Updated: March 20, 2016
True friends are hard to come by. True friends are far and few in between. There's a saying, a good friend will help you move. A true friend will help you move the bodies. The bestest and truest of friends will let you test-drive their ultra-brand new car. In this case, BMW 330d xDrive M Sport. As pimp-dope car as cars get.
And so we have this super-extensive review of this fine four-door saloon, tested on three separate occasions, with almost 2,000 km under its wheels. More than enough for a thorough and detailed impression. It should be interesting, because the car is powered with the same straight-six 2,993cc twin turbodiesel we saw in X3, delivering all its might to four wheels. If you ever thought diesels are slow and boring, think again.
What makes BMW 330d unique is that until very recently, until the advent of the new 2016 VW Passat 2.0 biTDI 4Motion, to the best of my knowledge it was the only diesel car in its class with two turbochargers. The outgoing Audi A4/5 did (do) have a splendid V6 engine in their array, but it was mated to a single charger only, resulting in the same horsepower output as the one we experienced in A6, but with fewer torques. 500 Nm versus 580 Nm. Likewise, the new Passat manages to squeeze 500 Nm from its own unit. In comparison, BMW 330d gives you 560 Nm from its six inline cylinders, and this engine is also used in higher-class models, including the X-labeled SUVs as well as the 5-series and 7-series.
Think about it. A mighty diesel-powered saloon that has a limited top speed of 250 km/h, and can accelerate from 0-100 km/h in just 5.3 seconds. That's extremely impressive. All the while, you get tons of standard kit, ample leg room and comfort, bells and whistles, leather and trim, and then some. Blue-painted brake calipers are a costly extra. They don't do anything special expect being of a different color.
The M model is particularly interesting. It comes with the M Sport kit, which normally belongs on the M3 car, and this means body panel rework and badges where appropriate. You also get the sexy M Sport steering wheel, which in the best BMW fashion does not have any flat sides. Huggy sport seats are another cool addition, as well as the paddles for the eight-speed auto box, the only mode of transmission available, as well as capable of delivering the engine's huge amount of torque in a reliable manner.
The default option calls for 18-inch wheels, but our test model had 19-inch seven-spoke 403M alloys. The front and the rear tires do not have the same tread. Understandably so, because you need a lot of grip to power the rear wheels. The official split is 60/40. To wit, the run-flat tires come with the 225/40 R 19 and 255/35 R 19 profile, respectively. Neat.
But we have only just started. The model also had several other optional upgrades, including the Media Package and Visibility Package. The former gives you a 8.8-inch HD multimedia screen rather than the standard 6.5-inch display, navigation with real-time traffic updates and online services. The latter gives you LED headlights for the new, facelifted model, while the previous one - like our test car - had bi-Xenons. You can also pay for adaptive LED headlights that are connected to the GPS and will project the most optimal beam based on the anticipated road conditions. Naturally, you get the Living Daylights, I mean the Running Daylights. Hihi. Good joke, no?
The two other optional extras were electric-powered front seats with memory (two settings) and the reversing camera. Apart from all that, the standard equipment is quite generous and includes dual-zone climate control, CD/DVD/USB connectivity, rain-sensitive wipers, selective anti-dazzle beams, side mirrors that dip when you reverse, auto-dimming rear view mirror, parking sensors front and rear, keyless entry and ignition, Start/Stop, alarm, tire pressure warning, emergency call, and a few others bits and bobs. We shall discuss all these technologies a bit later.
However, BMW can be quite generous and yet stingy when it comes to what it gives you as default. For example, you don't get folding rear seats. Yup. You actually have to pay for these. Folding mirrors, sunblinds and privacy glass, or having the speed limit displayed on the dash also cost an optional extra. That's quite silly.
This entire package costs GBP44,500. Wait, what? DRIVING ON THE WRONG SIDE, AGAIN, ARE WE. Yes, this review also takes place on the inferior British road infrastructure. But if you ignore the arrangement of the steering wheel, all the other details are quite relevant for any car enthusiast. Can we continue? The price, decent, not too high, not too low. Outrageous compared to the US, ridiculously cheap elsewhere, normally priced across Europe.
BMW 330d is a very handsome car, with clean, sweeping lines. It both feels big and compact at the same time, thin and fat, sleek and chubby. You never really get tired looking at it, and pretty much every new angle is cool and intriguing. I struggled with this a little, because it meant way too many photos than I originally intended.
