2018 BMW 330i xDrive GT (USA)

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In the last few years, BMW, along with a few other car manufacturers, have been augmenting their already extensive model ranges with a whole array of niche products, filling in gaps that no-one knew existed and creating, or at least trying to create, new micro-segments in a quest to offer their customers that something a little different. When you have gone from being an exclusive premium manufacturer, to being a volume supplier with premium pricing that seemingly almost everyone can afford, as BMW (and others) have done in recent years, I guess you have to do this if you want to try to give your customers the impression they are buying something that bit special. Some of these new niche cars have proved more successful than others. The case for the X6, a Coupe SUV, launched in 2008 was far from clear and yet it has sold in large quantities, finding over a quarter of a million buyers even before the arrival of a second generation car in 2015 and now an established part of the model range. The 6 Series Gran Coupe, effectively creating a 4 door saloon out of a coupe that was created from a saloon, and sold at a hefty premium over the 5 Series on which it was based, certainly scored on elegance, and found favour in the showroom, too. The 5 Series GT, though, was nothing like as successful. Whilst the idea of straddling the versatility of the 5 Series Touring with the extra capacity of an X5 might have looked compelling at the concept stage, the rather frumpy looking result seemed to fall between almost every proverbial stool, though sales were not so bad as to deter BMW from trying again with a car they then badged as a 6 Series. Given this track record, it was perhaps no surprise that the F30-based 3 Series family would produce some new niche cars, as well. The 4 Series Gran Coupe was an obvious riposte to Audi’s successful A5 and S5 Sportback range, but the other addition, the 3 Series GT, launched at the 2013 Geneva Show, emerged as a car without any direct rival and more than a few people scratching their heads, asking “why?”. Like the larger 5 and later 6 Series GT, this was an attempt to bridge the gap or provide the best of both worlds, between Touring and SUV, but its emergence had many people scratching their heads and asking “why”, and a relatively small number of people actually putting their hand in their pocket and going and buying one. Thus, eight years after going on sale, the 3 Series GT is a fairly rare sight anywhere, so I was a little surprised to spot one parked up at the Hertz LAX facility one evening when I was returning a car. A couple of days later, and the last day of this November 2021 trip, I wandered around looking for my car of the day and I spotted another one. Although I had driven one of its stablemates, the 430i Gran Coupe, this seemed an obvious car to try to secure, as I have learned from experience that when you see one of the rental car fleet unicorns, you may never see one again, so should take it if at all possible. On this occasion, it proved that it was possible and the car was allocated to me.

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This car turned out to be 2 years older than the 430i Gran Coupe I had sampled the day before but it had done 12,000 miles fewer. I assume it was one of the used cars that Hertz have acquired to bolster their fleet. The only down-side to the fact that this was a 2018 model year car is that it lacked some of the updates that BMW have made to the 3 Series in the interim. Although the basic design of what is known in BMW development speak as the F34 goes back to a launch in early 2013, the car changed only in detailed spec throughout its production life, with new engines arriving for the 2017 model year and the addition of a number of the latest safety features coming after my test car was built.

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Mechanically, this 330i GT was exactly the same as the 430i Gran Coupe I had just driven with the exception of the fact that it had BMW’s xDrive all-wheel drive system. That means that despite the 330i badging the engine is a 2.0 litre turbo 4 cylinder. It generates 248 bhp which is enough to endow the car with good performance. There is an 8 speed automatic transmission which is well matched with the engine. There’s always plenty of acceleration available, no matter what speed you are starting from and what gear you are in. You won’t revel in the engine note, however, which sounds about as interesting as any other modern turbo 4, sadly, but that’s just what we call progress!  Overall noise levels are pleasingly low, and the car proved very quiet when cruising on the freeway.

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Compared with that 430i Gran Coupe, the 330i GT felt very similar to drive, as you would expect, and you would probably really only detect the differences with a back-to-back comparison with the Gran Coupe, or if you were particularly familiar with it. On the twisty roads of the canyons north of Los Angeles where I took the car on a day that was completely devoid of any sunshine, the car did feel perhaps a little less agile and maybe it did not handle quite as well as the 430i Gran Coupe had done, but the differences were small and not that significant. The steering has no more feel to it than the Gran Coupe, which is a bit of a disappointment, and if I had not known that this one had all-wheel drive, I am not sure that I could have figured that out from the roads where I took the car. Group seemed to be plentiful, but then it was on the rear wheel drive Gran Coupe as well. This car also come on 225/65 R18 tyres, of the non run-flat variety which meant that the ride was pretty decent on most surfaces, and there is next to no tyre noise, either. The brakes were as strong here as they are in the Gran Coupe, and you also get a traditional pull-up handbrake between the seats. Visibility is a bit better especially the view of the shoulder, thanks to the slightly different profile and the rather larger third side windows and less sloping tail. In any case there is a rear-view camera to help out when reversing.

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The interior of this 330i GT was identical to the 430i Gran Coupe that I drove, with the exception of a head up display, and one extra switch, for the rear spoiler. The quality is generally good, though it is not quite up to the standards set by Audi. The overall design is characteristically BMW and that is no bad thing as this is a relatively simple design, uncluttered by superfluous detailing. The instrument cluster contains two large dials for speedometer and rev counter and two smaller ones for the fuel level and water temperature. There are a number of trip computer display options, with the data presented in the centre of the instrument cluster. As with all recent BMW models, the odometer is right at the bottom of the display area and with my driving position completely out of sight, which is frustrating. I did enjoy having the heard-up display feature in this car, which comes as part of the optional Premium Package. There are a couple of conventional column stalks, BMW having abandoned the one-touch items of the previous generation car, and the steering wheel boss has repeaters for the audio system as well as the cruise control, much as you would expect. Lights operate from a rotary dial on the dash to the left of the wheel and there is an auto function for these as there is for the wipers. The centre of the dash contains the current issue colour touch infotainment screen which, as a consequence of the optional Premium Package on the test car meant an 8.8” unit rather than the 6.5” display of the standard offering. This displays radio and navigation (also an option that comes with the Premium Package) data as well as being the interface for configuring many of the car’s settings. You still get the iDrive control wheel and some useful buttons in the centre console which makes this one of the easier such systems to use. The navigation system was easy to use, though the rather small screen is a bit of a limitation. You still get a CD slot, but if you want Apple Car Play that is an extra costly subscription and Android Auto is simply not available at all. Below the infotainment screen and the associated radio pre-sets and volume and tuning knobs are the buttons for the dual zone climate control. One other difference from the 430i Gran Coupe was the fact that there is a button to raise or lower the rear spoiler.

