Sure, the diesel versions of the 2019 BMW 3 Series are likely to take the lion's share of the sales to begin with, but now that it's ok to buy petrol cars again, more buyers will be perusing the price list for options. An entry-level 320i comes on stream soon, but, budget allowing, may we suggest that the 330i's extra power is better-suited to the sharp-driving chassis of the new car?
In the metal
For the full lowdown on the 'G20' BMW 3 Series, make sure you check out our other reviews on the BMW 3 Series Reviews page, as here we're going to focus on the 330i M Sport variant. It's a popular trim level due to the more expressive design. And while there are no obvious body add-ons, you'll probably spot that the M Sport car's front and rear bumpers do without the rather odd T-shaped inserts - they're all the better for it we reckon. Larger wheels and air intakes up front also set the scene, while the 330i M Sport gets blue-painted brake calipers to signify the presence of the upgraded M Sport braking system.
Buyers can enhance the appearance further by opting for the M Sport Plus package, which adds 19-inch rims, a small rear spoiler and black kidney grilles.
The interior of the M Sport car features M-specific upholstery and trim materials, plus an M design of leather steering wheel. Not to mention the fact that it comes as standard with the very impressive looking BMW Live Cockpit Professional system, using a large screen instead of traditional instruments and a 10.25-inch touchscreen in the middle.
This is packed with high-tech connectivity features and functions, including the new BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant, which is voice-activated by saying "Hey BMW!" or any other activation word you program into it. It responds to certain normal speech, too, such as saying things like "I'm cold" (it will ask you what temperature you'd like the interior set to, and then do it, by which time you could have done it for yourself ten times over). That will keep the kids entertained for hours, believe me. It does allow you quickly pull up a menu 'page' on the screen without taking your eyes off the road, though, which is genuinely useful.
As we mentioned in our review of the BMW 320d, the test cars at the international launch were not quite standard specification. So, the 330i M Sport driven here featured 19-inch wheels, Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres (not run-flat) and the optional M Sport differential. The latter, costing some €3,056 in Ireland, is an electronically controlled item, new to the regular 3 Series line-up. Its operation is mapped to the driving mode selected, so it is calibrated to aid traction and stability unless you choose the Sport settings, in which case it favours agility and allows more movement of the rear of the car.
We only tested this car on dry roads and it took quite a lot of provocation before the rear did much other than grip strongly and slingshot you out of the corner towards the next one. The stability control system is very quick-witted, but even with it off, the level of grip available and the balance to the chassis are just staggering. Sure, on M Sport suspension, the 330i proved a little firm, but it was always controlled, too. Indeed, our only issue related to the brakes, as, while the stopping power on tap was never in question, there was a strange sensation to the top of the pedal travel that reduced your confidence in the system a little.
And with this turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine under the bonnet, you'll want to know you can rely on the brakes. It produces up to 258hp and 400Nm of torque, which makes this a relatively stealthy sports saloon with decent pace. Driving through an updated (and still brilliant) eight-speed automatic transmission, there's always plenty of go, though you'll want to use the Sport modes for maximum response. Choose those and you're also greeted to a much louder experience, sportier than many will expect, though no matter what BMW does with the four-cylinder engine note, it'll never match a six-cylinder. You'll have to shell out on the M340i if you want one of those...
What you get for your money
The BMW 330i is offered in Sport and M Sport guises only, both with an automatic transmission as standard and no xDrive four-wheel-drive option. Pricing starts at €51,360, which is less than a 320d M Sport auto will set you back, incidentally. And the 330i's engine is no gas-guzzler, either, as evidenced by its 134g/km emissions rating and a tax bill that's only €80 more than the equivalently specified 320d. Food for thought.
While the days of diesel power are far from numbered (don't believe everything you read in the papers), we know we're not alone in welcoming in a new era in car ownership, one in which it's ok to buy a petrol-fuelled car again. The new 330i has a good mix of performance and efficiency to make it a viable alternative to the default diesel BMW 3 Series. It also hints at a lot more to come from the chassis of this sports saloon.