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BMW 330d SE review (2005-2009)
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Model: BMW 330d SE
Body style: 4-door Sports saloon
Engine: 3.0-litre, straight six, turbodiesel
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Date of Test: October 2005
What is it?
Perhaps the most complete all-rounder in the BMW 3 Series range – making it one of the most accomplished everyday cars you can buy. It’s the flagship diesel of the 3 Series range which means under that oh-so-familiar BMW bonnet lies a brilliant 3.0-litre, straight-six turbodiesel powerplant. It delivers a thumping 231bhp and, more crucially to the driving experience 500Nm of torque. It’d be easy to write it off as just another diesel 3 Series in the range, but it’s not, this 330d is a genuine match for its petrol-powered relatives and in many ways preferable.
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Where does it fit?
In the 3 Series range it’s right at the top of the pile of the diesel line up and is more expensive even than its 330i petrol alternatives. Only the M3 (and certain coupes and cabriolets) command higher list prices in the 3 Series range. Traditionally diesels are more expensive than their petrol counterparts meaning you’ll need to do a good number of miles to recoup the circa £700 difference the 330d asks over the 330i. If the £30k list price is too rich for your tastes though BMW politely offer smaller 320d and 318d models that are no less impressive, even if they don’t offer the same sort of phenomenal grunt of their bigger 3.0-litre alternative.
Is it for you?
If you’re after a high performance compact diesel sports saloon this really is the one to go for. Audi offers a 3.0-litre TDI A4 and Mercedes the C-Class in 320CDI Sport guise, but neither of these rivals offer the involving, enjoyable sporting ability of the 330d. The 3.0-litre straight-six even sounds sporty and the 3 Series still offers the best chassis in the class. That said, you’re either a BMW kind of person or not, and there’s no doubt that the appeal of the 3 Series has been slightly diluted simply by the shear volume of them on the road. Conversely, it’s successful for good reason – that being it’s the class leader dynamically.
What does it do well?
With 500Nm of torque from 1,750-3,000rpm the 330d produces thrust in any gear from any speed. It’ll cover the 0-62mph sprint in just 6.7 seconds but it’s not that that impresses but the remarkable way the engine will lug away even if you’re particularly lazy with the six-speed manual transmission. The in-gear performance makes overtaking a cinch and motorway cruising utterly effortless. It’s still an involving, invigorating drive though, the powerful engine mating well to the beautifully balanced 3 Series chassis. It’s frugal, too. You’ll not get it to return the 43.5mpg official consumption figure if you drive it like it begs you to, but it’ll return mid-30mpg all day long – which given the performance on offer is very impressive indeed. Throw the typically excellent BMW driving position and the 3 Series is an appealing choice.
What doesn’t it do well?
For a £30k car it’s decently specified, rather than generous. You pay extra for equipment like powered seats and significantly more if you want leather and opt for the factory fit satellite navigation. That lot alone bumps up the price by around £3,500... Space in the back seats isn’t generous and although the boot fits the essential golf bags the opening is rather small. The IDrive single controller for auxiliary functions remains frustrating rather than functional and the ride is sometimes compromised by those run-flat tyres which BMW insists on fitting to the 3 Series.
What’s it like to live with?
Anonymous, even though it’s a brilliant drive. As impressed as we were with the 330d there’s no denying that its lesser 3 Series relatives are absolutely everywhere. Buyers wanting more space might be better served by the similarly impressive 5 Series, with both the 520d and 525d available for less than BMW are charging for this flagship diesel 3 Series. However, think of it as a sensible M3 and it looks cheaper. Nothing out there provides the combination of pace and poise – while returning such impressive economy. Really, it makes the 330i look pointless.
Would we buy it?
Absolutely. The 330d is perhaps the most appealing model in the 3 Series range. Its performance is excellent. It’ll be a sports car when you want it to be or a refined, comfortable cruiser when you’re in less of a hurry. All that and it’ll avoid the pumps like a politician avoiding a tricky question. It’s expensive admittedly, but it’s a lot of car for the money, even if it could do with being a touch more spacious.
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