Test Drive: 2001 BMW 330xi car test drives bmw
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The 330xi is actually a 330i sedan with a special $3,100 option package which includes the full-time four-wheel-drive system and Dynamic Stability Control, an anti-skid and traction control system. There are also a couple of subtle visual differences between the 330i and 330xi, such as its slightly higher (17 mm) ground clearance, a different front bumper design, and unique alloy wheels.



All-wheel-drive 330xi offers great winter performance


Aside from the new BMW X5 sport-utility vehicle, the 2001 BMW 330xi and 325xi are the first BMW automobiles to offer all-wheel-drive since the 325ix sedan was discontinued in the early 90′s. BMW’s return to the all-wheel-drive automobile segment must be causing some anxiety at arch-rival Audi whose A4 Quattro has enjoyed exclusivity in this market for some time. The folks at Subaru must also be concerned, as they’ve been moving upscale with the Legacy GT AWD and Outback Limited.

The 330xi’s full-time four-wheel-drive system is similar to the one in the recently-introduced X5 sport-utility vehicle, but is quite different from its competitor’s AWD systems. As well, the 330xi is based on the rear-wheel-drive 330i sedan while the A4 and Legacy are based on front-wheel-drive models. These differences result in some significant performance differences – I’ll return to this in a minute.


330xi is a $3,100 option

The 330xi is actually a 330i sedan with a special $3,100 option package which includes the full-time four-wheel-drive system and Dynamic Stability Control, an anti-skid and traction control system. There are also a couple of subtle visual differences between the 330i and 330xi, such as its slightly higher (17 mm) ground clearance, a different front bumper design, and unique alloy wheels. Otherwise, the two cars are very similar.

Both are situated on the top level of the 3-Series model line, above the 320i and 325i. Both are well-equipped with such standard features as automatic climate control, in-dash CD, sunroof, remote locking, and Xenon headlights. The 330i starts at $45,900, and the 330xi at $49,000, but options such as a Navigation system, premium sound system, leather and sport suspension, can push the price well into the $60,000 range.


New 3.0 litre six cylinder engine

Test Drive: 2001 BMW 330xi car test drives bmw The 330xi (this week’s test car) features BMW’s new 225 horsepower 3.0 litre inline six cylinder engine which has 32 more horsepower than last year’s 2.8 litre six cylinder powerplant. Maximum torque has been increased too, to 214 lb-ft at 3500 rpm from 201 lb-ft.

In addition to its increased displacement, the 3.0 litre DOHC 24 valve engine has an improved variable valve timing system, tuned exhaust and intake manifolds, and a new electronic throttle. These changes improved fuel economy – the 3.0 litre engine’s fuel consumption is about the same as the 2.8 litre engine – a significant accomplishment. Due to the 330xi’s heavier curb weight, its fuel consumption is slightly more than the 330i, but not much more.

BMW’s inline six cylinder engines have been consistently rated as some of the best engines in the world. For example, both the previous 2.8 litre engine and the 3.0 litre inline six cylinder engines earned a spot on Ward’s Communications ’10 Best Engines’ list. Ward’s is a respected U.S. auto industry publication.

All-wheel-drive system

BMW’s all-wheel-drive system is a full-time four-wheel-drive system that sends 62% of the engine’s power to the rear wheels and 38 percent to the front wheels, all the time. By sending more power to the rear wheels, this kind of system minimizes the effects of torque steer on the front wheels, improving steering control. And because the 330xi is based on a rear-wheel-drive vehicle, its front to rear weight distribution remains about 50/50 even with the all-wheel-drive system, which contributes to balanced handling and vehicle dynamics.

To improve traction and stability, the 330xi uses a complicated computer-controlled system that selectively and automatically operates individual brakes instead of using conventional differential locks to transfer engine torque from front to rear or from side to side.

To stabilize the car on its vertical axis (prevent spin-outs), the 330xi uses BMW’s sophisticated Dynamic Stability Control system (DSC-X) (standard with all-wheel drive models) which monitors individual wheel speed, steering wheel angle and vehicle direction. If it senses oversteer or understeer, such as when entering a curve too quickly, DSC-X selectively applies the brakes, or reduces engine power to help keep the car under control.

To prevent wheelspin at any wheel, the Automatic Differential Brake component of DSC-X detects slip at any of the four wheels and brakes the wheel that is spinning, thereby redirecting torque to the wheels with more grip. And to prevent the driving wheels from spinning on slippery surfaces, the Automatic Stability Control reduces wheelspin on the driving wheels by moderating engine power and applying the brakes.

