2017 BMW 330i xDrive
BMW treats the best-selling 3 series to some cosmetic work before it goes for major surgery in 2019
Words by: Adam Allen
Surely BMW hasn’t got any more changes for the current F30 generation up its sleeve, do they?
Since its debut in 2011, BMW has recently given the current F30 generation a little bit of a nip and tuck, enough to keep it fresh and relevant amongst its peers- Audi’s A4 is still relatively new, and the Mercedes Benz C-Class is still enjoying success after its baby S-Class styling redux from a few years back. That makes the 3 series the old-timer of the sports sedan cohort, and so BMW decided to reinvigorate some of the styling, even if the changes are subtle. The next time you see a 3 series that features wholesale changes to its looks inside and out, it will be the next generation model waiting in the wings, known internally as the G20 (not to be confused with Infiniti’s old entry level offering or the controversial international government forum.)
Park a 2017 330i next to a 2016 328i and other than the badges being numerically different, most folks would have a hard time discerning what, if any, meaningful changes BMW has made. If you look closely, the differences begin to take shape. The 328i had HID headlights up front and incandescent taillights out back. The 330i features full LED lighting at both ends and are appreciably sharper than the sort of cheap looking lights on the 328i, especially at the stern. Inside, BMW has added newer materials that are supposedly richer than before, and additional splashes of chrome and gloss-black trim keep things feeling upscale. BMW also says that the infotainment system has snappier response times, but we never felt that this was an area that had room for improvement; the current units they use are among the industry’s best an much better than, say, Mercedes Benz’s COMAND system. The changes that pique our interest the most are the revised oily bits BMW has fitted to its best seller. The engineers have futzed with the power steering tuning for better feel and specified the use of new struts up front and slightly different calibration for the rear dampers. The most impactful alteration is the new B48 turbo four that replaces the old N20. It’s part of BMW’s family of modular engines (each cylinder displaces 500 cc’s) and picks up 8 horsepower and three pounds feet of torque in the process. These increases don’t promise much more speed that what the 328i used to serve up, but BMW says that increased efficiency was the main reason for the retrofit. In mixed driving (some of it spirited) we achieved a sparkling 8.6L/100km, a figure we weren’t able to come close to in previous tests of the outgoing 328i.
Noted. But have the changes worked?
The 330i sips gas more frugally and features an interior/exterior combo that is incrementally nicer, so judged within those metrics BMW has succeeded in its mandate. After driving the 330i around for a week, we began to wonder if we’ve reached peak F30- other than wholesale changes which aren’t in the cards, there isn’t much BMW can do to improve the chassis which was designed more with isolating refinement in mind rather than an emphasis on athleticism. Even if the 3 series isn’t as willing to play, it still features impeccable driving dynamics that are constantly used as a bogey that other manufactures use as a target for setting up their own cars. The ride is creamy and composed but won’t shy away from the bends, and with all its bent towards efficiency the B48 serves up strong, lag-free power no matter where the needle on the tachometer happens to be. The 8-speed transmission and xDrive AWD conspire to treat the driver to virtually imperceptible lighting fast shifts and reassuring traction no matter what the road conditions. So while the aesthetic tweaks may not be all that noticeable, the hardware upgrades do a fine job of advancing the breed.
What might go wrong?
Our tester was equipped with Variable Sport Steering which is part of the Sport Line package ($3,000) that ostensibly is offered to make steering effort less at low speeds while firming up as you achieve higher speeds. We’re not sure if the system needs a bit more polish from BMW engineers, but there were times where we’d dial in steering lock and not get the proportionate response we expected. On long sweeping corners, (the kind you find on rural roads, for example) it seemed like we needed to make more corrections than usual to keep the 330i on its intended line. The B48 engine, for all its charm simply doesn’t have the auditory satisfaction of the 340i’s near perfect inline six. We find this somewhat puzzling because the same engine is offered in various Mini products and sounds terrific- surely it isn’t a huge task to tune the BMW exhaust note to sound more like its friskier cousin from across the showroom? The last gripe we’ll issue is puzzling for BMW who usually tune their cars for serenity and as little intrusion from outside noise as possible. On grooved pavement our ears were surprised to find more noise filling the cabin that we remember, so much so that we’d have to turn up the radio slightly to overcome it. Perhaps it was the particular tire that our tester was shod with, perhaps not; it’s a bit surprising either way.
Should I buy a 330i?
Since we’ve always liked the 3 series we would have to answer this question in the affirmative. Despite its steady march away from prioritizing the “Ultimate Driving Machine” ethos in favor of focusing on making it appeal to the masses, BMW’s chassis engineers still know a thing or two about tuning a car that is not only accomplished dynamically but also something you can easily use everyday and in any situation. If you’re particularly smitten by the F30 generation, then you most definitely will want to visit your local dealership and get one into your garage before the new model drops which will likely occur late next year.
2017 BMW 330i xDrive — Specifications
Price as tested: $57,000
Body Type: 5-door, 4 passenger sedan
Powertrain Layout: Front engine/all-wheel drive
Engine: 2.0-litre inline-four turbo, DOHC, 16 valves
Horsepower: 248 @ 5,200 rpm
Torque (lbs-ft.): 258 @ 1,450 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Curb weight: 1,619 kg (3,569 lbs)
Observed Fuel consumption: 8.6L/100km (27 mpg)