Copywriter, technical writer, translator (FR>EN, ES>EN, IT>EN), journalist

Having it all, comfort in a sports sedan: the 2019 BMW 330i xDrive

They call it a sports sedan, and I guess it is. That said, I spent my first evening with the 2019 BMW 330i xDrive on a 250 km round trip in varying traffic conditions. By “varying“ I mean everything from stop-and-go traffic to clear sailing. That evening, I appreciated the 330i less for its sporting capabilities and more for its sanity-saving features.

First impressions

The 330i certainly cuts an attractive figure, hewing to BMW’s design language while sporting a few distinguishing features. The Portimao Blue Metallic colour proved attractive without being flashy. The M Aerodynamics package, part of the optional M Sport package on my tester, plus the 19” M double-spoke bicolour wheels, contributed to the sportier stance.

The twin kidney grills stretch out to meet the headlights. That stretch emphasizes the similarity in shape of the bottom-edge LED daytime running lights to the bottom edge of the grill.

Interior

BMW now places the infotainment screen, aka the Control Display, a little lower so it no longer looks like a tablet computer jammed into the top of the dash. That was the key change in an interior that has undergone few other changes. Leatherette and other high-grade surfaces make up much of the interior, save for the (optional) leather heated steering wheel.

image courtesy BMW

One material that stands out is the “aluminum mesh effect” for certain bits of trim and the cover for the wireless phone charging tray.

image courtesy BMW

Front seats are power adjustable, though my favorite feature – the thigh extension – is manual. All four seats are heated and feature climate control zones.

image courtesy BMW

Ambient lighting comes from primarily from LED strips embedded in the dash and the doors. The lights matched the blue paint job outside (as does the contrasting stitching on the black seats), though you can choose different colours if you like (for the lighting, not the stitching).

I thought I might want a massage at the midpoint of the trip mentioned earlier, but all I needed was ten minutes on my feet and I was ready to go.

Hockey bag test

The hockey bag slid in longitudinally, with a little compression. A similar sized hockey bag could probably be forced inside if need be. Sticks slid through the folded “40” segment of the 60-40 split-folding rear seat.

In-cabin technology

As usual, there’s far too much technology to cover in a simple review. Here are the highlights.

BMW is bringing its fully digital Live Cockpit instrument cluster to more of its models, and I continue to like the look. The layout is common across carmakers: the middle shows information like navigation and infotainment details and the outer edges feature the speedometer and tachometer. These latter two take on the edges of the kidney grill. A couple of small gauges sit just outside these main ones. The main colours change to reflect the drive mode you choose (Comfort, Sport or Eco Pro).

image courtesy BMW

You can configure the modes on the infotainment screen if you choose to (I explored the options and decided the “standard” settings would do just fine.)

image courtesy BMW

The instrument cluster also features a driver-facing camera that the car uses to track the driver’s level of attention. (Don’t be surprised if the car suggests you take a coffee break.)

The heads-up display holds up the BMW standard for legibility.  This generation of HUD includes all the expected information, plus an optimum shift indicator if you choose to shift the gears yourself.

The HUD also recommends you note how “assisted driving mode” is supposd to be used from time to time. A somewhat lengthy message may appear on the infotainment screen to this effect. That might not be the best way to remind the driver to “keep hands on wheel at all times” – shorter messages are better when the car is in motion, so BMW may want to ignore its bias towards politesse in this instance.

Music poured forth from a Harman/Kardon 10-speaker 205-watt sound system. Connecting your music (i.e. your phone) happens via Bluetooth (great for people who use the wireless device charging pad), or your choice of the one USB-3 port or three USB-C ports (two of which are available to rear seat passengers). A wireless charging tray resides at the base of the centre stack. If you use your phone as the key fob (not all models supported), you cna place the phone on the tray to activate the start/stop engine button.

The Bavarians must realize how much there is to learn in their vehicles, so they added a “digital BMW expert” to the car. Think of it as a Siri that knows all about the car. There’s a more general Siri-like offering too, aka the Intelligent Personal Assistant.

Driving

Don’t get me wrong – this is a sporty car. A 2.0L TwinPower Turbo engine that produces 255 peak horsepower and 295 lb ft of peak torque, coupled with a responsive 8-speed transmission (that you can shift yourself via paddle shifters) gets you where you’re going in a hurry. (If more power suits you, inquire about the M340i.)

image courtesy BMW

I didn’t get to enjoy any of that during my first day with the car. Instead, I made ample use of the combination of Active Cruise Control with Stop & Go function and the Steering and Lane Keeping Assistant, which takes its cues from road markings and vehicles driving ahead. The official BMW documentation says it “helps to” keep the vehicle in the detected lane.

That was what I needed, after a long day capped by a 2-hour client meeting. ACC and the lane-keeping feature kept me as relaxed as I could be on my outbound trip in afternoon rush-hour traffic. I drove with the car keeping its distance for me during what seemed like an interminable series of slowdowns while gently holding the wheel with one hand, both elbows making use of the armrests provided, as the car kept itself in the lane.

The BMW did warn me to keep my hands on the wheel by flashing icons in the instrument cluster and the heads-up display, plus a couple of yellow lights on the steering wheel just above the button clusters. Ignore the warnings and the car turns these features off, forcing you to take the wheel and pedals. But if all you get is warnings and grab the wheel again, the car resumes its refined lane-keeping and following-distance behaviour.

Moral of the story:

  • autonomous vehicles are not legal on our roads as of this writing
  • the 3 series has the sensors and computing power to handle at least parts of the autonomous driving workload
  • this car (among others) may be just a software update away from greater autonomy

Fuel consumption

The 330i did something I did not think I would see in a BMW. Aside from making use of the car’s driving assist features, I also stuck to Eco Pro mode. At the end of the drive, the car reported average fuel consumption of 6.7L/100 km—a pleasant surprise, especially since the 330i takes premium fuel. To help with urban trips, it also features engine start-stop technology to kill the engine at red lights and stop signs.

Pricing

The base 2019 BMW 330i xDrive retails for $49,000 MSRP. With options, exclusive of taxes and other charges, the 330i I tested sells for $60,500 MSRP.

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