2020 BMW 330i Touring M Sport G21
Our long-term 330i Touring arrived before 2020 imploded, and back then its 2.0-litre turbo four made it the punchiest petrol 3-series estate, yet it boasted just 254bhp. Its departure coincided with BMW’s announcement that this G21-generation would be the first Touring to be blessed with an M3 derivative, and given how much I’ve enjoyed running the 330i, a much faster one with similar versatility seems an enticing prospect. But don’t get too envious if the 330i is your limit, because it still makes a strong case for itself.
The key has been its mix of practicality, reasonable economy and desirability mixed with a good helping of dynamic fairy dust – the generous 500-litre boot easily swallowed all our kit, and the interior gave adults plenty of space in the back, let alone kids. This 3-series has a 41mm longer wheelbase than the last, and it’s used wisely. The leather seats were plush yet sporty and low-mounted, the quality high and the technology generally first rate – though I disabled lane-keep immediately for being too risk-averse, found the sat-nav entry a little over-sensitive, and the novelty of Gesture Control quickly waned, so it was iDrive and buttons for me. (Gesture Control is part of the Ј1900 pack that also includes Harman Kardon audio and a head-up display that I liked, so it’s not a simple case of deselecting it.) I’d definitely option M Sport Plus, because there’s no doubt the Ј2200 extra spiced up the BMW’s dynamics – with its adaptive M suspension, M Sport differential and uprated braking, it’s more responsive and playful than the previous model, if not with the outright delicacy of an Alfa Giulia. I liked that it was available only in rear-wheel drive.
The trade to all this dynamic prowess has been a firm if far from unpleasant edge to the ride quality, so I did most of my driving in Comfort mode, though Sport’s tauter body control definitely came into its own when only the driver’s seat was occupied.
I would have loved for the 330i to be a six-cylinder, like olden times, partly for the sound and because the Touring’s extra weight does give the 254bhp motor more work to do. BMW’s answer is the M340i xDrive Touring, which slots neatly between 330i and M4, and has a much sweeter six-cylinder soundtrack than the 330i four, a healthy 369bhp and – if my experience with the previous 440i Gran Coupe is representative – not a huge trade-off in mpg compared with the four-cylinder motor. Naturally the M340i’s a whole chunk more expensive than our Ј40,170 330i at Ј51,780.
But what’s this? It just so happens my next long-term test car gets a silky turbocharged straight-six BMW engine. I’ll reveal more next month, but there’s no question the 330i whips it in the all-round stakes – this Touring’s been a great car, and I’d happily buy one to replace our own ageing 320i Touring. Maybe one day I will.