BMW 330i

WE SAY: THERE’S A REA­SON WHY THE 3-SE­RIES IS A HARDY PEREN­NIAL

Top Gear (UK) - - CONTENTS - PAUL HORRELL

The 3-Se­ries is one of the great oaks in the au­to­mo­tive wood­land. You can name them: Golf, 911, Range Rover, S-Class. And 3-Se­ries. They ma­ture but don’t change; they de­fine the land­scape. So if you’re BMW, you don’t cock about with the 3.

Sure enough, af­ter 40 years this new gen­er­a­tion de­clines to am­bush us with any great sur­prises. Yet its com­po­nent parts are ba­si­cally all new. Pretty much all that’s been handed on from be­fore are the en­gines and trans­mis­sions. But we defy you to find much wrong with that par­tic­u­lar in­her­i­tance.

One of the aims for the de­sign­ers was, ‘Don’t make it look like a 5-Se­ries’, which is good be­cause when I saw an old Three or an old Five, es­pe­cially as Tour­ings, I had a job to tell which it was. The new body has taut metal along the sides, and sub­tle but sharp crease­work, and holds the bon­net low over the front wheels.

The shell is stiffer and larger now. Ex­tra front length copes bet­ter with crashes, so they had to lengthen the rear to bal­ance the look

and, y’know, on it went un­til they’d added 7cm over­all. Con­sid­er­able track width too, so mind you don’t kerb those wheels. But there’s more alu­minium in the skin and sus­pen­sion, and the weight saving is over 50kg in most mod­els, and it’s more slip­pery through the air too.

The 320d now has twin-se­quen­tial tur­bos. Thanks to that and loss of weight and drag, an auto 320d will get to 62mph in un­der 7.0secs, but the spec says CO2 emis­sions of 110g/km. On the road it’s as ef­fec­tive as any com­pa­ra­ble diesel and qui­eter than most. The fun four-cylin­der is the 330i, a su­per-smooth and rev-happy de­vice that’s a bet­ter dance part­ner for the chas­sis.

First mile down the road, the new Three jabs you in the chest and tells you it’s sporty. The ride is taut. The steer­ing’s sharp and ac­cu­rate, with­out be­ing ner­vous. Lean harder and it con­nects beau­ti­fully, sub­tly squat­ting onto its thighs and swiv­el­ling around and out of the curve. The M340i has 370bhp and 4WD with elec­tronic con­trol of the cen­tre and rear diffs. That set-up will look af­ter you but it’s also amaz­ingly play­ful when you want it to be.

The ride’s push­ing it a bit, though. In any ver­sion. Whether it’s big bumps or small cor­ru­ga­tions, the sus­pen­sion never re­laxes. Or lets you. Still, as a long-dis­tance car it does ev­ery­thing else right. It sits solid be­tween mo­tor­way lane mark­ers and gen­er­ally keeps the au­di­ble hub­bub to a min­i­mum.

In­side, base ver­sions get BMW’s traf­fi­caware nav­i­ga­tion, and ac­tual di­als. Op­tional on some and stan­dard on the M Sport is the vir­tual in­stru­ment clus­ter and su­per­sized cen­tral touch­screen as in the X5. We like the cen­tral screen, and the in­stru­ment pack car­ries loads of info, but in a lay­out that’s messy and not very leg­i­ble. Maybe they’re push­ing you into the awe­some op­tional HUD. As ri­vals mi­grate to touch­screens and swipe pads, the iDrive ro­tary con­troller feels like com­ing home. You can use it with­out look­ing down, even when the car is bounc­ing along.

The new Three is em­phat­i­cally bet­ter­fur­nished than the old one, but it hasn’t moved ahead as fast as the best op­po­si­tion. Oh it’s modern, with high-def screens all over the place and am­bi­ent light­ing strips and lots of metal­lic high­lights. But it’s not as plush or as lov­ingly crafted as an Audi or Mercedes.

It’s cer­tainly big enough. The longer wheel­base serves up adult-size rear legroom. Be­hind that is a boun­teous boot, with fold­ing seat-backs if that isn’t enough. This could be a fam­ily car, though you’d prob­a­bly wait a bit for the Tour­ing, which is only a mat­ter of months be­hind the sa­loon.

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