Actually, I lied, there's sun in the UK after all. A cherished moment:
The combination of the Estoril Blue exterior paint and Oyster-white leather interior makes for a killer combo, and your street karma automatically gets bonus points. The M skirting adds even more flair. The badge on the side of the front wheel arch reminds you of the hot-blooded heritage. If still in doubt, then you should be mindful of the twin chromified tailpipes, which also mean a lot of badass attitude for a diesel.
The only thing that stands out, the default 18-inchers are a bit too small for this car, and the optional set of alloys more than makes up for it. There is always the question of how this may intrude into the cabin in the form of road comfort, but we shall see.
On the inside
Even if you're not too keen on driving, the interior side of the BMW 330d experience is enough to keep you busy for a long while. The car is spacious and luxurious, with high-quality materials everywhere, down to the hexagonal detail on the metal trim, and the M lining that matches the M exterior color. The design is simple and deceptively spartan, and yet, extremely well laid out. Every little function makes sense.
Like the newer Audis, the focus is on stretching the dash horizontally, with a big central console for all your funs and games. The dials are round and clear and absolutely gorgeous. You get none of that hi-tech snazz, because some things are meant to be simple, and that includes the speedo and the rev counter. There is a small road computer display, which lets you see a whole bunch of information. In the UK version, by default, it will give you the medieval units, but you can switch to Metric quite easily. Which brings us to the car's infotainment system.
It is one of the more practical, intuitive systems around. You control everything using a big rotary dial called iDrive Touch Controller, which also happens to have a touch-sensitive writing pad on the top. Yup, you can write with your fingers. Voice control is also an option, but it sucks. Much like Jeremy Clarkson's, my accent is not well liked by female bots.
Sticking to the rotary action, you can navigate between different system options and functions. The customization is incredible, even overwhelming. You can set things like whether your car key locks or opens only the driver's door or all of them. You can change the DRL settings, wipers, media options, and more. The list is long, and the gadget lovers will enjoy fiddling and tweaking. You have some hard switches to help you, and once you're happy with your choices, the media system comes with eight speed-dial buttons to save your settings. These may include favorite DAB radio stations, navigation destination, or driving mode. You can also choose what to show on the display, including real-time power and torque and g-force figures. Daft, but doable.
If you look away from the central console, then the focus switches to your seat. The electric seats are complex six-dimensional monsters that can steal hours of your time as you try to find the best possible driving position. Almost like that crazy 80s movie The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. It can take quite a while, both because you have so many options, and also because the pedals are ever so slightly offset to the right in the right-hand drive (RHD) model. For people used to driving normally, this can be a little quirky. Furthermore, your right foot isn't supported by the central console wall, as it would be on LHD models, whereas the left one is, exacerbating the asymmetry.
The steering wheel has a lot of rake and reach. Tall people may find their instruments partially obscured. Always happens to me, as I have long legs, short arms, and this means I always have to place the wheel as far out and low as I can. Alternatively, my big head touches the door sill or even the roof line. This means I must lower my seat, which causes strain on the legs, as they become less supported. The plot thickens.
The seats, indeed. Yes. It took me quite a bit to figure out the seat bottoms can also tilt backwards. One switch is used to control BOTH the height and the tilt, it's just how you use it. Counterintuitive. But you can angle the seat well back to you have sufficient leg support, and you feel like you're in the cabin of a small nippy hatch like the Corsa OPC (VXR). Ah, those Recaros still remain the best seats I've ever sat in.
Then, you also have lumbar support, back end extension, and the standard back-forth movement. The electric engine is fine-tuned and precise, so you will be able to tweak the position down to the last millimeter. Eventually, whether you're after sport driving or feeling as luxurious as possible, you will find the right adjustment. Luckily, the perfect driving position can be configured.
There is ample legroom in the back, although nothing beats Skoda Superb. That one is an absolute king of comfort. The boot is generous, but nothing too spectacular. You have a false bottom and a few cubbies to put your stuff. Door bins are large enough to accommodate bottles and random trash.
Multimedia was my next challenge, and here, there were no bad surprises. Everything worked fine, including phone connectivity via Bluetooth. I tried both iPhone and Lumia 520 without any problems. I was also able to play MP3 files from a USB stick, and the system even downloaded album art for me. You have 20GB hard disk space for your stuff. You get free map updates for three years, covering the entire EU region. The sound quality seems good, but if you ask me about speakers and finer details, then no. I'm not the right person for that.
