A car that ticks more boxes than almost any other
Once upon a time, BMW was like your favourite pizza place. It may have only made one thing in various sizes – in this case, rear-wheel drive sedans, coupes, etc – but boy did it do it well. Since then it has successfully diversified its offerings, but in doing so took its eye off the ball a little in terms of its core offering.
Following the universally accepted excellence of the E46 3 Series, the E90’s runflats ruined the ride and the F30’s standard suspension was all over the shop. BMW’s latest attempt at a small premium sedan, the G20, is much more like it, a real return to form, and adding a bit of extra sheetmetal in the form of a wagon body does it no harm at all.
It adds a fairly substantial 105kg to the kerb weight, though BMW claims that increases the 0-62mph (0-100km/h) sprint by just 0.1sec to a still brisk 5.9sec. The upside of this extra heft is an additional 30 litres of boot space (510L) and an expansion to a useful 1510L with the 40:20:40 split-fold rear seats stowed.
As an everyday car, the 330i Touring couldn’t be more appropriate. The 255bhp (190kW/400Nm) 2.0-litre turbo four is frugal, with enough zing to plug gaps in traffic, the eight-speed ZF auto (ZF 8HP) is completely unobtrusive, and the steering thankfully lacks the syrupy weight of some of BMW’s other recent efforts.
Even with adaptive suspension being standard, the ride is quite firm. It pays dividends once the pace is upped and the corners arrive thick and fast, but will any buyer subject this family wagon to a weekend thrap? Possibly not, but they should. The car I kept thinking of while driving the G21 330i Touring was the M135i hatch sampled recently. Don’t judge a book by its marketing; the non-performance model steers far more sweetly, displays better balance and is much more responsive to throttle and brake inputs. Gentle understeer is the prevailing characteristic at the limit but it’s easily adjusted to.
However, so capable is the chassis that it’s crying out for more power and the B48 in its ultimate guise has more to offer, producing 225kW/450Nm in the M135i. That would separate the 330i Touring from its competitors while still leaving plenty of space up to BMW’s six-cylinder ‘40i’ models.
It would also help justify a price tag that’s a little on the steep side. The 330i is well equipped, but is a tough sell for family duties when the similarly powered X3 30i offers (slightly) more space and all-wheel drive for a couple of grand less. Of course, the wagon is quicker, more fuel-efficient and better to drive, which makes choosing from the traditional menu a no-brainer.
BELOW Only a firm ride detracts from interior comfort, but it pays off in the twisties
LIKE + : Quick; frugal; the practicality of a wagon; enjoyable to drive
DISLIKE - : Could use a bit more grunt; a little pricey; slightly firm ride