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The taller styling of the GT body means that even with the standard double panel sunroof fitted, only the front part of which opens, there is noticeably more headroom than in the Gran Coupe or indeed the regular 3 Series saloon and Touring, so there does feel to be rather more space overall, even though the seats and their positioning are the same. There’s a wide range of adjustment on offer with electric switches allowing you to move the seat in 10 different ways and like most BMW models, there is an extensible seat bolster for those who have long thigh bones. The steering column adjusts in/out as well as up/down, so it was not hard to get the driving position I wanted. The seats are upholstered in a simulated leather. If you want real leather that is available as a cost option. The simulated stuff was acceptable though not something you would particularly call out as high quality.

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The rear seating area is more spacious, too, and access is easier than in the Gran Coupe, with no need to duck your head as I had to on that car. This is a combination of that different body styling and the fact that the wheelbase is 4.4” longer than on the saloon. Whilst passengers here may feel that they are sitting a bit too upright, and the seats are pretty firm, they should not lack legroom or headroom. There is a drop-down central armrest with a pair of cupholders in the upper surface. Oddments can be stowed in the rather small door bins or the map pockets on the back of the front seats.

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The real raison d’etre of the GT model is for its greater luggage capacity. This is noticeably bigger than in the saloon and Gran Coupe models, largely as it is much deeper with greater height available over the similar sized floor area, though it is still not quite as commodious as that of the 3 Series Touring. Obviously you can create a lot more luggage space by dropping the 40:20:40 asymmetrically split rear seat backrests down which creates a long and flat load platform. There is a useful under floor area which will accommodate some of those smaller odds and ends that we all carry around with us. The tailgate is large and heavy but fortunately it is electrically assisted which made raising and lowering it easy. Inside the cabin, oddments space is just about sufficient, with a reasonable size glovebox, door pockets, and a rather small central armrest cubby.

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In the US market, the 2018 BMW 3 Series Gran Turismo is available in two trim levels: 330i xDrive and 340i xDrive. All-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic transmission come standard on both. The main difference is under the bonnet. The 330i packs a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder (248 bhp, 258 lb/ft of torque) and the 340i upgrades to a turbocharged 3.0-litre inline six-cylinder (320 bhp, 330 lb-ft). The Gran Turismo 330i xDrive isn’t brimming with standard luxuries, but it does include 18-inch alloy wheels (with all-season run-flat tyres), LED headlights, automatic wipers, power-folding and auto-dimming side mirrors, a panoramic sunroof and a power liftgate. Interior highlights include dual-zone automatic climate control, power-adjustable sport front seats, driver-seat memory settings, simulated leather upholstery, a rearview camera, 40/20/40-split folding rear seatbacks and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. On the technology front, the 330i comes standard with Bluetooth, BMW’s iDrive infotainment interface, a 6.5-inch display screen, BMW Connected Services, and a nine-speaker audio system with a CD player, HD radio, an auxiliary audio jack and a USB port. An optional Convenience package (note that BMW calls its packages “tiers”) adds keyless ignition and entry, power lumbar support and satellite radio. The 340i xDrive has the above equipment plus the Convenience package as standard. Selecting the Premium package for either model adds heated front seats, a navigation system, a larger 8.8-inch display, a head-up display, and BMW Remote Services, allowing for remote controlled functions through the mobile app. The next level up is the Executive tier. It includes a surround-view parking camera system, adaptive full LED headlights with automatic high beams, leather upholstery, a digital instrument cluster and BMW’s Parking Assistant, which helps guide you into parking spaces. You can add the M Sport Design package to either of the top two tiers. It offers a variety of sport-themed interior trim treatments, an aerodynamic body kit, BMW’s Shadowline exterior trim, an M steering wheel, and an option to add the Adaptive M suspension. For added safety, consider the Driver Assistance package. It includes lane departure warning, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, a drowsy driver warning system and a speed-limit display. Stand-alone options for the Gran Turismo include 19-inch wheels, a heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, Apple CarPlay, and wireless charging with a Wi-Fi hotspot.

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It is notable that when BMW started to roll-out the G20-based 3 and 4 Series model family there was no equivalent to this 3 Series GT included. Disappointing sales of this F34 version were cited as the reason for this. Whilst this car is a perfectly capable car, albeit a slightly gawky looking one, and one which I think an owner would find satisfying, the reality would seem to be that this car was aimed at a rather small niche. Those who want the ultimate versatility will go for the X3, sales of which now exceed the 3 Series on a global basis, and those who want something less bulky but still with plenty of space in it for people and luggage will go for a 3 Series Touring, leaving the 3 Series GT as a car that falls between two proverbial stools.  It’s not a bad car, as it inherits pretty much all the strong points of the 3 Series, of which there are many, and indeed in this spec, there were no significant weaknesses, with even the ride proving perfectly acceptable, but given the choice of a model from the 3 Series family, I think I would look to one of the other bodystyles.

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