If you think this sounds complicated, it is! But to the driver, the AWD system operates invisibly, acting only when it’s needed automatically.


330i vs 330xi

There’s no doubt that the 330xi offers superior performance on ice, snow and gravel when compared to the rear-wheel-drive 330i, but there are some penalties related to the extra weight. The all-wheel-drive model is 95 kg (209 lb.) heavier than the rear-drive model, which means a slight penalty in fuel consumption. In city driving, the 330xi offers 11.9 l/100 km (24 mpg) compared to the 330i’s 11.4 l/100 km (25 mpg). On the highway, the 330xi gets 7.9 l/100 km (36 mpg) compared to the 330i’s 7.3 l/100 km (39 mpg).

There’s also a penalty in performance. While the 330i takes just 6.8 seconds to go from 0 to 100 km/h, the 330xi takes 7.5 seconds with the manual transmission (7.9 seconds with the automatic transmission).

And while the 330i’s turning circle is 10.5 metres (34.4 feet), the 330xi’s is 10.9 metres (35.8 feet).

Overall though, these are fairly minor penalties for the extra poor-weather performance that the 330xi offers.

Driving impressions

Test Drive: 2001 BMW 330xi car test drives bmw
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The 330xi’s 3.0 litre inline six cylinder engine has a broad, even powerband that reaches its 6000 rpm redline with ease. Though the 330xi is a bit slower from 0 to 100 km/h than the 330i, its time of 7.5 seconds puts it at, or near the top of its class. On the freeway, the engine does a comfortable 2500 rpm at 100 km/h, and is very smooth and quiet.

Under acceleration, the engine lets out a sporty but muted high-pitched roar, but when cruising it’s barely audible. Outward visibility is good to the front and sides, but the rear deck is quite high.

The standard five-speed manual shifter has smooth, well-defined shifts, but I found the ‘spring-loaded’ clutch pedal requires more effort than I liked. In addition, if the driver releases the clutch pedal too quickly, there is a ‘thunk’ from the rear axle, and a bit of fore-aft jerking motion. I didn’t have a chance to test the optional 5-speed automatic ‘Steptronic’ transmission on this car, but on other BMW’s, it offers superb performance with the option of clutchless gear shifting if you so desire.

I found the steering to be quick, responsive, with just enough boost to be sporty without being difficult to steer. Standard four wheel disc brakes with ABS provide excellent stopping power, pulling the car to a stop from 100 km/h in 41.1 metres (135 feet) according to official AJAC test results. The brakes are a tad sensitive though, requiring careful modulation.

The ride is smooth and comfortable on well-paved roads, and impressively, offers superb balance and control over rough, undulating pavement. This has a lot to do with the car’s even 50/50 front/rear weight distribution, longitudinal drivetrain, and fully independent suspension. The 330xi includes front MacPherson struts and independent ‘Z’ axle rear suspension and standard Continental 205/50R-17 inch all-season tires. The 330xi handles curves with uncommon ease, and it’s not only fun to drive – it’s easy to drive. It’s additional ride height of 17 mm doesn’t affect handling significantly – I would say that it feels slightly more ‘tippy’ during cornering, but not unduly.

On slippery surfaces, like gravel, the all-wheel-drive system helps ‘pull’ the car out of a corner, and combined with DSC-X, helps prevent the rear-end from swinging out and the front-end from ‘ploughing’ when entering or leaving a corner too quickly. The all-wheel-drive also gives the 330xi excellent traction in snow and on ice, reducing the chance of getting stuck or sliding into a snow bank. As it’s completely automatic, the AWD system operates instantaneously when travelling from dry to slippery conditions – an asset when travelling on well-groomed roads where a shady spot can mean a sudden patch of ice. Unlike part-time four-wheel-drive systems, there’s no need to engage four-wheel-drive manually – it’s all automatic.

The 330xi does not offer BMW’s ‘Hill Descent Control’ which acts like a Low Gear when travelling up or down steep hills. That’s because the 330xi is not meant to be an ‘off-road’ vehicle, but rather an ‘on-road’ with occasional light off-road use.


Interior

My test car had a black interior with dark wood trim – only the chrome door handles helped to brighten up its rather sombre interior. The traditional white-on-black round gauges, including a tachometer, have new chrome rings for 2001, and directly below the main instruments are an instant fuel consumption gauge and digital trip computer and odometer.

