The BMW 3-Series has long been the gold standard for German sports sedans. It was the car that had it all – good looks, plenty of power, and incredible handling. All these traits combined to make the 3-Series the Ultimate Driving Machine for almost 40 years.
Other brands have chased BMW over the years to come up with cars that delivered the exciting experience the 3-Series gave its owners. Unfortunately, BMW lost the way with dreadfully dull the F30 3-Series, giving other brands a chance to catch up. The F30 3-Series had painfully numb steering, an overly harsh suspension, and a very reluctant throttle despite the excellent B58 engine.
Thankfully, the all-new 2019 BMW 330i addresses most of those issues with significant improvements to the chassis and engine, and interior. Are these changes enough to propel BMW back to the top of the sport sedan segment?
No, the red car above isn’t the all-new G20 platform 330i M Sport which is the subject of this review. It’s the 2016 F30 BMW 340i M Sport that I owned for three long years, and just recently sold. I originally bought the 340i with the hopes of it giving me an Audi S4-like experience since the B9 S4 wasn’t on sale yet in July of 2016. On paper, it should have exceeded the experience I had with my prior B8 Audi S4. In reality, it was three of the most disappointing driving years of my life.
Despite the great specs on paper, the F30 platform felt fundamentally flawed with lackluster steering. The steering always felt disconnected from the driving experience. The car turned, but there was a minimal idea of what the car was doing through the steering wheel. As such, the car lacked any excitement, even with the incredible engine in the 340i and every track bit you could add from the option list.
The car did look great, though, and was a fantastic place to be from a comfort standpoint. The car also had killer looks that had me looking back at it every time I parked the car. The F30 3-Series had a lot going for it. Unfortunately, the positives became overshadowed by the lack of driving precision that made the 3-Series the benchmark for sports sedans for decades.
I eagerly awaited getting behind the wheel of the new G20 3-Series to see if BMW could find its way again.
The New G20 3-Series
What’s New: Dimensions & Powertrain
The new sixth-generation G20 3-Series is BMW’s sincere attempt at righting the wrongs of the F30 3-Series and win the hearts of buyers once again. Our tester arrived in 330i M Sport trim, with just about every option box checked. Engine differences aside, this is as close to the 340i I owned as it gets.
The new BMW 330i gains 1.6-inches of wheelbase and 2.6-inches of length overall over the outgoing model. Backseat passengers will feel less crowded, and the driver won’t have to move the seat up to accommodate most rear-seat passengers.
Despite its growth in size, the G20 330i has shed 122 pounds thanks to the use of aluminum and high-strength steel materials. The body-in-white is 44 lbs. lighter than the F30, and the aluminum front spring struts and engine sub-frame shave an additional 16.5 lbs. Using aluminum in the hood and front fenders yield another 33lbs in weight savings. BMW states that overall body rigidity is up 25 percent overall. The G20 330i also benefits from a 50:50 front/rear weight distribution thanks to the increased width in front and rear tracks.
While the M340i will be here later this year, the BMW 330i gets a new direct-injection, 2.0-liter twin-scroll single turbo engine that has been reworked to deliver 255-horsepower and 295lb-ft of torque. The tweaking represents a 7-horsepower increase and an extra 37lb-ft of torque compared to the outgoing 330i. Power is sent to the rear wheels through an 8-speed StepTronic transmission. No manual transmission is available, and we can’t say we’ll miss one.
BMW states that the new 330i will do 0-60 in 5.6 seconds, though the car felt faster than that as measured by the butt dyno. Even with the increase in power, fuel economy is also better with a 26/36/30 city/highway/combined rating. I observed 38 mpg in my standard test loop with the car set in comfort mode.
What’s New: Design and Interior
BMW chose to take the evolutionary route with the G20 3-Series rather than changing the styling dramatically. That’s not to say BMW didn’t add some bold styling cues to differentiate the car from its predecessor. The BMW kidney grille is larger and more pronounced visually, as well as a design language that tightens up some of the character lines. The front bumper has more prominent lower openings with horizontal LED fog lamps in the aggressively designed M Sport bumper.
BMW has changed the side profile has changed subtly by evolving the infamous Hofmeister kink at the C-pillar. The kink is now integrated more with the rear window frame, helping accentuate the additional length of the G20 3-Series. Narrower, more aggressive rear taillights and a redesigned bumper give the rear a completely fresh look while retaining the current BMW family design language. The G20 3-Series also receive dual tailpipes across the lineup.
