I recently sold my old BMW 330D and bought… another BMW 330D! Admittedly there is 8 years between them and the “new” one is actually an ex-demonstrator transported down from Wakefield with under 3,000 on the clock, but it’s fair to say that the reason you repeat buy any “brand” (a term I detest, as regular readers will know) is because it offers continuity with the positive qualities you experienced from previous examples from the same family of products – and you hope changes with each generation will improve on the last in terms of the features and functions, but more especially the on-road behaviours and sheer wanton drivability.
Sure enough, the greatest virtue of any BMW is the engine. Time was when diesels announced themselves with a loud clatter, trundled along at a sedate pace and were generally smelly and distasteful. BMW diesel engines are a world of difference. The straight-six 3-litre turbodiesel engines of the past were refined and powerful, had torque aplenty at any speed, and were simply a joy to drive.
The latest version is the best yet, beyond a doubt, such that at tickover you would barely know the engine is running. Around town it will purr and pootle around in a civilised fashion, but put your foot down and the car will take off. The figures suggest that even with auto transmission it’s a good half second quicker to 60, and it wasn’t slow to begin with. I did also test drive the 4 cylinder 2 litre version, which is good but the loss of refinement did tell. Not the creamy smoothness of 6 cylinders, and when you’ve been used to the full half dozen anything less simply will not do.
That said, the car does also seem paradoxically to be more fuel efficient as well as faster. This conundrum has been pulled off such that with a slightly smaller tank I can achieve a range of well over 500 miles without really trying. The trip computer tells me average MPG is 44.6 for a varied cycle of driving, where the old car used to give me around 37 on long runs. One contributory factor is the slightly disconcerting technology enabling the car to turn itself when idling, at traffic lights or in jams, for example. Saves fuel but takes a little getting used to.
Worth also mentioning that where the previous incumbent was one car, where this is three, depending on your mode of driving. For every day the preferred mode is “comfort”, though there are three more variations – “Eco Pro” for hair shirt economy, including a display of how virtuous you have been and the additional miles you have thereby squeezed out of your tank; “Sport”, which tightens the suspension and gear ratios; but then there is also “Sport Plus”, which turns off traction control and leaves you fighting the laws of physics single-handed.
In fact there is also “Sports Auto” transmission, including those trendy flappy paddles behind the steering wheel, whereby you can change gear manually without having to take your hands off the wheel, should you feel so inclined. Thus, no matter how smoothly you may cruise there is a beast lurking within, ready to be unleashed. Petrolheads may prefer sporting mode and will not be keen on the patronising dictate of eco pro mode, and doubtless there are some drivers who buy a powerful car but never want to put it through its paces. The car copes with all types of owner, then some.
For this driver, the car appears both agile and nimble, aided by steering that is both lighter yet more precise than its predecessor. The 330d is not easily thrown off the scent of the road, leaves you in firm control. It grips bends and feels hungry for more. It makes you want to drive, to rekindle the days when driving was a pleasure, not a chore. Not that I hurl it around too much, but unlike some cars I’ve owned in the past there is never the feeling of fighting the vehicle to get from A to B – you do it in some style and comfort.
From the outside it looks the part, here painted in metallic bronze after the silver of my last set of wheels. With a poise and elegance you would expect, it sits nicely on the road, though my favourite feature is the LED headlights. Thanks to the overarched driving light above the characteristic BMW twin headlights, it gives the impression of a piercing eye with an ironically raised eyebrow staring back at you with a look of ironic disdain, but never aggression. Talking of lights, the high beam assistant is a joy to behold: not only does it automatically dip your headlights, but only those sections that would dazzle an oncoming driver. You have to see this for yourself!
The interior, replete in this case with sumptuous beige leather, black wood and aluminium trim, is neither over-ostentatious nor yet lacking in the luxurious touches and quality finish you would expect. It is plenty spacious, which in a rear-wheel drive car with the raised drive shaft intruding on interior leg room has not always been the case in the past. It feels comfortable, all the more so since the revamped heating system has a mode for every mood. This model comes with 3-step heated front seats to keep your bum and back warm on chill mornings.
This model being “pre-owned”, there are benefits (I got a substantial discount) and limitations (I couldn’t pick the precise spec I wanted.) And it’s true that I greatly miss several of the featured I had in the old car that have not been specified in the new one. Adaptive cruise control is sorely missed, since the cruise control I do have has to be manipulated whenever I hit slower traffic, for fear of running into the back of the car in front; in my humble opinion, adaptive cruise should be a compulsory safety feature on ALL cars. Another is the split/fold rear seat, since the 330d is a saloon model and not the Gran Turismo hatchback variation, and the model was chosen without the extra that allows the rear seats to be flattened t0 create a bigger loading bay.
However, where on the last car I had a CD stack system in the boot, technology has come to my aid. Nowadays the car is equipped with a hard disk, allowing me to burn CDs and create playlists for my listening pleasure, thus dispensing with the need for multiple CDs. In fact the entertainment system in general is light years advanced from the old versions, providing you can acclimatise to the command centre with the central control knob and big screen dominating the middle of the dash.
In view of the fact that analogue radio may one day die a death, the car has DAB radio, which is very easy to use and delivers excellent results, apart from when signal is lost. Bearing in mind that the radio ariel is built into the heated rear window, one of the occasions when you lose signal is whenever the HRW is turned on, which is a minor feature but one worth noting. However, the console displays much more information than you would previously have dreamed possible – including the artist and title of the song playing on the radio. How smart is that?!
It also provides many more functions, not least sat nav. On the face of it this is a very expensive option, but compared to cheaper options is at least integrated into the car and can’t therefore be nicked by chancers smashing your window. To be fair it works well and also integrates with the bluetooth functionality that enables your address book to be called up by the car.
The hands-free phone function works in much the same way, utilising the phone address book and storing it to the local hard disk – a very impressive piece of technology, to be sure. It also controls access to a range of BMW online services (looking forward to trying the concierge services) and puts the baby to bed. OK, I made up the last bit, but you get the picture.
While the new toys form a great deal of extra functionality and fun, but ultimately it is the driving dynamics and calm presence on the road that make the Beamer desirable. Forget the status symbol too, that doesn’t matter as much as getting you to your destination in one piece, calm and relaxed. This it does better than any motor I’ve ever possessed.