- Doors and Seats
- Engine Power
- Ancap Safety
In a changing automotive world, can a regular BMW still be called the ‘Ultimate Driving Machine’? The 330i sure thinks so.
- Eager performance and balanced handling make this a proper BMW
- Excellent driver-centric ergonomics
- Size, comfort and finishes befitting of an executive sedan
- Luxury line spec of our tester is an optional choice for a reason
- Transmission lacks smoothness at low speed
- Slim run-flat rubber on 19-inch wheels fussy
It wasn’t that long ago that we suggested BMW had finally rediscovered its iconic driver-first form in the recent update to the 5 Series saloon. However, it only took a few moments behind the wheel of the 2021 BMW 330i to be reminded that the ‘Ultimate Driving Machine’ form has actually been there all along, and that this car never actually lost it.
Since 1975 the 3 Series has been the quintessential executive sports sedan. There have been highs and lows along the way, but the seventh-generation G20 3er has overcome the odds to deliver both a proper BMW experience, and in the mid-level guise of the 330i, the undeniable pick of range.
Albeit, not in this spec. More on that shortly though.
Priced from $77,605 before options and on-road costs, the 330i Luxury Line sits $6035 above its lower-power 320i sibling ($71,570), but $4795 under the hybrid 330e ($82,400) and a massive $23,866 less than the all-wheel-drive M340i Pure ($101,471).
However, it is worth noting that the price changed on the 330i a couple of times this year, with equipment altering accordingly. When our tester was registered, it had a list of $77,900, but this dropped $2500 to $75,400 as the car lost its standard Driver Assistance Plus package (adaptive cruise control and steering assist) due to microchip shortages.
You can’t even add it as an option.
Further production pressure has seen the price climb back up another $2205 (still without the semi-autonomous gadgetry), but option prices have reduced somewhat. For example, our car modestly adds just Sapphire Black metallic paint (currently $1538) and a glass sunroof ($2231) for a total of $3769, which did cost $2000 and $2900 respectively for an option addition of $4900. They’ve also now thrown in the Ambient Lighting package ($700), but taken out the Wireless Charging feature too.
It gets even trickier when you consider the M-Sport variant is the same price and while offering different steering and braking setup, it has no faux-leather stitched dashboard. The body styling is more muscular too, and I will argue until all the suns set over all the lands, that M-Sport is the better choice.
But hot damn, you want that driver assistance tech back in the car so perhaps speak to your local BMW dealer to check just ‘when’ your proposed car was built, and if ordering new, when it will get all the touring goodies added back in.
|Key details||2021 BMW 330i Luxury Line|
|Price (MSRP)||$77,900 (when tested)|
|Colour of test car||Sapphire Black Metallic|
|Options||Glass sunroof ($2900), Metallic paint ($2000)|
|Price as tested||$82,800|
|Rivals||Mercedes-Benz C-Class | Lexus IS | Audi A4|
Like I said, the M-Sport version of the 330i is a far most aggressive and handsome car. The chrome flourishes on the 330i Luxury Line don’t quite balance with the smoked tail-lamp lenses, and the trim around the lower LED foglamps on the front valance and reflectors on the back do feel, to me, a little tacky.
That said, the 19-inch BMW Individual alloys are very smart, and the G20 as a platform is a very sharp looking car. Saphhire Black is a lovely colour, with gold metallic flake stirred in with the deep black duco, and has been my personal choice on the last two family BMWs we have owned.
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There are eight colours offered on the 330i Luxury Line (Portimao Blue is an M-Sport exclusive choice).
And while the Luxury Line trim may not be my personal preference, it is what Alpina use as the starting point for the 3 Series-based B3, so perhaps we’re all just a lower lip spoiler and some sweet decals away from perfection after all.
Ticking the Luxury Line box does give you a snazzier interior, with a stitched Sensatec (leatherette) dashboard offering a vastly more premium feeling cockpit than the regular rubbery-plastic dashtop.
The ‘Vernasca’ Leather trim and decorative contrast stitching on the upholstery is very nice too, although the seats aren’t heated (part of a $1600 comfort package) which is a bit cheeky for $80k.
That aside, the lashings of aluminium trim, and well-built switchgear just unscore the quality offered in the 3 Series. It’s not just good for its segment, it’s as impressive as you’ll find the next size up.
There’s decent room for front and rear passengers, and ergonomics are typically well sorted. There’s even a good-size (480-litre) boot with through-loading access. It very quickly becomes an easy and pleasant place to spend time regardless of whether you are whizzing to the shops or touring across the state.
|2021 BMW 330i Luxury Line|
|Boot volume||480L seats up|
Infotainment and Connectivity
The 10.25-inch BMW OS7 display may be prominent in the middle of the dash, but it suits the modern layout of the 3 Series cabin. The screen itself is sharp and bright, and the more we use the new BMW operating system, the more we get used to the menu depth and functions.
Apple CarPlay will run in a full-screen mode too which feels very well integrated. The touch screen interface makes this a breeze to use, with the ‘Hey BMW’ voice assistant supporting the native software as well.
