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The six-cylinder diesel version of the previous 3 Series was the best performance executive car you could buy. Has anything changed?

What is it?

The BMW 330d is the latest version of a fast, frugal compact executive saloon that needs little introduction.

Before Munich experimented with the six-cylinder progenitors of this model and its various close siblings, go-faster diesel derivatives simply didn’t exist. Then for a while, after BMW refined and developed the performance diesel concept, it seemed as if a blue-and-white-propellered '30d' was all the everyday business express saloon anyone really wanted.

Now, with rival Audi throwing its weight back behind them but other brands shying away, and some customers picking faster petrol-electric plug-in hybrids instead, it isn’t clear if big-hitting hotter diesels are coming or going. Unsurprisingly, however, BMW is sticking with what it knows, and what we all know it’s so good at. And so the 330d is the only 3 Series variant that busts the £40,000 road tax threshold, sitting squarely at the top of the showroom range – until the M Performance version comes along, that is.

Unlike lesser versions, the 330d comes in Sport or M Sport trims only, and like the 320i and 320d, it can be had with rear-wheel drive or part-time four-wheel drive. It uses BMW’s ‘B57’ 3.0-litre straight-six diesel engine in twin-turbocharged, 261bhp form.

Order a 330d in Sport spec and you get BMW’s standard steering system, its standard passively but progressively damped suspension and a choice of standard 18in or optional 19in rims – both of which come on run-flat tyres. Plump for M Sport instead and you get lowered, passively damped suspension as standard and can avoid a run-flat tyre by opting for a 19in rim and high-performance rubber – which comes packaged with variable sport steering, adaptively damped M Sport suspension and a torque-vectoring active rear differential as part of the £2200 M Sport Plus Package. That's sure to be a popular addition.

Our test car was a rear-driven M Sport with all the M Sport Plus trimmings.

What's it like?

The 330d joins the 3 Series range as part of a second wave of derivatives, following the 320d and 330i, both of which we reviewed earlier. Our test showed one or two very small signs that, perhaps since it wasn’t in that first wave of versions to be dangled under the noses of the global motoring press and won’t be such a big part of the model mix as other engines, the car hasn’t been lavished with quite as much careful tuning and attentive dynamic polishing.

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Some of the little details of the 330d’s driving experience – its finer power steering tuning, its throttle and gearbox calibration and its ride isolation in particular – don’t impress quite as much as those of the 320d did when we road-tested it back in May, although none would offend nearly enough to put off the vast majority of prospective owners.

Even so, given we’re dealing with a proper four-seat executive saloon capable of sub-6.0sec 0-60mph performance, of closing in on 50mpg real-world fuel economy and of the sort of engine refinement and handling appeal that most rival manufacturers simply can’t approach, it seems mean to dwell on the small stuff. The 330d always was a titan among upper-level business saloon options, and it remains emphatically so, with the G20-generation 3 Series having added greater practicality, world-class infotainment and active safety technology and truly premium-worthy perceived quality to an armoury that wasn’t exactly lacking in firepower to begin with.

You simply can’t get a six-cylinder diesel engine in most cars of this kind. Jaguar doesn’t offer one. Alfa Romeo doesn’t either. Volvo is all about the four-pots these days and Lexus hasn't offered diesel engines for years. Mercedes-Benz offered a six-pot in the previous C-Class but not anymore. Audi does – in both the A4 50 TDI and the new S4, in fact. Even so, you could say the opportunity for BMW to boss the fast diesel executive market is now as clear as ever it was, and the 330d starts doing that with a combination of refinement, torque, smoothness and willingness to rev that still marks it out as a true great.

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There’s remarkable strength of performance on offer from as little as 1500rpm right the way around the tacho until 4500rpm. Initial 'tip-in' throttle response can feel a little bit sudden and slightly over-keen when you’re looking to simply creep forwards in traffic, but it’s not problematically so. And whether you’re adding extra throttle midway through a gear or feeding it back in after a deceleration phase, the engine is ever responsive. Better still, it doesn’t seem to protest nearly as hard as a four-cylinder diesel when asked to really work, remaining smooth and relatively quiet at high revs and under lots of load.

The ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox seems almost as well-matched to the 3.0-litre engine as it does to the smaller 2.0-litre diesel, although it’s occasionally a little bit slow to kick down in the 330d's standard driving modes. If there’s a payoff for that, it may well be the real-world fuel economy, which really is great for a car of this size and performance level. Without being driven with much regard at all for economy, our test car returned an indicated 47mpg on a mixed motorway and A-road run of decent distance.

