2016 BMW 330i GT review, test drive
4th Jan 2017 6:00 am
The revered ‘330i’ badge is back, but it now points to a very different engine, and is attached to a car you least expected.
What is it?
First and foremost, this is a facelift of the BMW 3-series GT, perhaps the most underrated of the Bavarian brand’s models in India. It’s got as much, if not more, rear legroom than a 5-series thanks to its near-three-metre wheelbase, and luggage space to rival BMW’s X SUVs, thanks to the liftback boot. So it’s altogether more practical than a regular 3-series sedan, and with a price that’s not too much higher, you’d think the GT would be a no-brainer, but its slightly unconventional liftback shape could be what keeps it from selling as much as its sedan siblings.
Either way, the facelift brings what any facelift would, and much like the one given to the 3-series sedan in January 2016, this new GT gets you new bumpers, front and rear, adaptive full-LED headlamps, reprofiled LED tail-lamps, new alloy wheel designs, classier interior trims, a bit more equipment and the newest version of BMW’s 2.0-litre diesel engine, with 190hp, added refinement and smoother power delivery. It also gets you BMW’s latest iDrive system, which is basically a pared-down version of the one in the 7-series, just without the touchscreen and gesture control abilities.
But what we’re most interested in is the badge stuck on to the tailgate of this new petrol variant – 330i – because it has a lot of history. The last time we had a ‘330i’ in India, it was a pretty highly revered sports sedan. Launched with the old E90 3-series’ final facelift and on sale for a relatively short time, it packed in a beautiful naturally aspirated 258hp straight-six. This new ‘30i’ motor, however, is a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder, and it makes its Indian debut in the 3-series GT.
What’s it like to drive?
With 252hp and 350Nm, on paper, this new motor is a clear step up from the 184hp ‘20i’, a worthy successor to the old ‘30i’, and a perfect match for the latest crop of powerful four-cylinder petrols from Mercedes-Benz (GLC 300) and Jaguar (XE 25t). While it debuts on this 3-series GT, expect to see it in more models, like the upcoming 5-series.
It is superbly refined, to the point that you can’t tell if it’s running or not at idle and low revs. The GT gets four driving modes as standard – Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Sport+ – and understandably, the first of those isn’t very thrilling with its dulled throttle responses and slow, smooth shifts, but it’s ideal for traffic. Comfort is still the better all-round mode and the one you’ll find yourself in most of the time. This is because it does get you a little more pep off the line without sacrificing too much by way of economy. Sport and Sport+ get you more aggression from the engine and gearbox (the latter disengages the traction control too), a firmer steering and a little more noise from the exhaust, which we’ll get to in a moment.
If you compare it to the old 330i, this motor doesn’t feel as special, lacking that sense of occasion at any and all engine speeds that the straight-six offered so well. If you’re in Comfort mode and driving leisurely, it doesn’t feel any different to a 320i, as they are, at their core, the same basic motor. If the two motors were offered on the same model, there would definitely have to be some additional features and tricks to make you want to choose the ‘30i’ over the ‘20i’. In Sport and Sport+, the added performance can certainly be felt, but it’s relatively drama free, and that too only if you flatten the throttle hard. You’re whisked to seriously high speeds in the blink of an eye – 100kph being over and done with in a none-too-shabby 7.3sec – and all you can feel in the car is a slightly louder purr from the exhaust (certainly no straight-six scream). Some of this is down to the clever, smooth and seamless ZF eight-speed automatic, which just keeps getting better and better with each new BMW. It’s something you notice when cruising out on the highway too, where the new 330i will happily cruise at three-digit speeds at low revs in eighth, and will calmly kickdown for an overtake with you barely noticing.
What the 3 GT also does exceptionally well is ride over bad roads. There’s no air suspension or adaptive dampers, but BMW has nailed the tuning of the steel springs, so that they’re just the right mix of supple and supportive. The handling and body control might not be quite as tight as a 3-series sedan, but it’s still better than a lot of other similarly sized luxury cars. The driving position, however, like in the sedan, is very low, so shorter drivers will need to spend some time getting used to it.
Should I buy one?
Though sentimentality drives us, it’s not fair to compare the new 330i to the old one. While we’ll certainly miss the old straight-six, that was the past and this is the future. The new turbo four has all the performance you can ask for and, thanks to downsizing, turbocharging, clever tech and that incredible gearbox, it should be miles more efficient too. What it has instead is an incredible duality; the ability to go from calm, refined cruiser one minute to high-speed missile the next. When compared to its modern counterparts – other turbocharged fours – it feels just as strong, and perhaps a bit more refined too, though we’ll have to put them head to head to be sure.
As for the 3-series GT itself, we’d certainly recommend it. It may not have the familiar shape of a sedan, but if you can look past that, the benefits in space and practicality are impossible to ignore. And yes, many will opt for the 320d diesel, which should also be very capable and a lot more efficient. But if you want more performance from your 3-series GT, the 330i is the one to pick, and though perhaps lacking in a little drama, it otherwise definitely lives up to its historic badge.