BMW 330ix: Lucky Number Seven

We recently got to spend a week with a new BMW 330ix and can report that we liked a lot about it. We also didn’t like some things about the new car.

First, we need to admit that, as 3 Series owners who have owned nearly every iteration of these iconic cars, this one hits home for us: We have definite feelings—and a fair bit of bias—as to what a 3 Series should be.

The BMW 3 Series has had a big dollar sign-shaped bullseye right on its proverbial back since its inception back in the late '70s. It is the car that cemented BMW's legacy and the benchmark for most luxury and near-luxury car makers. Everyone wants to better, or at least get close to the 3 Series.

For that reason, BMW is very methodical when it comes to change, and as expected, did not make radical alterations to their new baby. At the end of the day, the seventh-generation (G20 chassis code) 3 Series is only subtly changed from the F30 it replaces.

What then, did we like? To start, the new G20 is pleasantly restyled. BMW carefully updated every angle of the car and did nothing radical to polarize buyers when it comes to the styling of their icon. Outside, the overall effect might look a bit heavy, especially in the rear quarter area, but the look is decidedly 3 Series and works well. The optional ($550) Sunset Orange Metallic was a striking color for an otherwise subdued car. We liked it. Other people thought it a bit much. If anything, you won’t lose it in a parking lot.

Inside the new interior is functional, relatively easy to figure out and, other than a rather garish steering wheel, quite pleasing to spend time in. As usual, fit, finish and materials are best in class.

Mechanically, only the coupe—now known as the 4 Series—comes with a six-cylinder engine at this point. The sedans come equipped with BMW’s 2.0-liter TwinPower Turbo, an inline, four-cylinder engine. This thoroughly modern engine combines a twin-scroll turbocharger with variable valve control (Double-VANOS and Valvetronic) along with direct fuel injection. Thankfully we love this modern interpretation of BMW's N20 engine and, even with only 255 horsepower on tap in the XDrive (AWD) version, the car is faster than most people will ever need.

The 0-60 mph time is said to be 5.3 seconds. Another plus of this powertrain (combined with an eight-speed automatic) is the fuel mileage, which on our tester is rated at 34 mpg. Basically, we drove all week and had to fill the car only once with premium fuel. The rear-wheel-drive version of this car is said to have a slightly slower 0-60 time of 5.6 seconds, but gets 2 mpg better mileage, without the drag and extra weight of xDrive.

There is, however, one glaring exception: No manual transmission is offered. Yes, the company that a decade ago promised us all of their models would always offer a manual transmission option, does not offer a manual in the new 3 Series. At least not yet, anyway. Do we really want to live in a world where a 3 Series cannot be ordered with a stick? Maybe, as the eight-speed automatic transmission and paddle shifters are pretty decent.

The front suspension is by double-pivot-type with an anti-roll bar and allegedly stiffer spring struts in the sport version we drove. A five-link rear suspension with cast-aluminum upper transverse arms and twin-tube gas pressure shock absorbers sound good on paper and worked relatively well out on the road.

The four-wheel, ventilated disc brakes were effective and progressive, as you would expect on any modern car.

Our car also had Driving Dynamics Control with ECO PRO, COMFORT, SPORT, AND SPORT + modes. Many new premium cars have these variable engine and suspension settings and they do help you match your driving conditions.

One thing that did not help us experience pleasant driving conditions on the rough Northeast, pothole-infused roads were the 19” Bridgestone run-flat tires equipped on this car. If you order the 18” wheels, you can get traditional or run-flat tires, but 19” wheels come equipped with run-flats. We cannot believe that BMW would intentionally design a suspension system that, when running in Comfort mode, will have passengers complaining vehemently, so we are going to blame this on the rubber-band-width, run-flat tires on the 19” wheels that we feel are too large for this car. We recommend—despite everyone’s need for style—that they opt for 18” tires and a traditional spare. Your back will thank you.

