There is nothing quite like a well specced BMW sedan. There’s a history of engagement, quality and design that has established BMW sedans as market leaders for as long as many of us have been alive. And it thrills me to say that the 2023 BMW 330i carries on that tradition of excellence we’ve come to know from BMW dating back to the early 70s.
No there’s no manual offered. And yes there’s four cylinder under the hood that you can also get in a MINI. For those who still refer to the “Ultimate Driving Machine” a the best automotive tagline in history, it might be initially concerning. And as someone who’s owned everything from a 1976 2002 to a 2004 330i ZHP to even a BMW 1M (and driven much more), I probably fall into that category. So even I had to set aside some of that surface level critique and simply get behind the wheel with as little preconceived notions as possible. What I found was a car that beautifully translated what I’ve loved about those cars to a modern equivalent. It may be a future hardly imaginable when that 2002 was made but there’s a undeniable link when you get behind the wheel.
First let’s talk about the car and why this particular 330i felt like a throw-back straight away. Everything BMW seems to make is now xDrive. Great for people who live in seriously snowy environments (or if you car is packing over 500 hp) but total overkill for anyone else. And thankfully this 330i was the base rear wheel drive configuration. Weighing in at 3,582 lbs, it’s a full 182 lbs lighter than the xDrive equivalent and has almost a perfect 50/50 weight distribution.
Interestingly it’s only 212 lbs heavier than my old 2004 330i ZHP despite being the size of a E39 5 Series. And speaking of that E39, this 330i has an almost identical weight and length as a E39 535i. Yes the 3 Series has grown up but if you zoom out a bit, BMW has followed the market and done it in a way that has allowed the 3 Series slot into the category that older 5 Series used to occupy.
Yes there’s agility lost with a larger footprint but BMW has used suspension tuning and various bits of modern hardware to minimize that. In total its progress hard to imagine 20 years ago when that E39 and E46 were on the market.
With 255 hp and 295 ft lbs of torque, the 330i can hit 0-60 in 5.6 seconds. That’s .2 slower than the xDrive model (thanks to the extra traction in extreme acceleration) but the moment you push this car and feel the subtle rear wheel drive dynamics, all is forgiven. We’re in a post speed world with electric family cars doing 0-60 in under 3 seconds. I’d argue you’re never buying a 330i for its 0-60 time so you might as well buy it for its engagement. Oh and just to be clear – 5.6 seconds is as fast as that 2004 BMW 330i ZHP – my favorite daily driver of all time.
Perhaps the most impressive stat is the $51,390 price as tested. At that price it’s equipped with just about every option I could want with the important exception of the extra $1000 that would have gone to Driving Assistant Pro. To put that in perspective that’s just $5k above the average price of a car in the US at $46,437.
Yet there are issues. The new iDrive interface is overly complex and the app interface is not only poorly executed aesthetically but the UI is hilariously bad at times (scrolling vertically on an extra wide screen is an embarrassing UI decision). Then there’s functions like heated seats that are hidden behind a menu on screen. It’s not just a user experience that confuses initially but one that frustrated continuously. Until BMW can read my mind on such functions, we need easier ways to control them then a menu on a screen.
Outside there’s a heavy hand in the design details. The 2023 LCI has helped but I look forward to the more minimalist approach that BMW seems to be foreshadowing with the Vision Dee. And why are the brake-ducts blocked off? I get it that BMW wants certain aspects of the M340i to remain exclusive but you’d think something called a M Sport Package or a Dynamic Handling Package would have added those back?
Conclusion: The Ultimate Driving Machine Isn’t Dead
The last time we tested a 330i it was a $57,420 xDrive equipped sport sedan. We loved the return to form in regards to driver engagement but were left feeling cold given the xDrive and its near $60k price. This revised $51,390 RWD example hits the sweet spot perfectly.
The G20 3 Series was a return to form in its driver engagement. But this 2023 example with its finessed styling, refreshed and more driver focused specification feels like a direct link to the past.
There’s no manual and the base engine is still that a B48 in-line four cylinder. But behind the wheel all of this fades away as you feel the car rotate out of a corner. Mile after mile you begin to realize you’re driving something truly engaging and ultimately rewarding. And then you look back and notice you have three more seats and a huge trunk and this is the base 3 Series. And suddenly all is right with the world. BMW has made yet another exceptional sports sedan. And in a world full of forgettable crossovers and front wheel drive sedans with bodykits, that feels revolutionary.