We know that cars are, broadly, becoming quicker, but think on this: if you could find a Ferrari 348tb still in factory condition, and an owner willing to let you rag the crackers off it, it would go precisely no faster than this diesel-engined estate car.
At the MIRA test track, the 330d Touring – full of fuel and with two people aboard – hit 60mph from rest in just 5.5sec and covered a standing quarter mile in a mere 14.2sec. It is no exaggeration to say that, 20 years ago, that was junior supercar pace.
You might argue that there’s no need for a family estate to be as quick as a high-end sports car, but it’s the sort of reassuring urge that one gets used to rather quickly. Nipping from 50-70mph in 2.7sec in fourth gear is useful slip-road pace, as is 5.1sec through the gears from 30-70mph.
Thrown in with the extraordinary straight-line grunt is a throttle response that’s second to none among modern six-pot diesels, and an eight-speed automatic gearbox that is as intelligent as it is responsive – and which has a willingness to do as it is told that far outweighs a Mercedes unit if operated in paddle-shift mode.
Finally, of course, there’s the economy. Drive flat out in a 330d Touring, as we do for our performance tests, and you’ll return 17.5mpg, or about the same as the aforementioned Ferrari in daily driving. Drive briskly and sensibly and the 330d will return more than the impressive 42.6mpg we averaged. Our prolonged legal-limit motorway cruise gave us 53.6mpg; tread extremely carefully and you could reasonably expect more on some journeys even than that.
There’s no real fly in the ointment, but there is a spec of dust in that the Touring’s 57-litre fuel tank gives it a range of just 530 miles or so. That’s not bad, but in rivals we’ve become accustomed to seeing a number that starts with a ‘7’, or at least a ‘6’.