M Sport equipped models like our tester are equipped with an M Sport specific suspension, variable sport steering, 19-inch staggered wheels running on performance run-flat tires. Our tester was further equipped with the Track Handling Package which adds blue M Sport Brakes and an electronically controlled locking rear differential. Our tester also had the Adaptive M Suspension option.
The interior of the G20 3-Series is a complete departure from the outgoing F30, which always felt elegant, but spartan. Materials look upscale, and the aluminum trim is more pronounced. The center console is much larger, with more discreet buttons for the various drive modes and a more pronounced iDrive knob. The HVAC controls and vents have all been designed to portray a single sharp unit.
Catching up with the competition, BMW has given the new 3-Series a digital gauge cluster. Oddly, BMW opted to change the right-justified tachometer to swing upward and counterclockwise. While this creates more screen real estate on the center cluster, it’s something that seems like a strange design decision. While a good first attempt, the digital cluster isn’t anywhere near as intuitive or clear as the implementation in modern Audis.
Technology has been updated as well and now includes a HUD, Surround View 360-degree cameras, Apple CarPlay capability, gesture-based radio controls (more on this later). A BMW Personal Assistant is now standard and can set HVAC or Radio via voice commands similar to Amazon Alexa in your home. Traffic jam assist is also available, and probably one of the better components of the technology stack in the new 3-Series.
On the Road With the 2019 BMW 330i M Sport
A road trip was going to be necessary to thoroughly test the 2019 BMW 330i M Sport. There’s no better road trip in my mind than one that involves eating good barbecue. A good friend and renowned F1 artist, Kevin Paige took over copilot duties for our Central Texas BBQ excursion. We pointed the 330i in the direction of Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor, TX and set off on our day trip.
Central Texas Style Barbecue
Louie Mueller Barbecue is one of the most well known and highly regarded BBQ joints in all of Texas. First opening their doors in 1949, the restaurant is now run by third-generation Mueller, Wayne Mueller. The restaurant has been honored by the James Beard Foundation and has been the subject of hundreds of television shows and magazine articles. Nicknamed the Cathedral of Smoke, Louis Mueller has been named on the Texas Monthly Top BBQ joint as #1 or #2 every year since they first appeared on the list in 1979. Louie Mueller Barbecue makes seriously good food.
I still remember the first time I ate at Louie Mueller back in 2010. It was such a profound experience that it changed my views on what good barbecue could be forever, and remains the best barbecue I’ve ever eaten.
Louie Mueller Barbecue opens at 10 am on Saturdays, and there is guaranteed to be a line if you show up even a half-hour after that. We grabbed our spot in line and mulled over the menu. The meat here, as with most central Texas barbecue joints, is sold by the pound until it’s sold out. When it’s gone, it’s gone. Check out the patina of the restaurant from all the years of post oak wood smoke that have lined the walls over the years. The smoking is done outside for the most part now, but the memories of the past remain.
Along with the post oak wood used to smoke the meats over the pit, another signature of central Texas barbecue is the simple salt and pepper rub on the brisket. While the brisket is the best brisket I’ve ever eaten, the pork baby back ribs, turkey and three different kinds of sausage are to die for too. We ended up with a feast on our plate despite our best efforts to eat healthier.
Our drive to Taylor, TX was an easy 131 miles on 75 mph Texas highways. Despite being equipped with the sportiest suspension in the G20 3-Series lineup, the car was comfortable for the duration of the two-hour drive on asphalt and concrete highway. The seats in the 330i are comfortable, well-bolstered, and never left us with any fatigue in both the driver and passenger seats.
In Dynamic mode, the BMW 330i always felt poised and ready to go whenever passing duties were required. One of the biggest complaints I had about my F30 was the lack of throttle response and a reluctant transmission. Fortunately, BMW seems to have heeded the feedback from owners and fixed the throttle response. The car responds to throttle input almost immediately, and the four-cylinder turbo comes to life with gusto.
The exhaust note gets piped into the cabin via the stereo and sounds more like a video game exhaust note than anything else. It’s not a particularly great-sounding engine, but it does have a low pitched four-cylinder rumble that might give some buyers a sense of greater performance.On the way back to Houston from Louis Mueller Barbecue, we opted for a route that had us on backroads on TX-112 and through the city of Lexington, TX. Lexington happens to be the home of Snow’s BBQ, another one of Texas’ BBQ gems. The pitmaster is 78-year-old Tootsie Tomanetz who is absolutely legendary in the Texas BBQ scene.
