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      12-26-2012, 11:04 PM   #1
First Lieutenant
United Kingdom

Drives: 435d M Sport
Join Date: Sep 2012
Location: Bristol

iTrader: (0)

F30 330d M Sport: first impressions after 800 miles

Well I finally got my 330d last Wednesday and I've already got 800 miles on it, having travelled a fair bit for Christmas. Overall, I love the car and it's clear that it's a real slow-burn thing that grows on you with every drive.

- Adaptive suspension
- M sports steering
- M sport brakes
- Visibility package
- Pro nav
- HK speakers
- Heated seats & lumbar
- 19" 403 wheels, but had the car delivered with BMW winter wheel combo (Pirelli Sottozero S2s - 18x225 front & rear)

I've driven some fast BMWs and this one has no right to go anything like this quickly (I went the hard break-in route, in case you're wondering). It's quick from a standing start, but pretty gob-smacking for a 3L diesel between 50 & 90mph. You'd need to inflict some fairly concerted abuse on the dangly bits of an E92M3 to hold onto the 330d in this range - no doubt about that. And while itís not a howling V8 or straight six petrol, this is also the best sounding diesel Iíve heard, especially on full bore. It really does sound nice!

For some reason, my car is noticeably quicker than the F31 330d demo I drove - don't think the scale of difference can be explained by the weight difference alone. Also, while I doubted this before I go my car, the 330d is definitely quicker than my friend's E92 335d, other than in the 1,000 to 1,600 rpm range, where it's slower to spool up (inevitable given reduced turbo bragging rights). It also feels like it's getting looser and quicker every day - love it!

Not the central story for me, but a very nice bonus. I drove a 500 mile round trip up north and got 42mpg overall (gauge reading: no hard calcs). Circa 80% motorway at ave speed of 85-90mph. Caned it pretty hard on the A roads at both ends, especially the quiet northern end. I feel like this will rise a bit over time, as the car loosens up.

For me, the VSS is a useful upgrade over the standard and I'd pay for it every time. It's another slow-burn thing though and doesn't grab you by the short & curlies from the get go. It adds more sharpness at low steering angles but, more importantly, there is more weight at speed than with the standard steering/ This gives a sense of genuine feel and feedback, even at moderate steering angles when taking sweeping bends and it really does feel good. Sadly, for my tastes, the weighting-up happens a bit too high up the speed range - I'd like the weight to be there from 40mph upwards, but that's a minor criticism. Overall, there is incredible precision in the steering throughout the range, but the really impressive thing is that itís super-accurate and responsive around the dead ahead, where most cars are have a small slack and numb patch before you get meaningful lock on. Very nice.

M sport brakes:
Bad start here: I'm pretty sure my system has air in the lines, as the standard brakes on the two M Sport cars I test drove both had much less pedal travel and more feel. Mine feel like Audi brakes at the moment - i.e over-assisted, with modulation through pedal travel than pure pressure. Don't like it all - ruins the overall driving experience, so going to get dealer to do a thorough bleed. The power is there in spades from big speeds, but zero feel, so can't make use of it with any confidence :-)

Adaptive lights:
So many people have said this, but these are a spectacular upgrade. I'm in my mid 40s and don't have quite the owl-like night vision that I had even 5 years ago and this is pure magic on that front. It's incredible to see high been on with a car 30 metres ahead, with the road either side of it lit up like daylight. It's deeply impressive, makes driving easier and more enjoyable and hasn't skipped a beat with me yet. Again, you cans see that BMW have worked hard to fine-tune the experience here. This is a superb example of technology improving the real world experience dramatically.

Ride and handling:
The ride is almost of magic carpet carpet quality on half decent roads in Comfort - very impressive. Bigger potholes do produce a bit of crashing, but it's well controlled and the car rides them with total integrity. The mild disappointment for me is with the overall level of control in Sport mode. I feel the car is a little out of balance - i.e. more grunt than it has suspension control. I notice this cornering progressively on a slightly uneven surface, with some mid-bend undulations. I get a bit of bouncing and some vertical body movement that should be damped out in my book. There is also a touch too much roll for my taste and the overall effect is that it robs me of that last 20 percent of confidence.

I should say, this is almost certainly a matter of taste, as I've modded previous cars with high quality after market springs and dampers from the likes of Hartge (improving both control and ride). I know, BMW deliberately went for a slightly softer feel with the F30 as well, so no real surprise here.

That said, I think the sheer grunt of the 330d is a factor here - given its remarkable ability to gain speed, this car needs tying down more tightly. By the way, I don't drive like a yob - I just want to be progressive through a few well-sighted bends now and then and have a little bit of fun :-)

Nav & media:
I'm deeply impressed overall, especially with responsiveness, speed of screen refresh and trip calculations (which appear to be near-instant). I've never seen any after-market nav come even close to the speed of this system. Overall, I've found the system pretty intuitive, and it only takes a few days to get fully comfortable with it. Had a bit of trouble saving favourites ('contacts in BMW speak) on the Nav at first, but fixed now. Not done enough miles to see any nav routing glitches. Overall, the system is impressively polished and it's clear BMW have gone to serious effort on the user experience. The movement, weighting and mechanical quality of the idrive wheel is a work of art, as are the surrounding buttons. BMW are a bit strange in the media manual in not talking about the speech recognition, which is actually pretty good when you've read about it in another manual and figured out how to avoid problems with multiple numbers per contact.

HK sound is very good indeed for an optional factory setup. More than happy with it and it's clearly a great value upgrade. FM playback is surprisingly good on good stations.

Interior build quality:
While Audis generally deliver a detached driving experience that isnít to my taste, I've always admired the fit & finish in their cabins and thought the perfect car would have BMW driving involvement and ergonomics, with Audi fit & finish. But it's clear that the F30 has left the current A4 and A5 trailing. My brother has just got a nice A5 and it's behind the F30 in most aspects of build and material quality. The ergonomics on the Audi fall short by a much bigger margin. The sport seats are excellent - so easy get just the right position and you feel fresh after a 3-hour drive.

The perceived quality of the standard Dakota leather seems a little lower to me than on previous cars, but this isn't a big issue - still very nicely stitched together and largely looks the part.

I was a diehard manual person and swore I'd never go near a slush box until I got into my 70s. But this box is actually good fun, being so quick and responsive, with a complete absence of 'slushiness'. I'm addicted to the throttle response in sport mode and find myself switching to sport just for the instant surge of grunt, Bit of a dip on fuel economy over Comfort on long trips though, so I need to get over that addiction. Eco pro is too frustrating for me, with glacial throttle response that really makes the car un-drivable. You can use it at a steady lope on the motorway, but that's it.

The shifts are seamless on light throttle in Comfort and just fabulous at full bore in Sport or Sport+. Best auto I've driven by a country mile.

I'm very impressed with overall refinement. The car is very quiet at 80mph, with very little wind noise and only moderate tyre noise (which I think is only noticeable because of lack of wind noise). The way the car gains speed so effortlessly at part throttle is a big part of the experience.

I love this car and have fallen into going out for drives just for the joy of it - a sure sign that the basics are good. I'm hoping the lack of brake feel is down to air in the hoses - if the feel and trust comes back there, then I'll be very happy indeed. While I'd fault the suspension control slightly, it's clear that the chassis is brilliant, so I think Nirvana for me will be the 440d when that comes out, where I'd guess the base setup will be more focused. Anyway, this is splitting hairs - the car is truly outstanding and it makes me smile when I drive it. Not much more you can ask ... :-)