The combination of 19in wheels and adaptively damped M Sport suspension on our test car didn’t quite produce the most rounded or convincing ride-and-handling compromise we’ve experienced in a G20 3 Series, although it didn’t fall short by much. Having swapped passive dampers for adaptive ones and run-flat tyres for more conventional performance rubber, you expect this car to really hit the heights dynamically. But while the 330d offers slightly greater primary ride compliance and a more settled low-speed ride than other variants we’ve tested, it’s little if any quieter-riding on coarser surfaces and not immune to a very gentle but nonetheless perceptible spikiness in its close body control on more undulating roads.

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That said, you’d be hard pressed to find anything other than the perfectly equipped 3 Series to ride or handle better. The M Sport torque-vectoring rear differential deals efficiently with the generous and accessible mid-range oomph of the 330d’s engine, making for handling that’s engaging and finely adjustable under power if you so choose – but also precise, composed and very effectively reigned-in at speed. About as absorbing and complete as in any sporting executive saloon on the planet, in other words.

Should I buy one?

For the first time in a while, we can see why you might ask about the wisdom of buying a 330d. There is, of course, that new diesel-electric plug-in hybrid C-Class to consider, with its P11D-friendly CO2 emissions, plus the new S4, which trumps the BMW for power and doesn't cost that much more per month. Or there are other ways to get some sporting spice in your executive motoring life, by one means or another, for 330d money and in a 3 Series-sized package. Hmm.

Here and now, our instinct is that for rounded driver appeal and everyday, long-range fuel economy and general usability, the 330d would still beat them all - at least it would for those who really care about driving. And that's Tesla Model 3 and Volvo S60 hybrids included. It’s quick, it’s frugal, it’s refined, it really handles, it’s relatively simple and it still looks like fine value for money – perhaps better now, in relative terms, than ever.

But the Autocar faithful deserve better than an instinct. So watch this space, and we’ll do the necessary as soon as we can to decide whether the bookies’ favourite still is the best fast executive saloon in the world.

BMW 3 Series 330d M Sport specification

Where Middlesex, UK Price £41,565 On sale Now Engine 6cyls inline, 2993cc, turbocharged, diesel Power 261bhp at 4000rpm Torque 428lb ft at 1750rpm Gearbox 8-spd automatic Kerb weight 1665kg Top speed 155mph (limited) 0-62mph 5.5sec Fuel economy 47.9-44.1mpg (WLTP) CO2 tbc Rivals Audi A4 50 TDI S line, Mercedes-Benz C300de AMG Line

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Comments
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Add a comment…
spqr 30 July 2019

The 3 Series stylish?

I know beauty is in the eye etc but that pair of big black “nostrils” stuck on the front is ugly and just silly. The most elegant BMW on sale is probably the 5 Series. 

TS7 30 July 2019

spqr wrote:

spqr wrote:

I know beauty is in the eye etc but that pair of big black “nostrils” stuck on the front is ugly and just silly. The most elegant BMW on sale is probably the 5 Series. 

 

Maybe, but the 5 is getting a nose job, due for release in a few months...

Thekrankis 30 July 2019

The only Beemer that still looks stylish

When BMW do their usual rhinoplasty on this car they will have finally managed to ruin their entire range of vehicles.

Citytiger 30 July 2019

Why have this over a Tesla

Option 1,  Tesla usp, going very fast in a straight line, for about 250miles, or less if you actually use all the performance or until it overheats its battery pack and goes into limited performance ie limp mode, if it goes wrong, be recovered on a diesel powered recovery truck, to your nearest dealer which could be hundreds of miles away, and possibly wait weeks for it to be fixed.  Oh and thats if your model 3 has even been built yet.. 

Option 2, 330D usp, go very fast everywhere, until it runs out of fuel after about 400 miles, fill up in a couple of minutes and repeat, if it goes wrong, drop into your nearest dealer which will only probably be few miles away and get it fixed, possibly the same day or with 24-48hrs. 

Now I know which option I would you want that.  

However, I would pick option 3,  a new Jaguar XE P300 AWD.

shiakas 30 July 2019

Citytiger wrote:

Citytiger wrote:

Option 1,  Tesla usp, going very fast in a straight line, for about 250miles, or less if you actually use all the performance or until it overheats its battery pack and goes into limited performance ie limp mode, if it goes wrong, be recovered on a diesel powered recovery truck, to your nearest dealer which could be hundreds of miles away, and possibly wait weeks for it to be fixed.  Oh and thats if your model 3 has even been built yet.. 

