BMW 330i farewell

LIKE DEATH AND taxes, saying goodbye to a long-term test car at Topcar is one of life’s inevitable truths. We can try and postpone it, but eventually we have to give the keys back to the rightful owner. So after a year and roughly 18000km together, the 330i has to go back to BMW. Let’s take a quick look at our time together, from my initial impression of the car to where we are now.

Things got off to a rocky start. A few days into our relationship one of the rear LED indicator lights stopped working. My hopes of a simple fix were dashed when I was told the whole LED unit had to be replaced. None were available in Cape Town and I had to wait for it to be shipped from Johannesburg.

Plus I had my own reservations about the 330i. Did a naturally aspirated old school straight-six manual still have a future when you had a fantastic car like the turbocharged 335i in the same stable for a few rand more? There was only one way to find out and that was to drive it. So I drove it on the best roads the Western Cape has to offer (we are truly blessed here at the southern tip of Africa) and on some long-haul vacations.

If you’ve read this particular long-term update on a monthly basis, you’ll know I’ve become a 330i convert. I love this car because of the joy I get from driving it. No, really. A free-revving engine with 190kW on tap, meaty and communicative steering, solid gearthrows and a sorted chassis means I’m bolted into the driving experience, and not merely a distracted spectator meandering from A to B wondering what’s for supper.

The other thing I like about the Beemer is that it feels as solid as the day we took delivery. Except for the initial hiccup with the rear indicator which was fixed under warranty, nothing else has gone wrong. There are no rattles, no squeaks and nothing feels loose. Fuel economy came in at a reasonable 11.4 litres per 100km, although a few long trips at a steady 120kph helped to lower the average. Face it, you’re not going to buy this car to win the Total Economy Run.

After a year I’ve figured out how everything inside the car works as well. Yes, the new iDrive system is a lot easier to understand than previous versions. My music’s on the hard drive, the one-button presets are programmed on the sound system in short the car is perfectly set up for me. The 330i is that kind of a car, a selfish indulgence built around the driver while pretending to be a family sedan.

Some cars blow you away the first time you drive them. There’s an instant attraction and you just know you want to spend more time with them. The Ford Focus RS we tested in this month’s issue is a case in point. So’s the BMW M3. The 330i isn’t like that. Instead it grows on you, gradually convincing you that if it’s a long-term commitment you’re after, you’ll struggle to make a better and more enjoyable choice.

The only downside I can think of is that there are thousands of BMW 3 Series on the road. Your exclusivity count is zero, if that’s important to you. I’d argue you won’t give that a second thought once you’re behind the wheel of this car. It’s difficult saying goodbye to this one. It will cost R453500 new, which includes CO2 tax of R6840. You should be able to pick up a clean 2009 model with 20000km on the clock for anywhere between R320000 and R380000 depending on the optional extras. Sounds like a bargain. Time to talk to the wife.