The driving experience
This is the big one. You don't get a car with two turbos and more torque than most supercars just to ferry groceries around. It's all about driving, and the M kit sure helps you remember that. But more importantly, the car comes with Drive Performance Control, a system similar to the VW's Dynamic Chassis Control, which tweaks the car's behavior. You can choose between four modes, including ECO PRO, COMFORT, SPORT, and SPORT+.
If you choose ECO PRO, you should immediately switch to COMFORT, which is the default mode. It's both comfy and precise, fast without being brutal, soft without being lethargic. Start/Stop is there too, and it's so bloody annoying. The COMFORT mode is good enough for every day driving, including town and motorway, bends and potholes, acceleration as well as fine but firm steering. The well-roundedness of the 330d xDrive M Sport is really amazing. The steering is extremely accurate, and you get proper feedback from the road. You know what's under your wheels at any moment.
Things become spicier when you switch on the SPORT mode. Even if you do it on a stretch of empty highway, you can feel the change. Somewhat like the S Mode in Audi A6, except more sophisticated. The engine's ultra smooth eight-speed auto will drop a gear to keep you in the 2,000 rpm zone, the steering and suspension tighten, the throttle becomes sharper. Using SPORT for parking is uncomfortable. SPORT+ gives you even more brutality, tightening the car's response to the max and turning the traction control off, which can be a little frightening considering how much raw power you have.
I tried the three top modes on Britain's motorways, carriageways, B roads and in the city. At this point, it is worth mentioning how retarded the UK roads really are. The worst I have ever driven in my life, and that includes small countries like Croatia, which had a war 20 years ago and only recently joined the EU at a modest 1/4 GDP compared to the UK. And yet, its roads are far superior to English tarmac.
The reason for this is WWII. Great Britain has not been physically invaded by a foreign army in the last 500 years, and consequently, it had not undergone the heavy bombardment, total destruction and post-war reconstruction like mainland Europe. As a result, the roads are all Victorian-era nonsense, narrow, narrow, bloody narrow. They are even referred to as carriageways, which tells you all you need to know. They might have been okay for the 60s Mini, but not when you place 2m-wide cars driving in two directions and then add parking on both sides.
Apart from the motorways, which are limited to 110 km/h and over-congested to the core, there are no hard shoulders anywhere. Top that with clueless, frustrated, impolite drivers suffering from a Big Brother mentality due to all the cameras placed everywhere, and the driving experience in the UK is one of utmost sadness. Which only highlights why so many Britons are such huge petrolheads, and why there are so many racetracks in the country. It's the only way to vent the decades of frustration of driving on the Sherlock Holmes age roads.
In this reality, BMW 330d struggled some, philosophically. There's no place where you can bring its awesome power to bear. You can't really do a proper B road slalom, because the country is flat, plus there are no shoulders, so you can't use your cornering magic. Flatout is a no-no, because you will get heavily fined. Even if you could, there are way too many cars. A typical motorway journey mostly consists of moving between lanes to try to maintain constant speed, which is often below the allowed national limit.
Still, within the severe limitations, BMW 330d xDrive M Sport behaved like a champ, albeit a somewhat sad one. Floor it, and you feel like a spaceship taking off. The engine noise is deep, civil and yet grumbly. Even if you are using the COMFORT mode, the kick in the back is breathtaking and impressive. So much mid-range power, it's stunning. SPORT only enhances the sensation. SPORT+ should be reserved for Germany and track.
Despite a shipload of torque, the grip and handling are phenomenal. I only managed to spin the rear wheels once before xDrive did its computerized magic, and this was in the wet, at a traffic light. The ESP did not even kick in. Other than that, BMW 330d was composed and refined, and it's amazing how much difference there can be between cars. Comparing to Audi S4, an outgoing model mind, this BMW is light years ahead in driving dynamics. And I'm saying that as someone who owns a few shares of both these companies. The BMW saloon nails the driving experience hands down. You never really pay attention to its dimensions or weight. They are a neutral parameter in the equation.
