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2019 BMW 330i long-term wrap-up: A step in the right direction

After 12 months in our test fleet, we can safely say BMW's 330i is back in the hunt.

2019 BMW 330i long-termer promo
Alpine White on fall colors was a treat.
Sean Szymkowski/Roadshow

My, how quickly a year can pass, even one as crazy as 2020. Believe it or not, the clock just struck 12 (months) on our long-term 2019 BMW 330i, and with that, it's time to say goodbye. It's weird to think this guy joined our fleet before phrases like "social distancing" entered our everyday vocabulary. Admittedly, we didn't get to drive it nearly as much as we'd like amid the coronavirus pandemic and lots of canceled travel plans, but we can still confidently say 3 Series is definitely back on the right track. 

How we spec'd it

We aimed to test the 3 Series the majority of buyers will buy, which led us to the entry-level 330i and its 2.0-liter turbo-four engine paired with BMW's xDrive all-wheel-drive system. While a 2019 330i xDrive starts at $43,245 after a $995 destination charge, we tossed in plenty of optional gear. Our tester came with Black Vernasca leather for $1,450, a $2,800 Premium Package that added heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, a head-up display and Apple CarPlay compatibility. Baked-in navigation lived within the infotainment system, as well. For another $2,100, we also added the Executive Package to outfit our Alpine White Bimmer with ambient lighting, BMW's Laserlight headlights and the nifty (if not silly) gesture controls for the infotainment system, as well as active parking assist.

A couple other goodies our 330i included were wireless phone charging ($300) and an upgraded Harman Kardon sound system ($875). We saved $500 after deleting the universal garage door opener and SensaTec dashboard, however. Finally, and perhaps most importantly to test its sporting credentials, our tester came with the $5,000 M Sport kit to race up the exterior, drop in an M Sport suspension, variable sport steering and lovely 19-inch wheels. Out the door, our 2019 330i rang in at $57,420.

The 330i's cabin is nicely appointed, but doesn't wow us for the money.

Nick Miotke/Roadshow

The 3's dual personality

Our big consensus after a year of testing: the 330i had two personalities. On one hand, the sedan showed shades of its past with refreshingly sharp performance. But on the other hand, the 330i was a seriously comfortable cruiser, maybe giving up some of that sports car nature to keep us coddled instead.

Social media editor Daniel Golson wrote, "While my initial feelings on the new G20 3 Series were 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. 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."

I echo Golson's words. The car somewhat underwhelmed me at first, but after a few days, I started to pick up what the 330i was throwing down. It shuttled me to pick up groceries with comfort and compliance, and the turbo-four gave me enough gusto on the highway when needed. The 330i was more than happy to let its hair down on backroads. I think I even cracked a smile a couple times, even with the car pumping in some hilariously bad fake engine noise into the cabin.

Editor-in-Chief Tim Stevens perhaps summed up our feelings best saying, "I think a lot of us in the industry give BMW's current sport sedan a hard time for being a little less raw and engaging than it used to be. The more time I spend in this car the more unfair I realize that is. The sooner you let the past be the past the sooner you start to appreciate that today's 330i is really damn good -- just like it always was."

Versatile and without drama

At the end of our test year, we actually beat the sedan's EPA-estimated fuel economy rating by 1 mile per gallon. The feds estimate the 330i outfitted just like ours will do 28 mpg combined. After 13,000 miles of testing, we averaged 29 mpg.

When we weren't taking the car the long way home to test its sporting pedigree, the 330i actually flexed its muscles as a video production workhorse. While it wasn't anywhere as capacious as our past Chrysler Pacifica for camera car duties, the amount of trunk space surprised associate video producer Nick Miotke. "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."

Our 330i experience was painless and drama-free overall -- kind of like the car itself. Even with the M Sport gear, the 330i doesn't snap necks. It doesn't scream out to others in traffic. It simply does its thing pretty darn well. Point and shoot, as they say. If anything close to drama came up, it was a hilarious moment when I began talking with my hands and inadvertently started muting and un-muting the audio system, thanks to the, shall we say, interesting hand gesture controls. I'm so glad you can turn those off.

330i as a camera car? Totally doable.

Nick Miotke/Roadshow

Dollars and sense

With a nearly $60,000 as-tested price, I'll admit the interior left me yearning for something a little more special, unlike, say, our 2018 Kia Stinger GT, which punched well above its weight. Heck, our 330i didn't even come with ventilated seats.

If you want the technology, comforts and performance with a BMW-badged bow on top, the 330i is a swell machine. It walks a fine line between luxury sedan and sport sedan, but I can't help but wonder if another car with a similar mission strikes the target just a little bit better.

Nevertheless, we welcomed the 330i into our long-term fleet to see if this latest-generation car could right some of its predecessor's wrongs. And it's with a happy tone that we say, yes, BMW is onto something once again.

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