There’s another 12.3-inch screen acting as a digital instrument cluster, which again is becoming more familiar over time, although it would be good to see some more configuration and personalisation integrated here. Some the usability in this context isn’t great either, with a button which looks like it will cycle through information screens just changing details on the head-up display. You get used to it though.
BMW still offers its Connected telematics technology with all new cars, with new functions now integrated into the main menu system. You do need to log into your BMW account to get the most value, but you can do some interesting things (or fun things, if you’re going to be driving someone else’s car…) with the software too.
For example, there’s an automatic window setting that will, at low speeds, lower the driver’s window at a precise GPS location. Handy for garage swipe card locations, maybe, but fun to set at a random set of traffic lights before you hand the car back to BMW Australia. Not that I know anyone who would do that…
And as noted, the wireless charge pad may have gone but there is still USB-C port in the center console, and another two for rear passengers.
Despite the semiconductor shortage impacting some of the touring-assistant toys in current-build 330i models, there is still a wide range of safety equipment as well as a five-star ANCAP rating.
You can configure the sensitivity of the systems through the primary touch screen, which offer neat graphical descriptions of what you are changing and how it will work, which does make understanding the A-to-Z of automotive safety acronyms a lot easier.
Fair to note too, that while the active lane-keep assist has been deleted, the BMW Reverse Assistant (the car remembers and can self-drive the last 50m you travelled, backwards) is still here. I’ll admit it may not be all that useful very often, but it is very clever.
The cameras too, are sharp and configurable, and just part of a well-integrated ‘everyday’ technology suite offered in the 3er.
As noted above, the 330i is the sure-fire pick of the 3 Series range. While the production issues impacting all manufacturers may have made the pricing structure a little confusing, the amount of standard equipment in the 330i, particularly when compared to the 320i and M340i, do give it a strong value position.
That said, BMW really needs to step up their warranty game and offer a five-year package like Mercedes-Benz do. It’s time.
|At a glance||2021 BMW 330i Luxury Line|
|Warranty||Three years / unlimited km|
|Service intervals||12 months / 15,000km|
|Servicing costs||$1750 (5 years)|
|Fuel cons. (claimed)||6.4L/100km|
|Fuel cons. (on test)||8.1L/100km|
|Fuel type||95 octane petrol|
|Fuel tank size||59L|
Ultimate Driving Machine. The origin of the timeless BMW marketing slogan becomes all-too-clear as you push the 330i along a winding country road, as this is simply a lovely car to drive.
It feels exceptionally well balanced, as a car with a perfect 50:50 front-to-rear weight distribution rightly should. The thick-rimmed wheel feels good in your hands with the car responding accurately and confidently to every input.
Power delivery from the 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder is nicely balanced too, with a peak of 400Nm yours between 1550 and 4400rpm. It affords the 330i a very flexible performance envelope, that continues to reward all the way to the 190kW, 6500rpm redline.
Fuel consumption, claimed at just 6.4L/100km, is pretty impressive too (we saw 8.1L/100km on our test week), with the 330i’s B48 engine balance of performance and efficiency a real highlight of the car.
The eight-speed ZF-automatic gearbox is great on the open road too, but at times I found it a little jerky around town, particularly when coming to a stop. The car will be operating in as high-a-gear as possible to improve consumption, so the transmission will need to quickly shift back through the ratios when you pull up, and it occasionally felt a little funny.
It’s a small gripe though, as once underway again, you’re back to a fast-changing and smooth unit.
Less smooth is the ride on the 19-inch wheels and runflat tyres. I feel they are perhaps an inch too big for this car, and the slim profile (40 front, 35 rear) can indentfy and communicate plenty of imperfections in the road. On some surfaces the car can feel downright fussy, despite not actually dropping the inherent layer of confidence that it provides.
Think sports sedan, not plushy sedan and you’ll have the right idea.
Switching suspension modes between Comfort and Sport exhibits a noticeable difference, particularly when touring, but fatter rubber on 18-inch wheels would provide a nicer ride, but perhaps not such a striking vehicle when parked.
|Key details||2021 BMW 330i Luxury Line|
|Engine||2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol|
|Power||190kW @ 6500rpm|
|Torque||400Nm @ 1550-4400rpm|
|Drive type||Rear-wheel drive|
|Transmission||Eight-speed torque convertor automatic|
|Power to weight ratio||132.6.kW/t|
|Tow rating||1600kg braked|
It’s a pretty regular occurrence that we recommend the mid-level variant in a model line up as the pick of the range, and in the case of the 2021 BMW 330i, I’ll do it again. This is the 3 Series you want.
That brilliant engine, and overall driving experience makes this an entertaining and engaging car to drive in all environments.
It may not be the best spec as a ‘Luxury-Line, de-contented special’, but the 330i still has plenty of value and quality packaging to offer. It really should have heated seats as standard though.
For me, I’d spring an extra $3500 or so (depending on what week it is) and take the Touring wagon, as once BMW can sort out their specification jumbles, the 330i is the best all-round package the blue-and-white roundel have on their books. Proper BMW form and function, every day of the week.
2021 BMW 330i Luxury Line review
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