The BMW 3-series is the world benchmark for saloons, yet its dynamic talents make the Touring version often more tempting for real-world living. This car – which drops the 3.0-litre twin turbo diesel six-cylinder and ‘xDrive’ all-wheel drive into the estate body – is as tough as the 3-series comes.
What does the BMW 330d come with?
The larger diesel powerplant means that the 330d comes with 255bhp and 413lb ft of torque, sent through an eight-speed automatic. That’s far more than the four-cylinder 320d’s 181bhp, yet the extra power comes at a penalty of 7.8mpg – 60.1mpg plays 52.3. More significantly, that compares to the rear-wheel drive 330d Touring’s 55.4mpg, a minor penalty due to the all-wheel drive system’s extra heft.
Tell me about the BMW xDrive system
Regardless of which of the 22 models BMW now offers with xDrive, it’s a uniform £1500 over its rear-wheel drive equivalent, adds between 70-90kg and costs around 7g/km of CO2. That makes this M Sport model’s ask £39,915 – but you can have this drivetrain in the lower spec SE trim from £35,765.
>> Watch CAR drive the 330d xDrive Touring up a ski-slalom in Austria
The system is identical to that in the X-badged SUVs, apart from it not having Hill Descent Control. That means that there’s a transfer case behind the transmission, and of course front and rear diffs. The xDrive system has the ability to transfer ‘almost 100%’ of the drive to either axle. Audi’s Quattro system, for instance, delivers a maximum of 85% of drive to either end, while the most playful Mercedes 4Matic system will divide power 30:70 front-to-rear.
Why would I buy this over an X3?
BMW doesn’t make it clear cut: as well as this car, you could opt for the 3-series GT, which has that oddly shaped hatch rump and gets an additional 100 litres of luggage space compared to this car’s 1500 maximum. Or, step across to the X3 – which is sold with the same diesel powerplant – and there’s also 1600 litres, but 5.2mpg worse economy (47.1) and it’ll cost you £3870 more (£43,785 for the M Sport). Still, the X3 has more ground clearance, has its higher driving position, and you may prefer the look. Let’s not get us started on the X4…
>> Click here to read about the new BMW X4
What’s it like to drive?
Heavy, yet competent. Climb into the well-made, yet starting to date cabin (in the wake of the new Mercedes C-class) and the driving position is brilliant, as is all-round visibility. There’s nothing groundbreaking about this car, here, but everything just works so well – there’s even a traditional handbrake, not a meddlesome finger-width switch. The diesel itself is a tad noisy: you won’t mistake it for a petrol engine, and even with its peak torque from a low 1500rpm, this car feels heavy from the start. Its slightly lethargic response and soft suspension that lifts the nose as you open the throttle means it’s not so flexible around town, even if you flick it into Sport mode – the steering’s far from precise too, with little feedback or feel. The ride is good, but like other 3-series’ it’s not so talented over larger bumps.
So it’s a dead rubber?
Not so. This is still a seriously quick car in a straight line, with a 0-62mph claim of 5.4sec, and it’s not until with hit the French Alps that its Tarzan-like grip becomes apparent. In heavy snow, our winter tyres – which didn’t do much for refinement – teamed with the xDrive for road holding ability that a rear-drive 3-series can only dream of. Push it into a corner, and when the estate does need more drive, you can feel the rear start to go – smoothly, predictably and in an almost serene manner – before the drive is sent to the front wheels. Then, it simply hooks up and bites to power on, with the driveline working smoothly between axles and gear changes.
>> Click here to download your free BMW vs Winter app
So is the xDrive system worth it?
That depends. If you’re not skiing in the Alps, nor plugging mud or wading through soggy terrain on a regular basis, the rear-drive 330d driven properly won’t exactly throw you to the wolves. Yet the benefit even in colder weather is clear. Yet do you need the six-cylinder? If it’s a long motorway drives you cover, you may as well be in a more frugal four-cylinder diesel BMW that’s strong enough for quick overtakes and ‘traffic management’. Of course, if you want more power, there’s the 335d xDrive as well – with 308bhp and 50.4mpg – with noticeable better throttle response.
As a result, this car is not quite the king of efficiency, pace, price – yet it is the most versatile, foolproof combination of 3-series virtues yet. That makes it as tough as nails, yet not as fun to drive when you’re out of the woods.