Option 2, 330D usp, go very fast everywhere, until it runs out of fuel after about 400 miles, fill up in a couple of minutes and repeat, if it goes wrong, drop into your nearest dealer which will only probably be few miles away and get it fixed, possibly the same day or with 24-48hrs. 

Now I know which option I would you want that.  

However, I would pick option 3,  a new Jaguar XE P300 AWD.

The Model 3 its faster around a track and has better steering feel than a car lugging around a heavy straight 6 diesel.You get software updates for free while BMW asks for a yearly subscription to give you android auto.It does not overheat (https://electrek.co/2019/07/05/tesla-youtuber-breaks-24-hour-electric-car-distance-record/)It does not need AdBlue.It costs a lot less to 'fuel'.So, to recap: Faster, smarter, wont be banned from cities in a few years

 

Remember F40 30 July 2019

shiakas wrote:

shiakas wrote:

Citytiger wrote:

Option 1,  Tesla usp, going very fast in a straight line, for about 250miles, or less if you actually use all the performance or until it overheats its battery pack and goes into limited performance ie limp mode, if it goes wrong, be recovered on a diesel powered recovery truck, to your nearest dealer which could be hundreds of miles away, and possibly wait weeks for it to be fixed.  Oh and thats if your model 3 has even been built yet.. 

Option 2, 330D usp, go very fast everywhere, until it runs out of fuel after about 400 miles, fill up in a couple of minutes and repeat, if it goes wrong, drop into your nearest dealer which will only probably be few miles away and get it fixed, possibly the same day or with 24-48hrs. 

Now I know which option I would you want that.  

However, I would pick option 3,  a new Jaguar XE P300 AWD.

The Model 3 its faster around a track and has better steering feel than a car lugging around a heavy straight 6 diesel.You get software updates for free while BMW asks for a yearly subscription to give you android auto.It does not overheat (https://electrek.co/2019/07/05/tesla-youtuber-breaks-24-hour-electric-car-distance-record/)It does not need AdBlue.It costs a lot less to 'fuel'.So, to recap: Faster, smarter, wont be banned from cities in a few years

 

Yeah, BMW is so heavy unlike Tesla which is almost 300kg heavier, oh. Also around which track is it faster? It is also has horrid interior, I don't want my car to look like my work desk. By every account it's build quality is at best questionable. Nothing against electric cars, I will probably buy taycan in a year, but tesla simply isn't something I would be interesed in.

shiakas 31 July 2019

Remember F40 wrote:

Remember F40 wrote:
shiakas wrote:

Citytiger wrote:

Option 1,  Tesla usp, going very fast in a straight line, for about 250miles, or less if you actually use all the performance or until it overheats its battery pack and goes into limited performance ie limp mode, if it goes wrong, be recovered on a diesel powered recovery truck, to your nearest dealer which could be hundreds of miles away, and possibly wait weeks for it to be fixed.  Oh and thats if your model 3 has even been built yet.. 

Option 2, 330D usp, go very fast everywhere, until it runs out of fuel after about 400 miles, fill up in a couple of minutes and repeat, if it goes wrong, drop into your nearest dealer which will only probably be few miles away and get it fixed, possibly the same day or with 24-48hrs. 

Now I know which option I would you want that.  

However, I would pick option 3,  a new Jaguar XE P300 AWD.

The Model 3 its faster around a track and has better steering feel than a car lugging around a heavy straight 6 diesel.You get software updates for free while BMW asks for a yearly subscription to give you android auto.It does not overheat (https://electrek.co/2019/07/05/tesla-youtuber-breaks-24-hour-electric-car-distance-record/)It does not need AdBlue.It costs a lot less to 'fuel'.So, to recap: Faster, smarter, wont be banned from cities in a few years

 

Yeah, BMW is so heavy unlike Tesla which is almost 300kg heavier, oh. Also around which track is it faster? It is also has horrid interior, I don't want my car to look like my work desk. By every account it's build quality is at best questionable. Nothing against electric cars, I will probably buy taycan in a year, but tesla simply isn't something I would be interesed in.

184kg, but weight placement is also important. Plus the long range Model 3 is four wheel drive.

Regarding track times and feeling have a look at this: https://youtu.be/xpFe8k1vjcg

Whether the interior styling is better or not is a matter of personal taste.

Its good to keep an open mind on electric cars, but the issue is, shy would someone invest in a technology on its way out, may be banned from cities soon and lose a ton of its value?

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