It goes without saying that the latest BMW 330i M Sport is a brilliant car. Indeed, there’s a strong case that it’s all the car anyone could ever need.
But here’s the thing: I actually own a previous-generation F30 320d. Despite having covered 117,000 miles in six years, it’s still pin-sharp to drive, extremely comfortable and all the gadgets are working. In fact, the only clue to its intensive usage is an occasional rattle from the exhaust downpipe (must get that sorted). It is, in short, a brilliant car. Indeed, there’s a strong case that it’s all the car anyone could ever need.
So the question I wanted to answer was exactly how much the current G20 3-Series moves the game along.
It’s a case of evolution rather than revolution, a slew of small changes that add up to a car that is -somehow – appreciably better than it was before.
I drove the 330i M Sport. That badge used to denote a 3.0-litre, naturally-aspirated straight-six engine. Now it means a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo motor, producing a meaty 258hp and 295lb/ft of torque, in this case coupled to an eight-speed automatic gearbox.
Some will no bemoan the fact that BMW no longer makes a howling, nat-asp ‘six’, but the turbo four-pot in the 330i produces a purposeful, hard-edged growl when you press on that is characterful and goading. It’s quick, too, 0-62mph passing in 5.8secs with a limited top speed of 155mph. More importantly, there’s strong mid-range punch and as-good-as no turbo lag.
Chuck the 330i into a corner and not much happens, frankly. Because the thing is so poised and controlled that you would have to be going indecently fast to elicit so much as a shimmy from the chassis. The steering gives little feel, but the chassis is constantly talking. I didn’t get the opportunity to push all that hard, but planting my foot hard on the throttle before an apex just made it dig in and power round, thanks to M Sport diff that comes in the optional M Sport Plus pack on this car. Crucially, it’s fun.
The F30 lost some ground in the handling stakes to newer rivals like the Jaguar XE and Alfa Romeo Giulia, but the G20 retakes the top spot easily.
Settle back to a cruise and the engine disappears into the background. This car’s adaptive suspension, which stays so composed in the twisties, is a little unsettled on rough surfaces. But there’s no particular wind or road noise, isolating you from the world better than the F30 and most of its rivals, too.
Detail changes have been made to the iDrive infotainment system to make it more user-friendly and there’s some useful new functions, too, including the voice-activated ‘intelligent personal assistant’. There’s a 10.25in touchscreen, though I still prefer to use the rotary controller. Top-spec versions get a digital instrument panel, as well.
Incremental improvements have been made to the interior materials and layout. It feels suitably ‘premium’ and totally solid, though the architecture is a bit austere next to the Audi A4 and Mercedes C-Class. The G20 is a few centimetres longer than F30, so there’s a bit more interior space as well, particularly for rear seat passengers.
So, how much does the G20 move the game on from the F30? More than enough to make it worth upgrading and to put it well clear at the head of the class.
The latest 3-Series is, indeed, a brilliant car and, in any of its many guises, it’s all the car anyone could ever need.
Model tested: BMW 330i M Sport Type: Mid-size premium saloon Price: £38.170 (£49,045 as tested) Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbo petrol Power: 258hp Torque: 295lb/ft Transmission: 8-speed automatic (6-spd manual standard), rear wheel-drive Performance: 0-62mph in 5.8secs, top speed 155mph Economy: 46.3mpg combined, Co2 emissions of 139g/km (NEDC) Length: 4,709mm Width: 1,827mm Height: 1,435mm Weight: 1,545kg Boot capacity: 480l Towing weight: 1,600kg Rivals: Alfa Romeo Veloce, Audi A4 45 TFSi, Jaguar XE 250, Skoda Superb TSi 280, Volkswagen Arteon TSi 280, Volvo S60 T5
By Graham King