Over seven generations, the BMW 3 Series has etched an indelible concept of packaging style, speed and status to create an aspirational car you want to own, regardless of whether you are 25... or 55.
Now in its latest rendition, the G20-generation 2023 BMW 330i M Sport facelift ('LCI' in BMW speak), gains a host of tech and styling updates to keep up with the pack. But in the era of big screens and connectivity, does the 2022 330i still live up to the promise of driving performance? Let's get into it.
The G20 3 Series facelift was the first launch of 2023 - initially introducing the revised range consisting of the 320i, 330e and 330i bread-and-butter models, which were followed by the facelifted 330Li and M340i variants, launched in March 2023.
All variants are locally-assembled (CKD) in Kulim, Kedah, and priced as follows:
Thus, the 2023 330i is the middle child of a rather large range, as opposed to its main competitor, the W206 Mercedes-Benz C-Class, which is offered in only 2 variants, the C200 and C300, for now at least.
Key exterior changes on the LCI model include recontoured LED headlights, a larger kidney grille, and a wider duct lower down in the bumper. This is flanked by gloss black inserts on either side, housing the parking sensors and brake cooling ducts.
Courtesy of the M High Gloss Shadowline pack (on all three variants), gloss black highlights are peppered all over the 2023 330i, most noticeably on the window trim along the flanks and rear bumper.
The M Sport kit sees the 'M Style 848' 18-inch alloy wheels on all three variants, and around the back there's a shapely rear bumper with a large black apron with twin tailpipe exits. The LED taillights, with their distinctive 'L' motif, remain as they were.
The bulk of the changes is on the inside, where the 2023 3 Series now receives the BMW Curved Display as standard, even in the 320i. It's a sweet party piece, combining a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster with a 14.9-inch touchscreen augmented by the BMW Operating System 8.
Alongside, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are now standard, as is a Qi wireless charger and the Live Cockpit Professional system, which includes the head-up display (HUD). The gearlever however, is now just a tiny nub next to the iDrive controller, which is complemented by paddle shifters for more spirited driving.
Soldiering on is the 'B48' 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine which outputs 258 PS and 400 Nm. Power is sent to the rear wheels via a ZF 8-speed automatic. Elsewhere M Sport suspension is also supplied as standard.
As for safety, the 2023 330i offers BMW's Driving Assistance Package which enlists Lane Departure Warning with active steering correction, Lane Change Warning, FCW and RCTA as well as Parking Assistant which retraces the last 50 meters of travel to get you out of a tight parking space.
Exterior - Agressive yet elegant, but the wheels don't cut it
Outfitted with the M Sport bodykit, the 2023 330i serves up an aggressive yet elegant exterior, with the brushed finish of the front grille and Brooklyn Grey metallic hue.
Whilst everything is pretty familiar, the facelift has done a good job of keeping things fresh, even if styling is somewhat subdued compared to the pre-facelift model that featured more three-dimensional surfaces and lines, especially at the front and rear bumper.
However, the wheels don't do it for me. Through no fault of its own, due to an overwhelming number of aftermarket fakes and replica wheels, these Style 848s somewhat look like those wheels, and not as special as the pre-LCI M Sport units.
Round the back though, it looks the business, courtesy of the muscled creases of the rear bumper, glossy black highlights and slick-looking taillights further up, making it instantly recognisable from afar.
Interior - Minimalist beauty, but you have to wait for A/C controls
However, the changes are more substantial on the inside.
The moment you open the door the first thing that you notice is the wide screen crowing the dashboard. It is curved towards the driver, delivering a modern retake on BMW's classic driver-focussed interior.
Though admittedly, with the AC controls now embedded onto the screen, and the rest of the car controls moved down to the centre console - the dashboard layout may look too plain-Jane for some.
Despite its massive screen, there's more detail and thus execution, when you look at the interior of the W206 C-Class or Volvo S60. And though tactile to the touch, the dashboard trim also does little to add more pizzazz to the interior.
Also, with the AC controls no longer physical knobs and buttons, you have no choice but to wait for the 14.9-inch touchscreen to boot up before you turn on the AC, which can be an eternity on a hot afternoon.
The AC also takes quite a while to start blowing cold air, which is made even slower when climate control is left to its devices. However, this is improved slightly if placed in manual control, with the blower speed left on high when you park the car.
With that said, it's very easy to get grips with the controls of the 2023 330i, the iDrive controller and surrounding buttons are nicely laid out, and easy to reach, such that you rarely need to look downwards to access infotainment functions, or to switch between driving modes.
Elsewhere, the BMW Operating System 8 is superb too, both in terms of ease of use and execution. Apps are nicely placed and easy to understand, and with wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, the 2022 330i seamlessly connects with your phone almost as soon as you step in.
But you'd forgive its flaws because the 2023 330i is actually a nice place to be in, even when we loaded up the car with 5 passengers.
Given rear seating has never been a 3 Series strong point - the Volvo S60 still leads the pack in this regard - comes as a pleasant surprise that the 2023 330i is pretty capable if you need to carry more passengers than just at the front.
Refinement levels - Sporty tyres are loud, but cabin remains calm
In our commonplace cabin noise test, the 2023 330i scored decent numbers, though not the best in class, but the cabin place is hospitable, even after extended periods of driving.
