2006 BMW 330i
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Story and photos by Michael Clark

Please accept my apologies.

Not just myself, but the entire legion of automotive scribes that populate the multitude of review pages. Be it newsprint, glossy 7-dollar magazines, or internet web pages.

What should we be sorry for? Take a look outside. Tabulate the windchill. Jam a yardstick into the ground. Winter has us in it’s cold, steely grasp, so publishing a review about a car’s road holding attributes in the south of Spain right about now is an invitation to an old-fashioned snowy face-wash. That’s why this installment, and future ones until about late April, (hopefully) will address the true winter capabilities of my latest press cars. This week’s candidate is the latest BMW restyle/rethink: a 2006 330i, the rear-drive model not the all-wheel drive 330xi.

Here in Winnipeg, BMW is one of the few manufacturers that see the value of a snow tire changeover on their press fleet. Unfortunately, the changeover is done with stock 18″ alloys, which means “performance” snow tires. Let me just tighten the screws on my soap box, put fresh batteries in my megaphone, and say this: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A PERFORMANCE SNOW TIRE!!!! The low-profile Blizzaks drive this point home even more. With little sidewall bounce, the ride quality with this combination is quite rough over choppy excuses for city street ploughing.

2006 BMW 330i
Click image to enlarge

Many performance snow skins extol a quieter ride, and on this account, the Blizzies deliver. The trade-off appears to be less traction when you need it most. Stock Blizzaks on smaller steel rims would be preferred. Don’t like the noise? Turn up the radio. Unless you enjoy quiet time in snow-filled ditches waiting for roadside assistance.

Even with the baloney skins, the Bimmer’s DTC (traction control) system is truly the only healthy controlling relationship. Run-of-the-mill traction and dynamic controls tend to provide either too much wheel slip or too much handling loss before they kick in, as if they’re wagging a “don’t do that again” finger in your face. Our recent dump ‘o white has created some perfect test items, such as a snow-packed Perimeter Highway on-ramp. I suppose I should throw in the “professional driver, do not attempt” clause here. This is where all that gobbleydeegook about yaw and directional sensors and auto braking on the needed caliper come into play, as well as the throttle cutback of the ETC. Even on glare ice, the 330i snaps back into the intended path faster than you can say “conformist”. Remember, this was a strict rear driver. A 330ix all-wheeler would be a downright ride on rails.

2006 BMW 330i
Click image to enlarge

As for deep back lane snow, the 330i is adequate at best. Simply switch off the DTC if you require some wheelspin for rocking. The stock ride height can turn your front spoiler into an impromptu plough quickly. Even an AWD version could get bogged down in the deep, and the performance snows would just make matters worse. If you need clearance Clarence, the BMW X3 or X5 are the answer.

The interior climes have their benefits, such as 3-step front heated seats, and an extremely efficient rear ducting system. It can be a little too efficient for a middle passenger, as the heat fires directly into their legs. Defrost capabilities are good with two frontal passengers, however the auto temp feature is wholly inadequate with a full passenger complement. Safe window vision meant full-blast defroster fan, an unpleasurable drone. A slight whistle in the HVAC was also heard while in auto mode, as the fan modulated to maintain the preset.

2006 BMW 330i
Click image to enlarge

The heated exterior mirrors were quick to reduce ice to water droplets. The “Rest” heat function re-circulates the engine heat through the heater core while the car is turned off: a noble feature in the fight against greenhouse gases, however, in minus 20, this noble gesture lasts as long as a National Film Board vignette. The auto feature will not kick in until the engine reaches operating temperature. This means nothing to an 8-year old in the back seat on unheated leather hides. Cold weather packages need to start addressing this comfort concern, without having to drop Range Rover money.

The articulating wiper blades provide a clean sweep, however ice removal is frequent, with plenty of snow collection in the wiper well.

Those intent on having a 24/365 performance sedan in their stable will undoubtedly be pleased with the 330’s wintry abilities. Stickier winter skins are a must. Deep snow runs are best left to snowshoes for the corner store: the uninitiated will get stuck. When in doubt, full-throttle mash with the DTC on should allow carving through most back lane drifts. Once you’ve mastered the nuances, and embrace the clearance limitations, the 330i can easily become the Ultimate Winter Driving Machine.

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