If our warning does not convince you, consider this: Within 100 miles of leaving the airport where we received up the car, we picked up a roofing nail in the tread. We were told that the simple, $10 patch to solve this problem is not an option on run-flat tires.

Let’s talk about money. The new 3 Series is not a cheap date. In recent years, you could buy a 4-cylinder BMW 3 Series starting in the low-to-mid $30,000 range. Our new XDrive version had a base price of $42,250 and a whopping, as-tested price of $58,770. This is a lot of money for any 3 Series BMW without a true M badge on it.

Sure, you can build a stripped, rear-wheel-drive version for about $41,000, but that comes with no options. Almost sadistically, black and white are the only standard colors: Every other color is a $550 option. Even leather seating surfaces are a $1450 extra in the new 3 Series.

Our test car was equipped with the M Sport Package. This package carries a $5000 price tag and, in a true insult to the M brand, includes options like: Comfort Access keyless entry, SensaTec dashboard and Sirius/XM radio. BMW really, really needs to be more careful just which option package they label with an ‘M’. We suspect the marketing or product team making these decisions have never experienced an E30 or E36 M3 on track. If they did, they would put a stop to this nonsense right now.

So, while it sounds like a bit of carping from editors that are very, very passionate about 3 Series BMWs, overall, we did like this car. We wish it rode a little better on terrible roads. We wish it were a bit lighter—or at least felt a bit lighter on its feet—and we wish it was more reasonably priced.

We look forward to seeing what’s next for the G20 chassis and suspect a manual-transmission-equipped, true M is in the works. If and when it comes and, assuming it is up to the current M2, M3 or M4, we might just pony up the huge number of pennies needed to put one in our garage.

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Comments
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Vigo
Vigo MegaDork
8/29/19 9:48 a.m.

That's sort of an alarming price jump. The extra money for leather and basically any paint color almost makes it seem like the price jump is even worse and they're trying to mask it by hiding it in the "options" list.  That and the harsh ride gives the impression that BMW knows they are selling to people who just want to be in (be seen in) a BMW and are pretty undiscerning about value or what reasonable expecations for a 50k+ luxury car are. As you said about the M Sport package, it's vaguely insulting. But, for someone with no interest in the details it will either go unnoticed or just not bother them. 

A 255hp midsize doing 0-60 in 5.3 sure reminds me of that time i E36 M3 on the Lexus IS200t review because it barely cracks a 15 second 1/4 mile. There is a whole ocean of performance between these two 2.0Ts in the same market segment. 

Colin Wood
Colin Wood Reader Services
8/29/19 10:54 a.m.
Vigo said:

That and the harsh ride gives the impression that BMW knows they are selling to people who just want to be in (be seen in) a BMW and are pretty undiscerning about value or what reasonable expecations for a 50k+ luxury car are.

My thoughts exactly. That market segment is unfortunately larger than those of us who are looking for a serious sports sedan.

Aspen
Aspen HalfDork
8/29/19 11:50 a.m.

It's hard to justify why a stripper 3 series with plastic seats and boring paint is worth 10K more than say a Civic or Mazda 3 all loaded up.  What is so premium?  The dash material? 

Dootz
Dootz Reader
8/29/19 12:39 p.m.

In reply to Aspen :

RWD? Turbo-4 making more than 250 hp to the right wheels? 50/50 weight distribution? Amazing ZF 8-speed?

02Pilot
02Pilot SuperDork
8/29/19 3:16 p.m.

All this does is make me hope that the rumors of an I6 RWD (or AWD) Mazda 6 are true. The BMW I knew and loved is dead.

Duke
Duke MegaDork
8/30/19 8:40 a.m.

I drove an E46 for 11 years and loved it.

When shopping for DW's car we test drove a 2017 330i and we both really liked it. Only two things kept us from buying one:

  1. DW didn't like the all black interior with black headliner
     
  2. Our budget meant that we would be buying a program car with 4k-5k on it to get the option package we wanted

But when I was shopping earlier this year, I didn't even consider BMWs.  Never even set foot in a dealer.

 

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