2023 BMW 330i LCI - Cabin noise level
Some tyre noise does creep in at about 110 km/h, but noise frequencies aren't so bad that it becomes intrusive.
Plus, given the 2023 330i comes standard with very grippy Michelin PS4 ZR performance tyres, it is perhaps a drawback most owners will gladly accept.
Driving performance - Forget the big screen, grab the steering wheel
However, as with any 3 Series, the ultimate litmus test comes from behind the wheel and the 2023 330i doesn't disappoint. In fact, despite its primary focus on tech upgrades, the 2023 330i still manages to improve the driving experience of the pre-facelift model.
Perhaps the first thing we noticed after spending a few minutes on the road is how much more supple the front end is.
As opposed to the pre-LCI model, which had a darty yet nervous front end, the 2023 330i is less reactive to small bumps and ruts on the road making it a rather comfortable cruiser.
Round the back, the 2023 330i handles bigger bumps with a little more panache now. Where the pre-LCI would wiggle if it caught a cat's eye on the road, the 2023 330i stays fluid and more composed.
Thus perhaps most impressively, despite its sporting intentions, the 2023 330i is pretty good on the day-to-day trot. With less suspension movement and being able to manage larger bumps with aplomb, the 2023 330i allows you to keep the car centred where you want it at all times.
But, where it truly shines, is when you want to go fast!
Starting from a standstill, switch the 2023 330i into Sports mode and give it the beans - the 2023 330i with blast off with a hint of wheelspin, hitting the 100 km/h mark in 6.1 seconds and keep accelerating well into three-figure speeds with little fuss.
Throttle modulation is brilliant, and when coupled with great feedback, you'll know exactly how much pedal effort is needed to get the power you want from the potent ' B48' 2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbocharged engine.
The transmission is much the same, the longstanding ZF 8-speeder is perhaps the best torque-converter automatic out there, so it makes light work of offering perceptive and quick changes, just when you need, regardless of up- or downshifts.
Pulling off onto my favourite B-road and carving through a section of corners, the steering is sublime. Offering superb feedback, the steering is quick and precise, requiring minimal effort to cue the 2023 330i into a corner.
Given the superb overall balance, and light front end of the 2023 330i, there is an ample amount of grip on turn-in, and you know just what the front tyres are doing.
The body squats into the corner, there is little body roll to speak off; and the rear tyres follow in a cohesive fashion. This fluidity allows you to get onto the power quicker before you blast off onto the next corner... and repeat as necessary.
The brakes, though a bit squishy at first are highly potent, but personally, I would prefer a stronger initial bite to further improve the driving experience.
With that said, the W206 C-Class and S60 are no slouch as well, both vehicles offer astute comfort and road holding, but where the 3 Series takes it is in the overall driving experience.
The W206 C-Class is vastly better than the W205, it has quick steering and great power response but lacks body control going into a corner. The S60, on the other hand, is the most powerful in its class and is supremely comfortable, but chuck it into a corner, and its overall heft will start to show.
ADAS - Well calibrated but no ACC and 360-cam
In terms of active safety features the 2023 330i trails the pack when compared to the W206 and S60.
Though it must be said, that the standard fit front collision warning (FCW) with braking, blind spot monitoring system and lane keep assist (with steering correction) are well calibrated and present at all times, wiithout being intrusive. Which is great.
However, in its class the S60 still leads due to having front and rear AEB and active cruise control (ACC).
The Merc and BMW only offer passive cruise control, however, the 2023 330i is the only car that doesn't offer a 360-degree camera which is quite an ommision for a car costing over RM 300k.
However, you could argue they don't offer a featrure like the BMW's Reversing Assistant, which is a real party piece, but the jury's still out on wether that is better to have than good 'ol cameras on every corner of the car.
Fuel efficiency - No records broken, but efficient nonetheless
During our fuel efficiency test, the 2023 330i returned an average economy of 8.0 litres/100 km over a total distance of 99.5 km.
Drive time was a 50/50 mix of highway and city driving. Decent numbers given it offers 258 PS on tap, and we must add, we weren't too careful with our throttle inputs in the 2023 330i either.
It was never going to be surprising that a BMW 3 Series is good, heck for RM 320k, it should be.
The addition of the tech updates do well to get the 2023 330i up to date, and in terms of overall value proposition, it remains competitive against rivals, slotting price-wise between the Volvo S60 at RM 314k and W206 C300 at RM 334k.
In fact, given its balance of performance, equipment and pricing, the 2023 330i is might also be the pick of the 3 Series range, and has a good track record of retaining value too.
The Volvo S60 still offers the best interior comfort and offers the most power, the W206 C-Class leads the pack in terms of overall design and it's also the newest car in the segment.
However, if want you want to be reminded that driving still matters, in the age of connectivity no less, than the 2023 330i is the car that you want.
Arvind can't remember a time when he didn't wheel around a HotWheels car. This love evolved into an interest in Tamiya and RC cars and finally the real deal 1:1 scale stuff. Passion finally lead to formal training in Mechanical Engineering. Instead of the bigger picture, he obsesses with the final drive ratio and spring rates of cars and spends the weekends wondering why a Perodua Myvi is so fast.