When tech, style and thrill collide: The BMW 3 Series Gran Limousine 330Li M Sport Drive Review

Since its inception, the BMW 3 Series has reigned supreme as the epitome of automotive excellence, a timeless icon that has captured the hearts of enthusiasts and casual drivers alike. For decades, the 3 Series has stood as a testament to BMW’s commitment to engineering prowess, embodying the brand’s core values of performance, precision, and sheer driving pleasure. It’s no surprise then that the 3 Series has become one of BMW’s biggest success stories globally, providing an entry into a brand which holds itself to the highest standards of engineering and performance. In its current G20 generation, the 3 Series continues this legacy by building upon the foundations laid by its predecessors and represents the culmination of decades of refinement and innovation, blending the iconic design elements that have defined the model with modern touches that ensure it remains at the forefront of its class.

We’ve always been great admirers of the 3 Series, ever since we first drove F30 328i almost a decade ago, and we still feel like the 3 Series is all the car you’ll ever need. But what used to be a somewhat affordable entry into the BMW brand has, unsurprisingly, seen steep price rises, to the point that a modern 3 Series runs you the same amount of money that a last generation 5 Series would have. In the current scenario, does the 3 Series still reign supreme as the last word in compact executive sedans? We spent an eventful week with the 2024 BMW 330Li M Sport to find out.

On the outside, the 3 Series follows BMW’s tradition of blending sophistication with athleticism, with strong, angular lines that invoke its sporty heritage. The current-gen G20 3 Series was launched in India back in 2020, and received a minor facelift (LCI in BMW terms) last year, adding some subtle styling tweaks to an already good looking car. The most noticeable change lies in the front fascia, where the kidney grille has been noticeably enlarged and reshaped, and the front bumper has been sharpened up to make it look even more aggressive. The headlights have been made sleeker too, with inverted LED DRLs creating a familiar BMW-esque impression at night. The LCI also adds gloss black plastic inserts to the front bumper, and the subtle air vents on the sides add to the overall menacing look of the 3 Series. The sharp lines and sculpted surfaces of the hood and front bumper give the 3 Series a distinctively sporty aesthetic which continues along the sides with a refined silhouette that emphasises its athletic proportions. The elongated hood and short overhangs create a sense of forward motion, while the distinctive character lines that run from the front fenders to the rear taillights add visual drama and depth to the design. While we don’t love the standard 18″ alloy wheels that come on the 330Li M Sport, the gorgeous Portimao Blue paint somewhat makes up for it.  At the rear, the LCI saw the tail lights receive a slight tweak in design, complementing the reshaped bumper for a more sculpted and muscular look. The LED tail lights, featuring BMW’s signature L-shaped design, wrap around the corners of the vehicle, making the car look even wider than it is, and the somewhat real dual exhaust outlets add a touch of sportiness to the overall aesthetic. To sum up, the exterior design of the BMW 3 Series LCI strikes a near-perfect balance between athleticism, elegance and timelessness, and compared to the slightly more generic looks of some of its competitors, this would have to be our pick in the segment.

Step inside the 2023 BMW 330Li LCI and you’re greeted by a thoroughly refreshed cabin that is a fantastic combination of minimalist luxury and useful functionality. The interior design language echoes the exterior, with clean lines and the use of premium materials for almost every surface. Soft-touch plastics, brushed aluminium accents and supple leather upholstery come together to create a gorgeous interior that leans more towards elegance than sportiness. Our test car came with the perfect spec, pairing cognac leather with contrasting stitching and a combination of gloss black & an eye-catching aluminium pattern. The electrically adjustable front seats are generously padded and offer excellent support during long journeys, although we would’ve loved to see the option of heated and cooled seats at this price point. With the introduction of the refreshed 3 Series, BMW has done away with the short wheelbase version (unless you get the M340i), and all 3 Series are now the “Gran Limousine” long wheelbase version, hence the “L” in 330Li. This of course means that the rear-seat passengers are treated to a true executive saloon experience, with more than ample legroom for all but the tallest passengers. Headroom is good too, and while you can carry three passengers in the back thanks to generous room in the footwell, the back seats are best reserved for two lucky passengers. The enormous amount of leg room at the back is one area where the 330Li trumps the M340i, and if you’re someone who values rear seat comfort, the 330Li is the best buy in the segment. Interior storage space is intelligently laid out as well, with spacious door pockets, a center console bin, and cup holders in the front and back.

