I hate being wrong… nothing compares with the hot prickle of humility when your seemingly bullet-proof preconceptions are shot down in flames. Now, thanks to the facelifted BMW 330d, all my previously-held notions of what diesel-engined compact executive saloons are about have been quashed – and thoroughly at that!
A bit of clatter at idle and an extra lump of torque are usually the sum total of a compact executive model’s transition to diesel – at least that’s what I thought before climbing aboard the latest iteration of the BMW 330d.
BMW has done a neat, minor, overhaul of the 330d’s styling. Adding a couple of character lines to the bonnet, a more distinctive restyle of the twin-kidney grille, and mild revisions to the headlamps and brake lights may not sound like much, but they endow the E90 with a slightly more sporty and purposeful air.
Inside, everything is as flush-fitting and hewn from high quality materials as you’d expect of BMW’s mainstay. The seating position is low-slung and sporty, the seats themselves supportive and comfy and the control layout is logical and legible. BMW’s revised iDrive makes an appearance with a number of ancillary controls accessed via extra buttons. It is a bit more intuitive than before, but the uninitiated are nevertheless bound to find iDrive intimidating to operate at first acquaintance.
The 330d’s powerplant fires up with only a slight diesel chatter and from within the cabin it’s barely audible. The other impressive aspect is the absence of the slight vibration that is often a telltale sign of a diesel engine. Initially, the 330d held no surprises – it was a little quieter than I’d anticipated, but as polished as any other high-end compact saloon with a diesel powerplant. Then, I did what any self-respecting 3 Series driver would do – I found a twisty road and let the 330d rip.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that the 330d is a model that could realistically make you question whether to opt for a petrol-powered equivalent. A prod on the accelerator is greeted with an instant surge of torque (520 N.m from just 1 750 r/min) that pins you in your seat and a straight-six snarl that sounds distinctly un-diesel-like. With 180 kW on tap, the 330d is suitably fast and its 6-speed automatic transmission never misses a trick – although the optional paddle-shift function’s counter-intuitive action (press down with your thumb to shift down/pull with the fingers to go up) seemed a bit gimmicky – just stick it in ‘D’ and it’s pretty much flawless.
The handling displays none of the slight nose-heavy dulling that a compact executive car’s transition to diesel normally entails. Body-roll is minimal, grip is plentiful and the steering, although fairly heavy, possesses lots of feel and responds well to driver inputs. Backing off the pace does nothing to diminish the 330d’s admirable traits. It may ride a bit more firmly than others of its ilk (as a result, no doubt, of its run-flat tyres and taut suspension), but refinement, comfort, and overall “pointability” around town and on the motorway, are top-notch.
So, having had my perceptions of diesel-engine compact executives challenged by the 330d, would I recommend it to all and sundry? Well, no. Its R448 000 price tag could land you in the seat of executive saloon-class Mercedes E200K or Audi A6 2,7 TDI Multitronic with a bit of money to play with. Don’t get me wrong, the 330d has managed to alter my preconceptions of what a diesel-powered saloon is all about, but unless you’re a high-miler dead-set on a diesel, R448 000 can be wisely spent elsewhere…or could it be that I’m just sour because it has proven me wrong?
A road test of the BMW 330d will appear in an upcoming issue of CAR