Unfashionably awesome: BMW's 330d wagon tested
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BMW 330d xDRIVE TOURING
While SUVs block the view across almost every car-brand carpark these days, there’s plenty to suggest that the companies most proud of their heritage also secretly think that the old ways still are the best.
BMW has reacted to the rise of SUV in a completely appropriate way, by flooding its model ranges with high-riding, high-tech machines of all sizes. It’s even contributed to the modern development of the genre by popularising the SUV-coupe concept.
Here’s why: the “New Class” sedan of 1962 saved BMW from financial doom and that model line led directly to the E21 3-series of 1975. The 3-series was the original compact-executive car and to many, it’s always been the benchmark.
The two-box equivalent to a very traditional three-box sedan is of course a station wagon. So you know what’s coming next: meet the latest BMW 3-series Touring (that’s BMW-speak for station wagon).
The nicheness continues: BMW New Zealand launched this generation of Touring only with turbo-diesel power. Which is something that’s long fallen out of favour for passenger cars in NZ and isn’t always sought-after even in medium-sized SUVs. The focus with BMW’s own X3 SUV is very much on petrol, for example.
But don’t worry about any of that, because the flagship 330d Touring is an awesome machine in so many ways.
It’s still decently practical, with a 40/20/40-split rear seat (which can be dropped electronically with a button in the boot) and 500-litre boot capacity. Not cavernous, but only 50 litres shy of an X3 SUV.
The tailgate is not just a tailgate: it’s also a glass hatch because the window can be opened separately, which is handy if you’re backed into a tight space or happen to have three bikes hanging off the towbar on a rack. Which we did. Because you don’t actually need an SUV for that kind of “lifestyle” stuff.
This straight six turbo-diesel engine is epic. A tiny bit reticent from standstill, as diesels sometimes are, but from 1500rpm it’s just a wave of torque that carries you to wonderful places. It tails off beyond 4000rpm, but the six embraces hard work and the eight-speed gearbox keeps it all on the boil.
And the 330d does hit 100km/h in 5.4 seconds. It’s a properly fast car. And a unique one. You can’t have a six-cylinder diesel Audi A4 Avant or Mercedes-Benz C-class estate. There’s probably a good reason, but that’s okay. Form a small but excited queue here.
For NZ, the Touring models come only with xDrive; again, move over SUVs. It’s a heavily proactive system that has deep conversations with the electronic stability control to predict when to shift the power around. It’s not designed to replicate a rear-drive feel, but rather to be the best AWD system it can be. It works to great effect on-road in the X3 and X5 SUVs and it’s even more engaging in the 3-series.
Perhaps because of the customer focus on SUVs, BMW took the seventh-generation 3-series to an even sportier place than previous models. The M Sport package is also standard on every Touring model sold in NZ.
It’s quite a traditional BMW in terms of both styling and driving experience, in other words. But don’t let that distract you from the fact that it’s also one of the most high-tech cars on the market. The full suite of driver-assistance features is a given (BMW is right up there with Mercedes-Benz and Tesla for this kind of stuff), but there are also some bonuses – like a function that allows the car to automatically reverse the exact path it took for the last 50 metres before you parked. You’d be surprised how useful that is.
The “Hey BMW” intelligent voice assistant has the edge on the rival “Hey Mercedes” system for intuitive instruction, but both still take a lot of time to learn if you want to get the best out of them. A lot.
BMW continues its fascination with Apple connectivity by offering wireless CarPlay, while ignoring Android Auto. Although you can have still remote connectivity (the car is “live” with an embedded SIM) via a BMW app with whatever phone you own.
A low-slung, six-cylinder diesel performance wagon is a pretty niche thing these days. Another word for that would be “special”.
BMW 330d xDRIVE TOURING
ENGINE: 3.0-litre turbo-diesel six, 195kW/580Nm.
GEARBOX: Eight-speed automatic, AWD
0-100KM/H: 5.4 seconds
ECONOMY: 6.1 litres per 100km.
PROS: Epic engine, great chassis, smashes SUVs for style
CONS: Poor rear visibility, ride’s a touch firm