My car had an AM/FM/cassette player with a trunk mounted 6-disc CD changer. The standard in-dash CD was deleted to accommodate an optional in-dash Navigation system which includes a small video screen to the right of the radio and a trunk-mounted CD map reader. The navigation system includes route instructions for Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver, and the roads in between. Area maps range in scale from 100 metres to 100 kilometres – the driver inputs his/her destination using a toggle switch, and the system gives visual and audible directions, such as ‘turn left in 100 metres’, or ‘make a right turn now’. This allows the driver to keep their eyes on the road while driving, and not on the screen. The Navigation system is rather expensive though: $3900.

The front seats are high-quality sport seats with excellent thigh and torso support with six adjustments. The rear seats have adequate knee room and headroom for two rear passengers and there is a fold-down centre armrest, but the cabin is a bit narrow for three rear passengers. For rear storage, there are rear seat pockets and a small bin, but no rear cupholders. The power rear windows do go all the way down.

My test car had single-zone automatic climate control, three-level front seat heaters, and optional rear folding sunshade. There are two cupholders behind the shift lever that adjust to different-sized cups, and a flip-up coinholder and open storage bin behind that. Between the front seats is a folding armrest/storage bin, but it is quite small. Like all BMW’s, the power window buttons are located on the lower centre console, not on the doors.

My biggest beef with the interior is the lack of storage space. Other than the front door map pockets and a small glove box, there isn’t anywhere to put CD’s, cell phones, tissue boxes and so forth.

The 330xi’s big 440 litre trunk is quite deep and includes a small tool kit, and two small plastic storage trays behind the wheelwells. A full-size spare tire is located underneath the floor. To increase cargo space, the folding rear seatbacks can be released with a lever in the trunk, and there’s also an (optional) ski pass-through behind the centre rear armrest.


Safety features

The 330xi offers extensive safety features including six airbags: driver, passenger, door-mounted side airbags and head curtain airbags. Other standard safety features include a rigid passenger safety cell and collapsible front and rear crush zones, four three-point seatbelts and one rear lapbelt, four height-adjustable head restraints, immobilizer, and seatbelt pre-tensioners.


Price and features

Test Drive: 2001 BMW 330xi car test drives bmw
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For its base price of $49,000, the 330xi includes a manual five-speed transmission, all-wheel-drive and DSC-X, 17 inch tires and alloy wheels, 6 airbags, cloth or leatherette upholstery, 6-way manually adjustable heated front seats, automatic climate control, AM/FM/CD stereo with six speakers, central door locking, power windows with anti-trapping feature, tilt/telescopic steering wheel with steering wheel controls for stereo and cruise control, speed-sensitive wipers, cruise control, heated mirrors, headlight washers and washer jets, foglights, sunroof, and Xenon gas-discharge headlights.

Major option packages include a Navigation Package ($3,900); Sport Package which includes a sport suspension, multifunction steering wheel, special alloy wheels, and sport seats ($2,900); and Premium Package including Harmon Kardon sound system, Montana leather upholstery, ski bag, power seats with memory, and auto dim mirror ($5,000).

Individual options are 5-speed automatic Steptronic transmission ($1,200); cloth/leather seats ($775); Montana leather upholstery ($2,375); rear side airbags ($525); rear sun shade ($390); Myrtle wood trim ($585); power seats ($1,800); Park Distance Control ($550); Harmon Kardon sound system ($950).

My well-equipped test car with most of these options came to $62,660.


Technical Data:

2001 BMW 330xi
Base price $49,000
Price as tested $62,660
Type 4-door, 5 passenger compact sedan
Layout longitudinal front engine/all-wheel-drive
Engine 3.0 litre inline 6 cylinder, DOHC, 24 valves
Horsepower 225@ 5900 rpm
Torque 214 lb-ft @ 3500 rpm
Transmission 5-speed manual
Tires 205/50HR-17 inch
Curb weight 1505 kg (3318 lb.)
Wheelbase 2725 mm (107.2 in.)
Length 4471 mm (176.0 in.)
Width 1739 mm (68.5 in.)
Height 1434 mm (56.5 in.)
Trunk space 440 litres (15.5 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption City 11.9 l/100 km (24 mpg)
  Hwy 7.9 l/100 km (36 mpg)
Warranty 4 yrs/80,000 km




About Greg Wilson

Greg Wilson is a Vancouver-based automotive journalist and contributor to Autos.ca. He is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).