wagon can claim 500L to the top of the rear seats. Of course, that’s not a huge difference on paper. But the ability to load taller, bulkier items comes into its own, and with the rear seats stowed there’s 1510L of cargo volume at your disposal.
Getting into the more practical 330i comes at a cost, however. A 330i sedan asks for $71,990, while the Touring has a list price of $75,990 plus on-road costs with the most recent bout of MY20 price shuffling.
You do still have the no-cost option of either Luxury Line or M Sport (as tested) equipment packs, too.
Thus, for the 330i M Sport Touring tested here, standard equipment includes three-zone climate control, proximity key with walk-away lock and push-button start, a colour head-up display, wireless phone charger, power-adjustable front sports seats with leather trim, powered tailgate, LED head and tail-lights, auto lights, wipers and anti-glare mirror.
The interior itself is pleasantly spacious. For the longest time, mid-size European cars always offered decent front seat space, but could feel slightly restrictive in the rear. In this newest generation, the 3 Series has grown, and now there’s enough space to bundle in full-sized adult passengers without impinging on knees or feet.
Width might still be tricky, but for two adults or two child seats there’s sufficient space. There’s also a touch more head space easing entry and making it the choice of taller passengers.
On the M Sport-ier side of things, adaptive M suspension, an M-honed body kit, M Sport brakes, 19-inch alloy wheels and BMW’s relentlessly thick-rimmed M Sport steering wheel are also included.
The real equipment talk has to centre on BMW’s interior. A 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and 10.3-inch infotainment screen with touch, console controller and conversational voice inputs delivers clear and usually concise information.
Individual preferences may differ, but I think BMW could do more with its instrument display to allow personalisation. The overlapping information of some screens can feel cluttered at times, too, while the anti-clockwise tachometer makes little sense from a brand once famed for its driver-centricity.
Wireless CarPlay (but no Android Auto yet, promised to be coming soon), AM, FM and digital radio, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, a wide sweep of online weather, traffic, news and concierge services, integrated navigation and 32GB of internal storage make BMW’s iDrive quite comprehensive – to the point where many owners may not delve into many of the available functions.
The safety score, in an official capacity, is five stars as rated by ANCAP in 2019. BMW includes lane-departure warning with lane-keep assist, lane-change warning, steering and lane-control assist, autonomous emergency braking, front and rear cross-traffic alert, speed sign recognition including speed limit assist, a surround-camera system with 3D View and six airbags.
It’s not the healthy equipment list that makes the 330i such a good thing, though, but rather the cohesive way in which everything goes together.
In and around town, there are no real qualms about what you get. The engine is spry when you need it to be, but linear and progressive when you don’t. The 330i Touring is a smooth and quiet operator most of the time, and the way BMW has set up its eight-speed automatic means you’re rarely left wanting for an expected downshift or more performance should you have a sudden need to call upon it.
Other changes engineered into the current-generation 3 Series mean you also get nicer ride and handling than the previous-generation model. Conspicuous M Sport branding may be present, but the 330i isn’t an unrelenting sports car, though it has been tweaked and tightened slightly.
The lowered adaptive suspension errs on the firm side, but is mostly balanced. It seems to fidget right when you'd most like it to settle, in the 40–60km/h range of residential and city streets, which is less than ideal.
Traditionalist BMW owners might lament the four-cylinder engine note, too, whereas the 330i badge of yore signified a more sonorous six-cylinder note.
There are genuinely not too many flaws to signal in the 330i Touring, however. We’ve had trouble with iDrive’s wireless CarPlay in the past, but this time things worked as intended.
On the downside, there’s an overuse of dull black plastics concentrated around the main switch block on the console, which stands out against an otherwise classy interior. It avoids the garish showmanship of something like a Mercedes-Benz C-Class, but misses the mark slightly in a $75K car. It's also a bit rough that the fake leather wrapping the dash of this test car is a $950 option, when it really ought to be a regular part of the 330i experience.
There will, of course, be cars that handle better, perform with greater zeal or fit more inside, be that people or possessions. They’ll come from within BMW’s own range, if not competitors, and will be rewarded with higher scores as a result.
In terms of balance, though, the 330i Touring feels just right. Large enough to fit a family, but not so big as to feel cumbersome. Endowed with engine outputs that make for a performance car zeal on the weekend, but sensible enough to get through the week quietly and frugally.
Ownership is made more convenient with available BMW Service Inclusive prepaid maintenance programs, which start from $1650 for five years including scheduled filters, fluids, and spark plugs with service intervals suggested by the car’s onboard diagnostics (though you’ll usually be given an annual reminder).
Warranty is the prestige average three years with unlimited kilometres, putting BMW’s premium product behind most mainstream brands in Australia with longer coverage terms.
Official figures for fuel use are 7.0 litres per 100km. While we didn’t match that in the real world, the 9.0L/100km figure shown is still decent for a car saddled with a week of heavy-slog commuting and still capable of a 5.9-second sprint to 100km/h should you feel the need.
To help keep fuel use down, there’s the now typical engine start/stop technology that shuts the engine down at a standstill and re-fires to accelerate. Among the few gripes found with the vehicle, the agricultural shudder that ripples through the car as the system does its thing stands out as a refinement sore point.
Unfortunately for the 330i Touring, like its long-roof counterparts from Audi and Mercedes-Benz, it will only enjoy a small market niche with the much more popular X3 SUV range offering similar tech, space and performance in a package broadly considered more appealing by most purchasers.
Which makes this car an inside secret for traditionalists and automotive enthusiasts. One that embodies some of the charm of BMW’s past strengths, without neglecting any of the modern technology or equipment demanded of the modern age.
Spacious, user-friendly, subtle but still enjoyable for the driver, adding a wagon rear to the already impressive 330i only serves to extend its appeal.