Our long-term BMW 3-series Touring: recalibration required

Published: 01 October 2020

► CAR's long-term 3er Touring
► Ben Barry runs this petrol estate
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Necessary evil
Heading to Silverstone to collect a McLaren, fuel up a few miles from home. 330i tank takes 59 litres of unleaded every 400-430 miles or so. Fuel economy hanging around 30mpg so far, against 39mpg official. Then again, lockdown's meant shorter, more inefficient outings.

Here we go
Roads south of Uppingham are favourites, with a nice, quick flow. I call up my pre-set Sport Individual setting: Comfort steering and chassis (though I often dabble with Sport chassis in twistier bits), Sport Plus powertrain, then loosen stability control's shirt button and add manual gearshifts. 330i is enjoyable, plenty quick enough, nice and chuckable if no sports car.

3 touring silverstone

Resist! Resist!
Ah, Silverstone. No laps today, just a meeting. Afterwards, I set the sat-nav, a reminder that BMW's largely good iDrive infotainment is atrocious when it comes to inputting addresses. I lose five minutes after I accidentally activate the touch-sensitive top of the dial I'm trying to twirl to select letters and numbers. Cue Basil Fawlty best-of rant.

Slipknot again
Underlying firmness to BMW's ride on 19s (the trade for this being a more aggressively sporty model than its predecessor) and it'd be nice to quieten the road noise at a 70mph cruise, but no doubt the price you pay for firmer bushings and precision. Easily drowned when I'm alone and can crank the music, but family have commented on road-din before (and don't do Slipknot).

Dinner's in the dog
McLaren 720S has almost three times the power of the BMW but it's only 107kg lighter – and just you try inserting 500 litres of anything in its boot and carrying more than one passenger. And don't get me started on mpg, benefit-in-kind, servicing... But the long way back? Oh go on then.

720s spider sunset

By Ben Barry

Logbook: BMW 330i Touring

Price £39,670 (£48,495 as tested)
Performance 1998cc turbocharged four-cylinder, 254bhp, 5.8sec 0-62mph, 155mph
Efficiency 38.7-39.8mpg (official), 29.7mpg (tested), 163g/km CO2
Energy cost 18.2p per mile
Miles this month 651
Total miles 5182


Month 5 living with a BMW 330i Touring: wife, meet mistress

3-series old vs new

The 330i's arrival made us a two 3-series Touring family, giving me a chance to delve deep into what a decade's development has brought.

I won't argue my 2009 320i Touring is better, but there is a lot to like. The design has matured well, it's still a comfortable, spacious car, and it's currently enjoying an Indian summer of having shed all its value, still being perfectly good to use, but having enough 'patina' to make us feel carefree if never careless when using it. Decent enough mpg, cheap maintenance by a garage that's within walking distance – there's much to be said for this.

The obvious difference between the two cars is size: the new car is 188mm longer, putting it halfway between a 10-year-old 5-series and my 320i.

Inside, there's a substantial increase in space for the new car, particularly in the back, plus analogue clocks have given way to a digital dash and an optional gesture function that lets you twirl thin air to adjust volume. Much of this technology is first class, though it's striking how much harder the buttons for headlights and temperature control are to find than the old car's dials.

It's also a smarter, plusher cabin with standard leather trim, but I continue to be fond of the old-timer, which shares its successor's low-set driving position and sense of purpose from behind the wheel. I bought it five years ago from Marshall in Nottingham, who delivered it with four spare alloys shod with winter tyres in the boot; a nice surprise (less so the badly repaired hail damage on the roof).

The 320's drive is a bit underwhelming: iffy electric steering in the early days of BMW's adoption of the technology and uninspiring four-cylinder 170bhp powertrain saved by a nicely balanced chassis.

320i interior

The new 330i is far better dynamically, as well as being more spacious and loaded with useful tech. Despite having only 80bhp more and being around 150kg heavier, it delivers comparable low- to mid-30s mpg and feels much brisker. It is stiffer and, I think, suffers more road noise at motorway speeds (though I'm rarely on the motorway in the 320i), a trade-off for this being the tauter, more precise driving machine. Nonetheless, living with them back-to-back, the new 330i is obviously better when judged on every single metric.

