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2000 BMW 330xi Review

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SEE ALSO: BMW Buyer's Guide

by Ted Laturnus

In 1990, when BMW discontinued their 325ix, I was at a press event the company held to introduce its new -1991 - model line-up. After reading his prepared remarks to the assembled journalists, then-BMW Canada boss Vic Doolan was asked why his company was ceasing production of the well-received all-wheel-drive sedan. “I wish”, he sighed, “that the public appreciated all-wheel-drive cars as much as journalists do, but the fact is they don’t. We just can’t sell this car.”

Here we are ten years later, and BMW has re-introduced an all-wheel-drive sedan to the Canadian market… the form of the 330xi, which shares technology and even some parts with its ten-year-old predecessor. Why the re-think? According to BMW marketing manager, Dan Creed, there has been a renewed demand for all-wheel-drive vehicles….especially from skiers and outdoor enthusiasts who are looking to competitors such as Audi and Volvo. BMW just wants a piece of the pie, simple as that, and company officials figure at least 15 percent of this market is going spare….they’re going after it.

The 330xi is one of eight different models that make up BMW’s 2001 3-series line-up. They include the 320i base model, M5 performance coupe, and 325 and 330 Cabriolet. The 330 model is the only one available with all-wheel-drive, and it’s a $3100 option, on top of the $45,900 base price. Interestingly, the Americans will get a station wagon version of the new 330xi, but we won’t….at least not this time around.

Power is amply provided by a 2979 cc dual overhead camshaft six cylinder that develops 225 hp at 5900 rpm, and 214 foot-pounds of torque at 3500 rpm. This engine is also used in the X5 sport ute and Z3 roadster, among others. As usual, it is powerful, eager, and a paragon of refinement. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: nobody builds a better six cylinder engine than BMW. Incidentally, the reason this company stays with the in-line configuration is a simple one: it’s an easier engine to balance, and delivers much smoother power than any comparable V6. BMW’s Variable Camshaft Adjustment system (VANOS) has been engineered into the engine, which basically modifies the position of the camshafts in relation to the crankshaft, depending upon power demands. BMW claims it improves the fuel/air mixture, while increasing power and reducing emissions, and the 330xi does comply with Ultra Low Emission Vehicle (ULEV) requirements. Two transmissions are available: automatic and manual, both with five speeds.

What really separates the 330xi from the other 3-series is, of course, the all-wheel-drive system. Using technology from the X5, power is transmitted to the rear wheels via a central differential and to the front wheels through a propeller shaft that runs through the engine’s oil pan. Power distribution is 62 percent to the rear and 38 percent to the front. To accommodate the drivetrain, the 330xi has a body height 17 mm (0.67 in.) higher than the conventional sedan. It also weighs about 200 kilos more. As well, there are a couple of drivetrain safeguards in the form of a traction control system (ASC+T) and a differential brake (ADB-X) that prevents wheel slippage. During the introduction of the 330xi, in southern Alberta and northern Montana, we were treated to about 150 km of gravel roads, and the car really has to be pushed before it breaks away. Not impossible, but as soon as things get slippery, power is redirected to other wheels. You can hang the tail out during power slides, but not for long; the engine just cuts power and that’s the end of it. The traction control system can be disabled, but why would you want to do that?

And, of course, the 330xi is a treat behind the wheel. It accelerates cleanly….0 to 100 km/h in just over six seconds, the transmission linkage is beyond reproach, and the car has a wonderful sense of balance and poise not always found in this market. I did notice a slight drivetrain rumble in my test car, but it’s nothing obtrusive, and the 330xi is a four-wheel-drive vehicle, after all. Equipment level, as you might expect, is very high, with leather interior, heated front seats, dual zone climate control system, power windows, mirrors and door locks, and airbags all over the place….front, sides, and back….coming as standard issue. Optional equipment includes rear seat side airbags, cell phone pre-wiring, and a Global Positioning System. Canada, we are assured, has been fully mapped out, and if you think the GPS worth the additional $3900, knock yourself out. Me, I think it’s a waste of money.

But if you want that extra bit of security for lousy weather or the odd foray up to the ski hills, the 330ix is just the ticket. The price tag is a little on the high side, but you’ll definitely get what you pay for. And to all those buyers who turned their noses up at the old 325ix: maybe it’s time to take another look.

SPECS Seating: Five Drivetrain: 3.0 liter in-line six cylinder engine/ five-speed automatic & manual transmissions. Power: 225 hp at 5900 rpm/214 foot-pounds of torque at 3500 rpm Wheelbase: 2725 mm Brakes: Four-wheel disc w. ABS Base price: $49,000