Since it was introduced in 1975, BMW’s 3-Series has been about reliable, road-hugging performance with a healthy dose of fun. The tradition is alive and well in the 2023 version of the 330i; heck, one forum fan dared to call it the best 3 ever.
It’s still not the fastest nor the loudest and doesn’t even have the most dazzling exterior styling, but it remains the “ultimate” driver it has boasted about: It offers enough punch, amazingly quick shifts, and a blend of daily comfort and handling that hits the sweet spot.
Already armed with a twin-turbo and adaptive suspension, the 330i compact sport sedan underwent a “mid-cycle refresh” with rather mild exterior tweaks, but better stuff inside including advanced technology. Newly introduced is a broad and gorgeous curved display that merges digital gauges and the navigation/infotainment system.
Part of the seventh-generation 3-Series unveiled in 2019, the 330i gets a slightly sportier look with new, slimmer headlamps and a slightly wider twin-kidney grille. Front and rear bumpers have sharper angles, and front air intakes and wheels receive some tweaks.
All 330i’s get a 2.0-liter inline 4-cylinder engine that spits 255 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. Only one transmission joins the powertrain, an 8-speed automatic. BMW’s all-wheel-drive system, called xDrive, is optional.
This powertrain offers all you need as it runs to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds; top speed is 156 mpg. But, again, raw speed is not what the 330i is about. It’s about sweeping through bends and twists like swift waters down a curvy canyon slope.
It’s made possible with a couple of options borrowed from the sporty M340i. The M Sport Package has the adaptive suspension for improved stability and grip, and variable sport steering. A Dynamic Sport Package adds M Sport brakes – with painted blue calipers for good measure (and looks). You’ll need to pony up an extra $4,300 for the pair, but sport drivers will find they’re worth it.
Those who don’t need the extra agility will find the standard 330i nimble enough around town, and quiet and comfortable on the open road. Three drive modes – Sport, Comfort and Eco – regulate the performance.
A note for those who like the handling but want more kick: The midlevel 330e is a plug-in hybrid with 33 more horses and more upfront-kick, but isn’t really any faster. It’s only $1,000 more, though. Then there’s the M340i, which has a 3.0-liter mild-hybrid inline-six and delivers 382 hp and 369 pound-feet of torque. That’ll get you to 60 mph in just 4.3 seconds.
The 330i settles somewhere in the middle of the segment on fuel economy, at 25 mpg city and an impressive 34 mpg highway, for a combined figure of 29. That matches AWD Audi A4 and the C300 from the Benz folks, but is a little better than Alfa Romeo Giulia and Genesis G70.
The new cabin has a cleaner look this year and much of the credit can go to a single, gigantic, curved display which houses a 12.3-inch instrument cluster and a 14.9-inch infotainment screen – nearly twice as big as the standard screen.
BMW’s iDrive software runs the system and the touchscreen now offers more controls, including AC, which cleans up the center stack. The system has clear and bright graphics but can get rather complicated to use, especially while driving. Fortunately, the rotary iDrive controller can help.
Even more helpful is BMW’s improved Intelligent Personal Assistant, which can open and close windows or the sunroof, change the temp and even recommend a pizza joint nearby. The gesture control feature, however, is gone.
On the left side, the Live Cockpit Pro is considerably better, too, with gauges that are easier to see, read and customize. The iDrive also offers a head-up display. A three-spoke leather-wrapped steering wheel is a plus, but let’s give a thumbs-down to the toggle switch that replaced a shift lever.
For those avoiding animal hides, the 330i offers a synthetic leather with a soft and rich feel, but real leather is available ($1,500). Seats are bolstered and supportive but not overly confining and they’re comfortable enough for long distances. Front seats are automatically adjustable but a thigh extender, oddly, is done manually. Head- and leg-room are ample.
In the rear of this five-seater, there is sufficient head room but it’s more snug for legs and knees. As for trunk space, kudos to the 330i for one of the largest in its class with 17 cubic feet of space.
Advanced safety features are abundant but only at a premium. Standard are automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection and forward collision warning. A Driving Assistance Package ($700) adds BMW’s Active Driving Assistant, blind spot detection and lane departure. Or go one better with the Driving Assistance Professional Package for adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, evasive driving assist and lane-keep assist.
Genesis and Volvo offer more standard safety features, but not the same Bimmer drive. And that’s really what you’re buying: A nimble machine with precision handling that happens to double nicely as an everyday driver.
As tested: $52,890 (Options include M Sport Package with 19-inch wheels, adaptive suspension, variable sport steering wood trim, $3,100; Driving Assistance Package, $700; Dynamic Handling Package, $1,200; Premium Package with heated steering wheel, heated seats with lumbar support, $1,350; Harman Kardon surround sound, $875)
What’s all the excitement about? A broad, curved screen now houses both infotainment and a digital driver display as part of major technology upgrade.
Powertrain: Turbocharged 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine produces 255 hp and 295 pound-feet of torque; mated to 8-speed automatic
How’s the performance? Typical Bimmer kicks: Quick start, nimble, holds curves like a magnet; 0-60 mph in 5.4 seconds, with top speed of 156 mph
Fuel economy: EPA-estimated 25 mpg city, 34 highway, for 29 mpg combined