In town, you do start noticing the car's considerable width, and you need to be careful, especially when parking. Luckily, the sensors and the camera are quite useful. The camera comes with guidance lines, obstacle detection, and distance markers, allowing you to snug in your car without alloy damage. The sensors are accurate, they do not beep unnecessarily, and they also have a very decent side coverage toward the wheel arches. You get a perfectly normal manual hard brake, a blessing, rather than an electronic thingie.
Comfort is never compromised. Even though you have larger, low-profile tires, they don't really make much difference. The long wheelbase helps swallow undulations in the road, and the smart suspension system takes away the vibrations and pain. Even the SPORT modes are relatively mild, compared to some of the smaller hatches I've driven and tested in the past years. You may wonder about the adaptive M suspension, though. I did not have that here, so I can't claim how much difference it really makes, but unless you drive like an absolute maniac with the same frenzy of a hillbilly chasing his favorite goat down a ravine, it probably won't.
Overall, BMW 330d handled all its challenges well, except that I've never really gotten to check its abilities. Like any posh, high-end car, it requires higher speeds to enjoy and appreciate. A well-known problem that James May had highlighted in one of the Top Gear episodes. This car barely sneezes at 200 km/h, and there's only once place in the world where you can do it legally. So it's a beast, but most of your fun will probably be limited to short bursts of power, mid-range acceleration, and some quick, almost uneventful dashes. Think about it. Just five seconds and a bit to 100 km/h. If you've seen my Golf R video, then you know what I mean.
Fuel consumption is really decent. On average, the car eats about 7.6 liters per 100 km, including a 50:50 split between city and motorway, 90:10 COMFORT to SPORT ratio, moderate use of aircon, and liberal fun with the throttle. The purely motorway cruising can be completed with about 6.6 liters/100 km. The fuel tank is a bit small, only 57 liters, so you don't get ultra ranges like we saw with Opel Insignia. But all considered, given the fact this car has 50% more engine displacement - and cylinders, roughly 60-100% more horsepower than either the Insignia or Superb, 30-50% more torque, and a higher kerb weight, its thirst is hardly something you can complain about. For the UK folks, the fact it is exempt from the VED in its first year on the road due to its low CO2 emission - oh how funny and retarded this is, plus don't forget to check the current affairs - also highlights its frugal nature. If you are very gentle-footed, you can easily manage 7 liters/100 km on average, and less than 6 liters/100 km on highways.
Remarkably, there were some. Well, I'm not really sure if I should label these as problems or tricky usage mode. Either way, they do sort of mar the otherwise flawless experience. The first and foremost is the climate control operation. Whenever you switch the car on, the fan kicks in at the lowest setting. It will remember the temperature and the aircon setting, but not always the air flow direction. It learns eventually.
By default, it would blow air to the driver's face and passenger's legs. After several more drives, it was suddenly blowing air toward the driver's legs, perhaps figuring out this was the chosen preference. Most annoyingly, you cannot really make it not start when you switch the engine on. This seems to be a firmware setting that can only be tweaked if you take the car into a service center. Weird.
Another mystery: side mirrors. I noticed they do not always dip to help you see the parking lines and the kerb. It seems this functionality depends on how the external mirrors are positioned, and apparently, at the most extreme angle, they cannot be tilted down. Maybe. Again, something that seems to eludes my logic. There could be a perfectly reasonable explanation, but I haven't figured it out yet.
BMW 330d xDrive M Sport is a top-notch car. It's a perfect all-rounder. And while it may not be the absolute best at everything it does, it does most things exceptionally well. It's good looking, luxurious, well built, classy, and with tons of modern equipment and gadgetry. Then, it also drives like a champ, with almost-supercar acceleration, insane mid-range torque, silky smooth eight-speed auto transmission, and several excellent driving modes. The driving position is good, the handling is precise and sharp, and the comfort is way up there.
It is very difficult to fault this car. You can compare it to a bunch of other vehicles that we've seen on Dedoimedo. For instance, Audi S3 may be faster but not as precise or comfortable or well-equipped. Superb is bigger, but not as fun to drive. Audi A6 comes close in many parameters, but it is less sporty, less dynamic. Top that with a reasonable price and even more reasonable fuel consumption, and you have the car to suit your every need. Small niggles round some of the electronics, but nothing cardinal. More like a user manual problem. So unless you don't like the look, the image, the prestige, or the brand, there's nothing that ought to stop you from owning this car. It's a rare thing to simply enjoy everything in a vehicle, but BMW 330d xDrive M Sport does it. 10/10.