The centrepiece of the cabin is the latest iteration of BMW’s iDrive infotainment system, displayed on an enormous curved screen which integrates the instrument cluster and infotainment screen seamlessly. The system boasts some of the industry’s best graphics, and the screen’s swift response ensures that using the system on the go isn’t a pain. While the menus in BMW’s iDrive 8 is quite comprehensive and can get a little confusing sometimes, you are more likely to be spending most of your time using Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, both of which are available to use wirelessly. Another criticism of the refreshed 3 Series is the omission of physical HVAC buttons. While we appreciate the convenience of having temperature controls readily accessible on the lower part of the infotainment display, adjusting the fan speed requires diverting attention from the road. For some things, physical buttons are simply the way to go, but it feels like those days are behind us. The integrated instrument cluster is also a great improvement on previous generations, with brighter and sharper graphics that make the necessary information more legible. There’s a tonne of customisation you can do both in terms of design and content, and the look and feel of the graphics also change depending on the drive mode you’re in. We especially loved the shift lights that show up in Sport mode when you’re nearing the redline, a feature which takes the sportiness inside the 3 Series’ cabin up a notch. Other notable features include a heads-up display, adaptive cruise control, ambient lighting, a panoramic sunroof, a solid Harman Kardon sound system, 360 degree parking assist and BMW’s impressive reversing assistant, which automatically backs up the car for a limited distance to help you get out of tight parking spots. 

Having recently driven the raucous M340i, we expected to feel a little underwhelmed behind the 330Li’s wheel. But we should’ve known better than to dismiss what BMW is capable of. Powering the 330Li is BMW’s familiar B48 2.0 litre in-line 4 cylinder petrol motor, producing a solid 255 bhp and 400 Nm of torque. Power is sent solely to the rear wheels, instead of the M340is xDrive all wheel drive system, via an 8-speed ZF transmission. BMW claims a 0-100 time of 6.2 seconds, although in typical BMW fashion, we managed to get sub-6 second sprints during all our attempts. While the 330Li is no match for the much more powerful M340i, where it excels is in finding the perfect balance between dynamic proficiency and passenger comfort. On a twisty road, the 330Li impresses with its precise driving dynamics and instils a sense of confidence in the driver. The driving position is fantastic, the turn-in is sharp and responsive, and the steering provides a good amount of heft in Sport mode. The 330Li rear wheel drive system adds sheer fun to the mix, and doing burnouts and donuts doesn’t take too much persuasion. The 330Li’s driving dynamics are aided by its well damped suspension system and chassis, which ensures that the car gets around most corners with little to no body roll. Of course, the longer wheelbase on the 330Li does make the car feel a bit softer than its M-Performance sibling, but that’s not something that most buyers would notice or be bothered by. For what is essentially a supremely comfortable long wheelbase executive saloon, the 330Li shouldn’t handle as well as it does, and we were left thoroughly impressed by its sharpness and agility when pushed to the limit. The valved exhaust, which opens up in Sport mode, adds to the drama of it all, although we aren’t the biggest fans of BMW’s pumped in exhaust sounds inside the cabin. 

Despite being the best driver’s machine in the segment, the 330Li still manages to provide utmost comfort when needed. Put the car into Comfort mode and you’re greeted with a more restrained throttle response, smooth shifts and a fantastically comfortable ride. Compared to the M340i, which suffered due to the lack of an adaptive suspension option, the 330Li provides a much more composed and forgiving ride during daily driving. It manages to waft over most road irregularities, and NVH levels in the cabin are commendably low as well, thanks to extra noise insulation in the interior. The 330Li has the ability to take on a completely different personality when you want it to be subdued and cosy, and that’s where the real strength of the 330Li lies. It is a fabulous mile muncher, and a combined fuel economy of about 10.5 km/l isn’t too bad either. 

After spending an extended period with the 2023 BMW 330Li LCI, it’s evident that BMW has once again raised the bar for luxury sedans in its segment. With its striking design, stylish and comfortable interior, advanced technology, and exhilarating performance, the 330Li LCI delivers an overall package that exceeds expectations at every level. At an ex-showroom price of INR 60.60 lacs, it’s definitely not cheap, but compared to what 60 odd lacs gets you these days, the 330Li should be on the top of your list. It exudes confidence and refinement while managing to expertly straddle the fine line between daily commuter and weekend joy toy. So if you’re in the market for an all-round package that will make every journey just a little bit more special, the 330Li M Sport might just be the car you’ve been looking for. 

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