The new car also doesn't break down. We had the 320i under extended warranty for as long as possible, at about £350 a year. For three years it worked perfectly, from 50k to 80k miles. In the fourth year we used the car about half as much, and started working through well known coil-pack failure issues, had an injector replaced, and a broken spring due to a man-sized pothole. That probably paid for most of the warranty. Then just before the warranty expired last year, the diff went. It cost the warranty company over £2k.

By Ben Barry

Logbook: BMW 330i Touring

Price £39,670 (£48,495 as tested)
Performance 1998cc turbocharged four-cylinder, 254bhp, 5.8sec 0-62mph, 155mph
Efficiency 38.7-39.8mpg (official), 30.5mpg (tested), 163g/km CO2
Energy cost 18.2p per mile
Miles this month 403
Total miles 4531


Month 4 living with a BMW 330i Touring: owning every road

'Probably the best car in the world, but we'll have to drive it in the UK to be sure!' If it's often true, it's also a road-test cop-out that must irk many readers. So the best news: I've lived with the 330i Touring for four months now, driven it only in the UK and it's damn good.

Those road-test cop-outs usually refer to how a car rides nicely on smooth European roads, but might fare less well on the UK's artillery-shelled network. Well, the 330i Touring is in M Sport trim with 19-inch alloys and adaptive dampers, and there is a firmness versus my last-gen 440i long-term test car, and some unnecessary chop if you go so far as Sport mode, never mind Sport Plus, but in Comfort I've no complaints.

The upside is sharper handling compared to the already very good previous model, because BMW went all out to fend off upstarts like the Jaguar XE and Alfa Romeo Giulia. The steering feels sharper, the body better managed as it settles in to a curve where the 
440i would briefly topple, and because you can now spec a limited-slip diff, the rear end is more precise if you give it a bootful from slower corners.

I'd sacrifice some of the impressive 34.5mpg that the 2.0-litre turbo four managed this month for more performance and refinement, but a 340i is significantly pricier (it starts above £50k as a Touring) plus the punchiest four-cylinder turbo is smooth and quick enough for the most part.

The Touring doesn't sparkle over a great road like the Renault Megane Trophy I recently handed back, but I enjoy driving it very much, and then it swallows all our luggage and shopping and gives the whole family the space, comfort and technology we need like few performance cars could.

An Audi RS6 would ace the lot for loads more cash, but it's that sweet spot again, and the more I live with it, the more I realise a 330i Touring hits it – no matter where you drive it.

By Ben Barry

Logbook: BMW 330i Touring

Price £39,670 (£48,495 as tested)
Performance 1998cc turbocharged four-cylinder, 254bhp, 5.8sec 0-62mph, 155mph
Efficiency 38.7-39.8mpg (official), 34.5mpg (tested), 163g/km CO2
Energy cost 16.5p per mile
Miles this month 414
Total miles 4128


Month 3 living with a 3-Series Touring: configuration time!

3-series LTT individual mode

Some cars don't need an Individual driving mode, but the 330i really benefits from the few minutes it takes to set it to your liking. It's too dozy in Eco or Comfort, bit gnarly in Sport for daily driving, and Sport Plus is pure racetrack stuff. So I've dialled in my perfect setting.

Sport damping is pretty stiff, so it's Comfort for the suspension. Comfort steering is too limp, Sport Plus too heavy, so Sport it is. Then it's Sport Plus for the engine (crisper throttle, better noise), and Sport for the transmission. I use manual gear selection via the paddles, so there's no issue with it hanging on to gears too long. Wonder how many customers never touch any of it?

By Ben Barry

Logbook: BMW 330i Touring

Price £39,670 (£48,495 as tested)
Performance 1998cc turbocharged four-cylinder, 254bhp, 5.8sec 0-62mph, 155mph
Efficiency 38.7-39.8mpg (official), 32.3mpg (tested), 163g/km CO2
Energy cost 17.1p per mile
Miles this month 1024
Total miles 3714


Month 2 living with a 3-series Touring: coming from behind

3-series LTT boot

Quick cost-benefit analysis of a 3-series estate versus saloon to ramp up excitement this month. Touring benefits include 500 litres of luggage space with rear seats up, against 480 litres for a saloon. You also get a standard electric tailgate (optional on saloon, if pointless), that brilliant opening rear window and four rubberised longitudinal ribs in the loadbay, which actually rise up slightly when you close the tailgate, so shopping doesn't slip when rear tyres do. Subjectively, I prefer the design too.

