Most distinguished automakers have a model that has stood the test of time; a model that stands to represent the heritage of the brand. Often times these models fill a niche in the automotive market that was left previously unsatisfied. For Volkswagen this model is the Golf, for Honda, the Civic and for BMW, the 3-Series. With the 3-series name spanning over four decades, it’d be hard to believe that they don’t have the sport-saloon formula down to a T.
With the 2019 and 2020 model year, BMW have introduced the newest iteration of the 3-series. The new 3-series is, yet again, the prized pony of the new lineup and coursing with prestigious BMW lifeblood. There is absolutely no doubt that the newest 3-series is the successor to a long lineage of purpose built automobiles.
Sitting in the lower quadrant of the new 3-series model range is the 2019 BMW 330i. Now gone is the under-powered and unenthusiastic base 320i model of the previous generation. With that being said, the 330i doesn’t look or feel confined to the lower end of the BMW totem pole. In fact, the 330i is a pretty remarkable bang for your buck at $70,900.
From a distance, the silhouette of the 2019 330i is unmistakably BMW. The flowing body contours seem to wrap around the entirety of the car in a cyclical way, hinting towards tried and true BMW design. In the spirit of retaining decades old design cues, the 330i displays prominent front kidney grilles, albeit with a more angular shape, and BMW’s signature Hofmeister kink along the rear windows. While some of the styling is clearly reminiscent of other competing manufacturers, looking at you Lexus, it is evident that the designers took care in delivering a unique and interesting product.
While BMW has held true to a great deal of 3-series character traits, the interior of the 2019 330i is certainly a step beyond what we’ve come to expect from an entry level BMW sport-sedan. Where the interior of the previous generation 3-series felt like an up-scaled Mini Cooper, the interior of the 2019 330i feels like that of a slightly muffled 5-series of a much higher class.
It really is the subtle details that make the most difference in the case of the 330i’s interior. Most of the knobs, buttons and accents are finished in a beautiful brushed aluminum, opposed to the cheap plastic of the generation before. Some elements of the aluminum-bolstered interior redesign are no-doubt borrowed from the competition. The centrally mounted start/stop button and infotainment selector dial seem to be lifted from an Audi, but still retain a BMW twist.
The dash has taken an entirely digital form, with speedometer and tachometer information displayed prominently on the outer edges. The digital cluster really shines when it comes to customisability. Navigation, media information and vehicle statistics can all be displayed, front-and-center, to your liking. Paired with a heads-up display that projects an equally customizable array of information on the front windshield, you truly do feel surrounded by helpful and unobtrusive technology. The heads-up display is even more impressive in the diesel variant, with an astounding amount of windshield real estate dedicated to displaying speed, revs and other pertinent information. These are features you are unlikely to find in any other base model vehicle.
As you probably would have guessed, technology is certainly a primary focal point in the 2019 330i’s interior experience. The enormous 12.3 inch central display is the powerhouse for media setting and controls, running BMW’s new iDrive 7 operating software. While the interface is intuitive, it relies heavily on using the touchscreen to navigate; not exactly ideal for on-the-go use. Furthermore, many of the interior buttons lack the elegantly tactile ease that you would expect from a luxury brand. An annoyance that repeatedly reared its ugly head came in the form of the A/C control buttons. With the controls being so small, and button based instead of a traditional dial, making simple air-con adjustments was a chore.
The 330i’s autodrive feature will undoubtedly bring a smile to your face if you haven’t experienced the tech firsthand. Watching the steering wheel move independently is something genuinely surreal. Despite the elevated nerves from letting technology take control, the experience feels oddly natural as the autodrive feature does a wonderful job of following traffic in a safe way. With that being said, autodrive is undoubtedly a freeway aimed feature and probably wouldn’t fare too well on suburban streets. I did come to trust it, just maybe not that much yet.
Just for kicks and added technological bragging rights, BMW included 360 panoramic parking assist on the 2019 330i. It truly does give you confidence to reverse without looking in a mirror at all. Of course a good driver wouldn’t use this as a crutch, but the overhead birds-eye view surround cameras definitely add some extra assurance if you’re sliding into a tight spot.
While the space-age tech is most often a welcome addition to the new 3-series, there are a few areas that fail to meet the expectations of a premium sedan. The lane assist feature felt like more of a burden than a safety feature. On the highway, slight drifts near parallel lanes will be met with a dramatic correcting nudge, which might be a bit extreme. The lack of radar cruise control, a standard feature on many competing models, is quite disappointing when compared to some of the other standard technology included in the new 3-series.
The presence of extremely high quality materials elevates the 330i’s interior to compete with vehicles twice the price. The M-Sport steering wheel provided on our test vehicle is light-years improved over that of the diesel variant, with a thick, merino-leather wrap that feels natural in the palm. The bolstered seats have clearly been designed with longevity in mind, with added accented stitching and segmented areas to prevent uneven wear. Even the storage space seems to be manufactured with elegance in mind, with a somewhat oddly placed wireless charging tray under the central climate controls, the space is pleasantly large and shrouded by leather.
While the flashy tech and lavish interior are welcomed and appreciated, they are only half of the battle. BMW’s trusty slogan is ‘The Ultimate Driving Machine’ not ‘The Best Place to Sit,’ after all.
Luckily, the new 330i keeps the claim alive. Powered by a 190kW 4-cylinder engine paired with an 8-speed sport automatic transmission, ample acceleration is just a foot-stomp away. The 400Nm of torque makes the 330i feel like a dominant force off the line. It certainly isn’t a slouch around the bends either. While there was no M-adaptive suspension on our test vehicle, the ride was excellently balanced and kept the chassis flat when thrown into a curve. While the steering feels on-point around corners, power is quite limited when exiting; Quite disappointing as the exit is the most important spot for power delivery. Somewhat surprisingly, the sporty 19-inch wheels provide a smooth and grippy ride. The brakes were also a spot of praise, stopping the 330i as fast as it can accelerate.
As far as the typical 3-series formula is concerned, the 2019 330i certainly fulfills the criteria of comfort and sportiness, leaving one crucial piece: Practicality.
As a sport oriented saloon, the 2019 330i allows quite a bit of room to sprawl out. The 14-way front seats allow for ample legroom for driver and passenger. The front cabin feels increasingly more spacious with the large sunroof in the open position. A mesh slide cover would have been a more ideal solution, rather than a block out cover, but the increased size is quite a nice addition. The rear seats are also fit for three adults to sit without any awkward squirming. BMW has always touted that 3 full-sized golf bags can fit in the boot of any 3-series and the 2019 330i is no exception. The tried and true BMW 40/20/40 folding seats allow for a 480-litre boot; plenty of space for weekend adventures. While space is ample, there are quite a few cracks and crevices that smartphones and other trinkets to get lost in. My only other gripe is the underwhelming cargo hooks that might make loading anything more than two bags a hassle.
BMW had a lot to live up to with the newest iteration of the 3-series. It can be a make or break for a distinguished manufacturer to redesign a model that has defined a brand for decades. With the new 3-series platform, I am pleased to say that BMW has largely succeeded. Even on the lower end of the 3-series range with the 330i, you get the elegant and premium driving experience that BMW has been widely renowned for in the past.
By Amandeep Sethi