330i Weds Science and Black Arts for Best-In-Class PerformanceOn the universal scale of car lust, BMWs rank right up at the very top. The allure is in the sports sedan concept, something that not too long ago seemed like a contradiction in terms, that is until BMW got hold of the idea, wrestled with it and perfected it. Et voila: a family car that balances the need for practicality while satisfying dad's insatiable craving for performance. It's a winning formula. BMW has become synonymous with sports sedans and has been banking on the concept to envy of every other automaker in the world.
The newest addition to the BMW stable of sports sedans is the 330i, the crowning touch to the BMW's 3-series that starts with the entry-level four-cylinder 318i and graduates to the six-cylinder 320i and 325i.
In performance terms, the 330i is as close as you can get to the hallowed M3 but costs a whole lot less than its high-performance sibling. The inline six is BMW's cornerstone engine, one that they have been honing and perfecting since the '30s, and this latest iteration replaces the 2.8-liter six. Rebored to 2979 cc and tuned to produce 231hp @ 5900 rpm, it falls 100 hp short of the pavement-ripping M3 but it's 39 hp beefier than its smaller sibling, the 325i. Now, 231hp is not exactly a rocket sled figure but it's plenty enough to propel this 1540-kilogram car from zero to 100 km/h in a grin (7 seconds flat, to be precise).
Like all of BMW's inline sixes, this engine features BMW's stepless variable valve timing system on the intake and exhaust banks. Complex and costly, the system is reserved for high end cars, where it packs an extra punch. While the technology has been around for the better part of a decade, Korean automakers have steered clear of it. Power for the 330i is delivered to the rear wheels via a five-speed Steptronic automatic transmission with adaptive transmission control. Gear changes are absolutely seamless. A manual option is not available.
But the real story is in the handling. After putting the 330i through its paces in the city and along the highway, you ask yourself "How do they do it?" This same question keeps coming up again and again after seat time in a BMW. It's one of the eternal mysteries; I can't think of a family carmaker which has been able to duplicate the sporty handling of a BMW sedan. Sports car makers like Porsche, yes, but not family car makers. There are few secrets in the international brotherhood of automotive engineers (all are using the same tools, more or less) but chassis tuning is equal parts black art and science.
The 330i's steering wheel provides just the right kind of feedback, enabling you to read the road like it was written in Braille. The steering system is, of course, power assisted; but you have an accurate feel of the front wheels and the suspension as they are doing their work. The 330i includes the M-Package which brings Recaro-style front seats with extendable seat cushion, a sports-type suspension setup, headlamp washers and Harmon Kardon stereo, extras that are not included with other 3-series models.
What's just as lovable about this car, or any other BMW for that matter, is the interior design. It's, well, very Teutonic. What else could it be? Even though this is a luxury car loaded with all sorts of gizmos, there's a clean simplicity and austerity that Germans so obviously relish. You can't help but love it and feel at home in it. Switches are precise with tolerances that seem to have been adjusted by a micrometer. When you hit a button, there's little or no free play. The interior textures and shapes create a delightful tactile experience and the overall effect is a very reassuring one. If your driving isn't hair raising, then roll down the windows, pump up the volume on the audio system and watch everybody around you start to wince. Ah, the power of the 10-speaker Harmon Karmon system.
Now, you may think I've succumbed to some kind of BMW narcosis but there's only one thing to be said in conclusion about the 330i: It's a highly refined machine that sets the standard for its class. You only have to drive it to understand. Price as tested: 68.8 million won ($52,400).
Next Week: Lexus LS430
by Oles Gadacz