NEW BMW 330i SALOON

A weekend romp to the Beach Hop festival lets the 330i reveal its touring strengths and open-road potential.

First up, the familiar SH1 slog that kicks off the two-hour dash from Auckland to Whangamata. In the new 3-Series, this stretch highlights smooth, hushed motorway progress confirming useful overall refinement gains. There’s very little in the way of mechanical noise unless you demand plenty from the engine in kickdown and the 41mm wheelbase stretch sees the 330i riding more like a 5-Series at three-figure speeds.
In Comfort mode, it’s both sure-footed and relaxing, until you reach coarse-chip surfaces when road noise levels rise appreciably throughout the cabin. As you’d expect, it’s one area where a 5-Series outperforms, and a 7-Series excels.
The new 330i is unquestionably a driver’s car, however, and we couldn’t wait to reach Thames and begin a snaking Sport-mode run to Whangamata through the ranges. The M Sport suspension settings lower the car by 10mm and introduce more rigid bearings, extra body struts, firmer spring rates and greater roll bar stiffness. And the advanced adaptive damping system is standard on the 330i.
In 3-Series tradition, the 330i shrinks around you in a sporting sense and, with its wider front and rear tracks, corners fast and flat with plenty of grip in reserve. No 3-Series has ever exhibited balance on this scale. The two-litre engine now has a single turbo and its energy and responsiveness are first-rate and its Sport-mode character not too far behind.
At our destination, bypassers made some interesting observations about the test car. Fooled by the bigger dimensions, a couple of people assumed it was a 5-Series. A couple more struggled with the ‘statement’ grille that probably detracts from the overall elegance of the design. And the Portimao-blue colour was a frequent discussion point throughout our week with the tester.
As always, the high-spirited sights and sounds of Beach Hop left a big impression. But as we began our 150km return trip, sandwiched in a convoy of American muscle streaming out of the beachside town, we were delighted to be in the upmarket 330i cabin but couldn’t help wondering whether we would have enjoyed the trip any less in a new 320d. That model forgoes 19-inch alloys and a few other niceties but tempts buyers with a potent new sequentially-charged turbodiesel (with 400Nm from 1750rpm), a potentially better ride, and a healthy five-figure price saving. Sounds like an excuse for a return trip to the beach.

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