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New BMW 3 Series review: Bumpy progress

It's a fine driver's car, but the BMW 330i M Sport could do with a softer touch.

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You get alert steering and plenty of grip from the tyres. Lots of cars offer that, but the 330i has a way of conducting itself with imperious composure, thereby injecting you with a supreme sense of confidence as you take aim at bend after bend.

BT_20190524_330INEW_3790623.jpg
You get alert steering and plenty of grip from the tyres. Lots of cars offer that, but the 330i has a way of conducting itself with imperious composure, thereby injecting you with a supreme sense of confidence as you take aim at bend after bend.

Singapore

IT'S now 2019, so there was no other way for the BMW 3 Series to end up: bigger than ever (it's wider than the first 7 Series, believe it or not) and more digital than the inside of Bill Gates' head.

But this BMW's origins as a sporty sedan are as clear as ever in the new 330i, especially in M Sport guise, like the car The Business Times tested.

That version comes with, among other things, 19-inch wheels, big front brake calipers painted blue so your friends can see them, black body trim and lower, stiffer suspension.

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It's all very racy looking, and is a nice complement to the 330i's sportiness. The 258 horsepower engine shoves it along with a real sense of urgency.

Perhaps more to the point, the handling can be spectacularly engaging. For starters, you get alert steering and plenty of grip from the tyres. Lots of cars offer that, but the 330i has a way of conducting itself with imperious composure, thereby injecting you with a supreme sense of confidence as you take aim at bend after bend.

All in all, it's playful enough to encourage a bit of spirited driving, but predictable enough that the resulting exuberance doesn't lead you to end up in a ditch with the wheels facing the sky.

Yet, the M Sport's firmer springs exact a price for that agility, and it's one your spine has to pay. The ride quality is, frankly, terrible.

Bumpy tarmac won't launch you from your seat, but there's a constant and unforgivable jitteriness as you roll along, so much so that you soon wonder if someone at the factory ran out of coil springs and installed bricks in their place instead.

It doesn't help that the "sports seats", as BMW calls them, lack lower back support, too.

If you have no other takeaway from this review, at least heed this: You'd be far better off buying your 330i in Luxury trim, which looks less aggressive but is likely to be far more comfortable, with its softer springs and normal seats.

With either version, you'll have to contend with the 3 Series' newly digital cabin. Clear dials have given way to a set of virtual instruments that seem to emphasise the wrong things and downplay the right ones.

For instance, the rev counter's needle sweeps the wrong way and is so far at the edge of the screen that you can barely see it. Why? To leave space for other stuff in the display, like what's playing on the radio. There's a map in the middle of it all, too, but it's too small to be of any use.

There's no getting around it, Audi and Mercedes do their virtual instruments better.

As for the main infotainment touchscreen, it's also been rejigged for the swiping, pinching and tapping generation. You can now customise it, which sounds like progress, except it's ended up more cluttered than before, and harder to operate.

Maybe that stuff is aimed at "digital natives", but someone who came of age in the physical world like me would gladly click "Undo" on all the pixellated gimmickry that's gone into the new 3 Series, and happily buy one anyway (minus the M Sport setup). That's because someone at BMW took note of the latent athleticism in past 3 Series models and clicked "Redo".


BMW 330i M Sport

Engine 1,998cc, inline 6, turbocharged
Power 258hp at 5000-6500rpm
Torque 400Nm at 1550-4400rpm
Gearbox 8-speed automatic
0-100km/h 5.8 seconds
Top Speed 250km/h
Fuel Efficiency 6.4L/100km
Agent Performance Motors Ltd
Price S$252,888 with COE
Available Now