The BMW 3 Series was long the benchmark for compact luxury/sport sedans. New competitors entered the segment, but none could dethrone the 3 Series as the outright champ of this space. But that all changed with the last-generation model, which was decidedly too soft and too numb to truly carry BMW's "Ultimate Driving Machine" torch. This new 2019 3 Series, however, is a wonderful return to form.
That's why we've added Bimmer's all-star to our long-term test fleet, to spend a year seeing if the 330i truly is the once and future king of this highly competitive class.
Get to know Roadshow's long-term 2019 BMW 330iSee all photos
How we spec'd it
Currently, the BMW 3 Series is offered in 330i and M340i models, with a choice of rear- or all-wheel drive. The 330i uses a 2.0-liter, turbocharged, four-cylinder engine good for 255 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque, while the M340i gets a 3.0-liter turbo I6, with 382 hp and 369 lb-ft. Regardless of engine, all US-spec 3 Series models get an eight-speed automatic transmission.
We opted to go with the higher-volume 330i version, since that's what most people will buy, and since this car will primarily live with our Detroit- and New York-based editors, all-wheel drive seemed like a no-brainer -- all the better to handle those nasty winter months.
A 2019 330i xDrive starts at $42,250, excluding $995 for destination. And while that gets you a nicely optioned car right out of the gate, we decided to add on a number of extras -- you know, for science and testing and all that.
Alpine White is a no-cost color, so that's a win, but the Black Vernasca leather inside is a $1,450 upgrade. The $1,700 Driver Assistance Pro Package adds BMW's traffic-jam assistant which combines the adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping tech for easier highway commutes. The $2,800 Premium Package gets us niceties like heated front seats and a heated steering wheel (again, winter sucks), as well as a head-up display, Apple CarPlay compatibility (but not Android Auto -- boo!) and onboard navigation. The fancy-sounding $2,100 Executive Package adds ambient lighting, BMW's Laserlight headlights, those silly gesture controls for the infotainment system and active parking assist. Finally, the $5,000 M Sport kit gives this car a bit more edge both visually and mechanically, what with its variable sport steering, 19-inch wheels, M Sport suspension and unique exterior styling. Tack on an additional $300 for a remote engine start, $500 for wireless phone charging, $875 for an upgraded Harman Kardon stereo, and remove $500 from the 330i's base price since we deleted the universal garage door opener and SensaTec dashboard, and you arrive at our car's as-tested price: $57,420.
Almost immediately after the 330i arrived in our Detroit fleet, social media editor Daniel Golson took it on a road trip to Racine, Wisconsin, to attend reviews editor Andrew Krok's wedding (congrats again, buddy).
"While my initial feelings on the new G20 3 Series was fairly lukewarm when I first drove one a few months ago, I came to seriously enjoy the car after my first few days with it," Golson says. "The 330i's turbocharged four-cylinder engine is a peach, feeling quicker than you'd expect and emitting a nice throaty noise (that, yes, is digitally enhanced). Being equipped with all-wheel drive doesn't seem to dampen the 3's handling sharpness, either -- it might not steer or rotate with the same voracity as, say, a Genesis G70 or Alfa Romeo Giulia, but the G20 is fun when the going gets twisty."
Golson also offered praise for our 330i's Active Driving Assistant Pro suite of features. "All of the 3's systems worked flawlessly, and while you still need to keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road, they really helped reduce fatigue over a long highway haul," he said. "The real star of the show for me was the Traffic Jam Assist, which allows for hands- and feet-free driving on certain roads at speeds of close to 40 mph," Golson said. "It also has stop-and-go capabilities, being able to restart the car and continue driving even after sitting for a few seconds. In the awful standstill Chicago traffic I encountered it worked like a charm, performing flawlessly like the 3's other systems."
Finally, the trip from Detroit to Racine and back gave Golson the chance to test the turbo-four's fuel economy. "The punchy turbo four is eager to overtake but settles in nicely when cruising, and on the highway I averaged over 37 mpg," he said. In fact, over the full 1,200 miles Golson put on the car, he averaged 33 mpg -- and that's with a heavy right foot.
Following Golson's stint with the 330i, the sedan spent some time with associate producer Nick Miotke, who pressed it into duty as a video production rig. Normally you'd think a minivan or an SUV -- like our previous long-termers, the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid and Subaru Ascent -- would be best for this, but Miotke found the 330i to be a suitable car for this task.
"For our camera rig that we use when capturing car-to-car shots, we've started utilizing the tow hooks as a mounting point, which has proved to be more rigid and safer than the standard suction-cup setup," Miotke said. "When you have expensive gear mounted to the bumper and hood, you want to make sure it's not going to fly off at 50 mph."
The 330i's sedan shape means it's not as spacious as a large SUV for carrying cargo, but Miotke has been impressed with the BMW's hauling abilities. "The trunk space is ample, at 17 cubic feet, which fits our four Pelican cases along with three tripods and a drone," he said. "We did have to put one of the 40/20/40 split-folding seats down, but I'm amazed at how much gear we could fit inside this car."
More to come
Winter has firmly smacked the Midwest with its cold, icy hand. And while our 330i has xDrive all-wheel drive, four-wheel traction alone isn't enough. That's why we're wrapping our car's wheels with a set of Michelin X-Ice winter tires, which will no doubt help it get through the snow and slush.
Is there anything specific you want to know about the BMW 330i? Be sure to sound off in the comments; we've got a year of testing ahead, and plenty of time to answer your questions.