I have to reveal up front that I own an older 3-series BMW, so I am quite aware of its abilities and drawbacks. And as many different types of cars that I drive, I am always happy to return to my baby. But when I got behind the wheel of the new 330i (Edmunds pricing at $39,184) I could tell that this machine was a sharp step up in performance within a quarter mile.
At my first ride in the driver’s seat, I couldn’t get over the ergonomics of the steering wheel. Every car has one, and I’ve handled a few unusual ones, but my grip has never felt more at home than with this 330i. (Unfortunately, it wasn’t a heated steering while like the 7-series, and it was quite cold outside.) Then BMW mates this steering wheel with very precise steering for a sedan-level car.
The German automobiles avoid the low-end torque that American makers’ design, instead they offer a slower launch, but smoother, linear acceleration. And the silky 6-cylinder engine is particularly noticeable with a manual transmission in this car. BMW finally added a 6th gear for the stick shift, and I say it is overdue. My old one has 50,000 miles and the gearing still makes me look for 6th when I run up through the gears – but sadly there are only 5 to be had. Since the 330i generates 255 horsepower, far more than I am used to for daily driving, I may have to upgrade my radar detector.
Yes, the car basics are spectacular – engine, ride, steering (even the steering wheel), but the electronics controls are a comical disappointment. Anyone that has driven this car has a story about turning on the turn signals from one side to the other and back again, during a vain attempt to turn them off. I know people in the area gave me a wider berth, thinking I was a confused and lost driver. The turning signal lever doesn’t ‘click’ into place as the rest of the world has come to commonly expect turn signals to function. With the 330i, you tap the signal, such as for passing, and it automatically flashes three times and then turns off. But you can hold the lever a little longer, and you get your normal-action from the turn signal. But on a soft turn, where the signal doesn’t turn off, you have to flick it the other way to turn it off. But in the hurry of the moment, if it is more than a flick, then you just indicated from your signals that you are turning in the opposite direction. And this goes back & forth every once in a while until you get accustomed to it.
Other electronic oddities are the Navigation/Radio controls. There are many models of cars where you can intuitively muddle your way to what you want to get done. I couldn’t generate that kind of luck while I was driving. My passenger had to repeatedly go through the owners’ manual that didn’t offer much guidance to get the map or radio station the way we wanted. And we didn’t even have the added i-drive option that so many customers complain about. I’m at a loss to explain the miss-timing of the automatic windshield wipers. I love that Jaguar has this feature down pat, but the 330i wipers were always going too fast or too slow; so kept having to manually adjust the automatic windshield wipers. An electronic improvement over the prior 3-series model is the traction control system. The old model would cut the power to the wheels in an obvious fashion, while this model is a seamless experience of artificially superior driving skill.
So while the driving experience is a quantum level improvement over the last generation change at BMW, their electronics package gives me some hesitation in buying one of these machines. In bumper to bumper traffic, the electronic gadgetry of the 330i becomes more annoying; and only on curvy roads without traffic or law enforcement can you experience the thrill of what this car can offer.