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BMW 330d M Sport auto

Sharp looks, great to drive – but has BMW played too safe with update?

Consider its popularity and importance to BMW’s balance sheet, and you can understand why taking risks wasn’t an option on the 3-Series. As a result, the styling updates made to the compact executive are subtle. The front bumper and headlights have been changed, while the new bonnet has defined creases from the badge back to the windscreen.

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At the rear there are LED tail-lights, and the bootlid has been reprofiled, too. However, the fundamental proportions of the car are unchanged. As before, the M Sport’s racy bodywork tweaks, 18-inch wheels and lower suspension give the 330d a genuine sports saloon appearance.

Inside, a chunky steering wheel continues the performance feel, while supportive seats give the perfect driving position. The cabin is neither as luxurious as the Audi’s nor as spacious. But the build quality is hard to fault, while the simple dash and ergonomic switchgear give the interior a sound, if slightly formal, layout.

The new 3-Series is the first model to get BMW’s substantially reworked iDrive cabin control system. It has been completely overhauled, and is a marked improvement, with a more intuitive menu screen and extra switches around the main control wheel.

Where the BMW can’t better the A4 is in the boot. Significant wheelarch intrusion limits practicality, but as the 3-Series has run-flat tyres, the space for the spare is given over to handy underfloor storage. Under the bonnet, the changes to the 330d come in the shape of a new all-aluminium engine delivering 245bhp and 520Nm of torque – 14bhp and 20Nm more than its predecessor. That makes the 3-Series the most powerful car here. On the road, a wave of torque from low revs means the BMW is quicker than its rivals from 0-60mph, and performance is truly effortless. The optional automatic box provides smooth changes and rapid response in kickdown. Want manual control? Simply reach for the steering wheel-mounted paddleshifters.

Driver involvement is what the 3-Series is all about. The M Sport rides 15mm lower than other models, and stiffer suspension tightens the dynamics. From the outset, the chassis gives a sporty edge – sharp steering and superb front-end grip combine with the taut springs to deliver agile handling. Yet the firm damping means the 330d fidgets over bumpy surfaces.

The 330d is undoubtedly an enormously accomplished car. The question is whether it’s good enough to justify the highest price.

Details

Price: £35,520
Model tested: BMW 330d M Sport auto
Chart position: 1
WHY: Fresh from a range of revisions, big-selling 3-Series looks stronger than ever.

Economy

Even though the BMW is the most expensive car here to buy, as an ownership prospect it makes great sense. Low emissions mean road tax of only £145 a year, and company car bills are reduced. Fixed-price servicing allows you to budget for future costs easily – you can choose between service or all-inclusive maintenance for three years and 36,000 miles or five years/50,000 miles. The 330d’s 43.9 per cent residual is not as good as for the Audi or Mercedes, though.

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