An antidote to brashness, this super-diesel is fast, slick and fuel efficient. Picture: DENIS DROPPA
An antidote to brashness, this super-diesel is fast, slick and fuel efficient. Picture: DENIS DROPPA

Having notched up more than 15-million sales in just over 40 years, the 3 Series sedan is BMW’s most successful model and, not wishing to fix what ain’t broken, the company has spared the car from the recent experimentation with controversial, ultra-sized kidney grilles.

The seventh-generation 3 Series (internally dubbed the G20) arrived last year with styling that was a gentle evolution of its predecessor, leaving its more recently-launched 4 Series coupé cousin to garner all the love-hate attention with its fearless design.

Without getting nearly as daring as the bucktoothed air intakes on the new 4 Series, the 3 Series grille does get the regulation corporate upsizing. The dual intakes now extend all the way to the headlights, giving the sedan a wider and more pressed-down look than its predecessor.

The new 3 Series is physically wider by 16mm, while under its refreshed sheetmetal the car has grown a substantial 76mm in length too, providing more coughing room in the back seat. In its enlarged size and all-round more sophisticated and grown-up feel, BMW’s junior sedan edges ever closer to feeling like a shortened 5 Series, but at heart it is still a driver’s car like its forebears.

Interior radiates business class luxury with leather and metallic accents, but the digital instrument panel costs extra. Picture: DENIS DROPPA
Interior radiates business class luxury with leather and metallic accents, but the digital instrument panel costs extra. Picture: DENIS DROPPA

An increased wheelbase and track width have improved both ride comfort and handling stability. Our test car rode with finesse even on its optionally-fitted low-profile 19-inch rubber, while the essential 3 Series driving experience is delivered through the car’s light-footed cornering performance. 

It’s a car with substance and heft, without feeling heavy. In fact the new car is up to 55kg lighter than the outgoing model.  

Different driving personalities can be summoned by choosing the Eco Pro, Comfort or Sport modes. In its most playful setting the steering delivers the typically meaty, direct feel of 3 Series repute, and the thick-rimmed steering wheel plays a large part in the sporting feel of driving the car. 

Having recently sampled the range-topping all-wheel drive M340i xDrive with its 285kW and 500Nm of petrol power, the rear-wheel drive 330d on test here is the top diesel model in the line-up. It’s powered by a six-cylinder turbo 3.0l with 195kW and 580Nm, and while it isn’t quite as fast as the M340i, it packs an impressively hefty punch while being much kinder to the fuel budget.

Under its refreshed but uncontroversial sheetmetal the car has grown in length. Picture: DENIS DROPPA
Under its refreshed but uncontroversial sheetmetal the car has grown in length. Picture: DENIS DROPPA

It’s a gem of an engine that flexes big muscles while sipping fuel like a small hatchback, our test car recording just 6.9l /100km.

Displaying minimal lag, the car is quick out of the starting blocks, taking just 5.5 seconds to 100km/h, and cruises with an easy, long-legged lope. It does this all with finesse, and the smooth diesel engine has shed all vestiges of agricultural origins. There’s even a playfully sporty acoustic undertone when the horses are summoned.

Eager throttle inputs in tight corners get the rear-wheel drive car playfully wanting to whip out the tail, though safely reigned in by the stability control.

Rival premium brands like Mercedes, Jaguar and Audi don’t offer such powerful diesels so the 330d has this corner of the market basically to itself. Its primary competition will come from petrol-powered sports sedans like its own M340i stablemate and the Mercedes-AMG C43. 

BMW 330d

WE LIKE: Performance, fuel consumption, refinement

WE DISLIKE: Expensive cost of extras

VERDICT: A rare gem, a Goldilocks car

The upsized cabin has been modernised with all the latest tech and connectivity, although you have to pay extra for new features like the Live Cockpit Professional digital instrument panel; the standard panel has regular analogue dials.

A lot of the cool technology costs extra — including semi-autonomous driving features like lane-keeping and active cruise control — and the standard 330d is not overendowed with features for its nearly 900k price tag. This isn’t a BMW-specific phenomenon though, and expensive extras prevail throughout this market segment.

In terms of the refinement and the setting, there is little to complain about. The 330d’s silently gliding nature and plush passenger cell radiate business class luxury with finely-stitched leather and metallic accents.

What I like about BMWs is they allow you to choose your favourite way to access features: via the tried-and-trusted iDrive knob, the touchscreen, gesture control for things like the audio volume or via voice control. The latter is called the BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant and is an improvement over Beemer’s previous voice-control attempts. It responds to naturally spoken commands like “I’m cold” by turning up the heater.

In summary, the 330d is a car that has the chops without needing to shout it from the rooftops like BMW’s M models. It’s a car that smoothly goes about its high-performance, fuel-sipping business without being brash or showy.

The 330d is the Goldilocks model in the range, with a compelling mix of performance and economy. It’s an executive sports sedan with the thirst of a small hatchback.


Tech Specs

Engine

Type: Six-cylinder diesel turbo

Capacity: 2,993cc

Power: 195kW

Torque: 580Nm

Transmission

Type: Eight-speed Steptronic auto

Drivetrain

Type: Rear-wheel drive

Performance 

Top speed: 250km/h

0-100km/h: 5.5 seconds

Fuel Consumption: 5.5l/100km (claimed); 6.9l /100km (as tested)

Emissions: 145g/km

Standard features

Parking assist camera, ABS brakes, six airbags, stability control, electric windows, climate control, cruise control, infotainment system with voice control, LED daytime running lights, automatic LED headlamps, runflat tyres, electric front seats

Warranty: Two years/unlimited km

Service plan: Five years/100,000km

Price: R883,500

Lease*: R18,866

* at 10% interest over 60 months no deposit

Competition

Mercedes-AMG C43, 287kW/520Nm — R1,095,920

BMW M340i xDrive, 285kW/500Nm — R1,090,616

BMW 330d

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