Open on Saturdays only, the lines start at 6 am, well before the restaurant opening time of 9 am. The restaurant had just closed for the day when we arrived, having sold out of food entirely by 12:45 pm. This didn’t come as a surprise as Snow’s had just won the 2019 Texas Monthly Readers’ Choice BBQ Bracket the week prior. The moral of all this is get to Snow’s EARLY if you want to get a taste of this incredible BBQ.
Getting back on TX-112 put us on twisty roads with minor elevation changes and a chance to test the 330i’s handling. Immediately, the suspension showed off the improved body control and responsiveness from the increased chassis rigidity. The suspension, despite being 20 percent stiffer, kept cornering flat and compliant over bumps but never at the expense of ride quality.
Hit the throttle a bit more aggressively in a corner than is prudent, and the 330i exhibited that beautiful RWD oversteer that we all love. Braking was excellent with firm pedal feel and a fantastic initial bite.
Steering in the G20 330i is greatly improved over the seemingly dead steering of the F30. The speed-sensitive steering is precise and connected, unlike the vague steering that was in the F30. It’s not as visceral as the E90 3-Series, but the G20 330i is a huge improvement over the F30.
The bottom line is the 2019 BMW 330i felt exciting to drive. The improved engine, steering, chassis, and braking all work together in harmony to provide a driving experience that feels becoming of a proper enthusiast sedan.
Unfortunately, the time on the road also gave us time to play with the BMW 330i’s new iDrive and infotainment system. The menus are clunky and not intuitive at all. This is where BMW chose form over function, and I can’t help but feel bad for older buyers who don’t have the patience to learn all the nuances of the iDrive system. I also take offense to the fact that Apple CarPlay is a subscription-based feature in the 330i and throughout BMW’s entire lineup. CarPlay is a standard feature in just about everything these days, including the $17,490 Kia Soul. Android users need not worry because Android Auto isn’t even available.
Also, the gesture-based controls are infuriating if you are having a conversation with your passenger in tow. Kevin managed to mute the radio or skip songs no fewer than six times from the passenger seat through his gesturing while talking. We could blame Kevin for this, but how many people keep their hands entirely down in the passenger seat while talking? No one asked for this feature, nor is it particularly useful. Between steering wheel buttons and voice commands, why do we need the gestures?
Funny enough, this was predicted in the 1979 Book, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy –
A loud clatter of gunk music flooded through the Heart of Gold cabin as Zaphod searched the sub-etha radio wave bands for news of himself. The machine was rather difficult to operate. For years radios had been operated by means of pressing buttons and turning dials; then as the technology became more sophisticated the controls were made touch-sensitive–you merely had to brush the panels with your fingers; now all you had to do was wave your hand in the general direction of the components and hope. It saved a lot of muscular expenditure, of course, but meant that you had to sit infuriatingly still if you wanted to keep listening to the same program. Zaphod waved a hand and the channel switched again.
The G20 BMW 330i is a huge leap forward in just about every direction from the F30 3-Series. It feels as if BMW genuinely took all the loathing about the F30 and changed every one of the areas that owners (including myself) disliked about that generation. The result is a drive that feels emotional and visceral once again. It’s enough to put the G20 3-Series right back into contention with the best sport sedans on the market, and I suspect the M340i and upcoming M3 will be even larger improvements over the respective outgoing generations.
That said, it’s still not enough for me to definitively say that I’d spend my own hard-earned money on the G20 330i. The technology quirks are almost unforgiving, and there are other cars in the same segment that have nearly as exciting a drive, with a better technology stack. The G20 330i does fix nearly every gripe I had with the F30 from a driving perspective.
While perhaps not the Ultimate Driving Machine any longer, the G20 330i M Sport is definitely a Pretty Darn Good Driving Machine. The new 3-Series isn’t the enthusiast car that it once was in its glory days, but everyone knows enthusiasts aren’t the ones buying new cars anyway.
2019 BMW 330i M Sport
Base Price – $40,250
Price as-Tested – $59,920 incl. $995 destination
Major Options – Driver Assistance Pro ($1,700), M Sport Package ($5,000), Premium Package ($2,800), Executive Package ($2,100), Adaptive M Suspension ($700), Harmon Kardon Sound ($875)
Warranty – 3 Year/36,000 miles bumper-to-bumper, 3/36k BMW Ultimate Care No-Cost Maintenance Program
EPA Rating – 30/26/36 Combined/City/Highway – 32 mpg observed fuel economy over 373 miles of driving
Vehicle provided to Speed:Sport:Life by BMW with a full tank of gas for the purpose of review
Photos – Zerin Dube & BMW USA