A Touring is £1500 costlier and 125kg heavier, with the weight impacting fuel economy by 1mpg and the 0-62mph by a tenth. I feel the effect on midrange urgency more than I notice the altered handling. The Touring's bodyshell can't be as rigid as the saloon's, but it gets a bespoke suspension tune.

Pros and cons, then, but there's something so very satisfying about the do-it-all practicality of a Touring that makes benefits outweigh costs for me.

By Ben Barry

Logbook: BMW 330i Touring

Price £39,670 (£48,495 as tested)
Performance 1998cc turbocharged four-cylinder, 254bhp, 5.8sec 0-62mph, 155mph
Efficiency 38.7-39.8mpg (official), 32.9mpg (tested), 163g/km CO2
Energy cost 17.1p per mile
Miles this month 503
Total miles 1494


Month 1 living with a BMW 330i Touring: back on the estate

3-series LTT side

The first long-term report I filed for CAR was in 2006, when I'd taken over the mag's E91 330i Touring. It was metallic blue with cream leather, equally creamy straight-six and a ride that turned every B-road into Belgian pavé – blame early runflat tyres for that. But that car made quite an impression: soon after I entrusted my new family to an E46 320i Touring for four years, and we've been running an E91 320i Touring for almost six now.

The kids are probably sick of them. But almost 14 years since that first story, I'm excited to be once again running a 330i Touring, this time the new G21 – now the second generation of 330i to use a four-cylinder turbo. With me a serial BMW owner, you could argue this 330i is pushing against an open door. Equally, though, it's got – ahem – large boots to fill.

Sensible hat on, it's possible to justify choosing petrol over diesel, because the 330i has a healthy 254bhp, 38.7-39.8mpg, and benefit-in-kind of 31 per cent, which compares very favourably to those diesels. The 318d/320d four-cylinder turbodiesels cost only £2k/£1k less, offer 100bhp/60bhp fewer horses, and no benefit-in-kind incentive. Okay, so they do 50mpg or so, but then diesel is pricier per litre.

The 330d is more tempting with its smooth six-cylinder motor, but it's almost £4k pricier, only around 3mpg more efficient and just a whisker more potent, has inferior C02 and is heavier. Though, yes, torque is a big 428lb ft win (a 330i's 295lb ft matches the 320d).

Even if the figures hadn't stacked up quite so well, I'd have still been drawn to the most powerful petrol in the line-up (though the 340i Touring comes on stream soon).

The 330i cost £39,670 in our M Sport trim. Our test car dials up the driver focus with the £2200 M Sport Plus package, which includes 19-inch alloys, adaptive M suspension, and the limited-slip diff – the first one BMW has offered on non-M cars. M Sport Plus also includes uprated brakes for lesser models, but they're already standard on a 330i.

The remainder of this car's £8040 of extra kit goes on the £1900 Technology Package (head-up display, Harman Kardon hi-fi, gesture control, wireless charging, wi-fi), £500 Vernasca leather with blue stitching, the £1900 Premium package (panoramic sunroof, electric seats with driver memory and lumbar support), and the Comfort package (heated steering wheel, keyless access, extra cubbyholes for £890). And we have the £650 Parking Assistant Plus with its 360º camera.

All in that's £48,495, and highly desirable it all seems. We'll be putting both the car and those options under the microscope over the coming months.

By Ben Barry

Logbook: BMW 330i Touring

Price £39,670 (£48,495 as tested)
Performance 1998cc turbocharged four-cylinder, 254bhp, 5.8sec 0-62mph, 155mph
Efficiency 38.7-39.8mpg (official), 32.9mpg (tested), 163g/km CO2
Energy cost 17.1p per mile
Miles this month 503
Total miles 1494

By Ben Barry

Contributing editor, sideways merchant, tyre disintegrator

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