3 December 2012 by Paul Clarke
Model/Engine size: 330d Touring Luxury
Fuel economy combined: 55.4mpg
The Subaru BRZ (or Toyota GT86) is quite simply one of the best driver’s cars on sale today – so what happens when it’s pitched head-to-head with our BMW 330d Touring on some of the best roads in North Wales…?
You can read our separate review of the Subaru BRZ to find out how it performed, but in summary, there’s probably no better car to pilot along the winding roads on top of the moors in North Wales. A key reason for this is the light weight of the BRZ – it tips the scales at just 1180kg. So this was an interesting test to see if the 330d Touring, which weighs 1680kg – in other words exactly half a tonne more – could compete with the BRZ in such an environment.
Both cars are front-engined, rear-wheel drive, but of course the BRZ is designed with one thing in mind – to be sporty, responsive and great fun on fast, twisting moorland roads. Whereas the 330d is designed to be a practical family estate, a comfortable motorway cruiser, and a car that keeps company drivers happy with all of its equipment and technology. So is this an unfair test? Can such an all-round vehicle really keep up with a focused sports car such as the BRZ? Well, if it can, the 330d really does deserve great praise. Here’s the low down from our specialist BMW road tester Paul Aston:
“The 330d Touring looks great and it’s a dream to drive, with superb handling and excellent power delivery through a very slick automatic gearbox. The 330d performed superbly on the Welsh twisting mountain roads of the test route and, even though this is a very practical family Touring model, it was able to keep pace with the nimble Subaru BRZ that was also being tested on the day.
“The 330d’s cornering and handling on these roads is excellent – the brakes are powerful and inspire confidence; the power delivery to the road is almost unfaltering; the auto box is very good at selecting the right gear for the corners (only very rarely was manual selection necessary using the steering wheel-mounted paddles); and the adaptive suspension in ‘Sport’ mode keeps the car firmly on the road, with only an occasional hint that the traction control and ABS might be stepping in to help. It was an excellent performance from the test car, which was in ‘Luxury’ specification; so based on experience of driving other BMWs, it’s likely that the ‘M Sport’ variant might prove to be even better under these sort of driving conditions.
“Despite the engaging drive of the 330d, the economy was very impressive. On the last eco-test section of the route, under motorway conditions and between 60-65 mph, the car delivered an incredible 61mpg; and even on the Welsh mountain roads, where much of the available power was being used, the on-board computer reported in excess of 30mpg.
“On this test, the 330d Touring was a very refined and comfortable place to be, as well as delivering an exhilarating driving experience. All the supporting technology in the cabin is intuitive and easy to use and I only found one slight niggle, which is that the drive mode setting seems to default to ‘Comfort’ once the engine is stopped and re-started, whereas I’d prefer it to stay as it was previously – there may well be a setting that can change this, but I didn’t find it.
“Overall I think the 330d is indeed every car you might ever need – but I’d like to try the M Sport spec!”
Fellow tester, and owner of the previous-generation 330d Touring, Anthony Patiniott, added: “The car just wrapped around you and felt intuitive both in the cabin and on the road. It makes everything so easy. I really liked the head-up display, especially the way it showed sat nav instructions. I’d like there to be an option to show speed limits on this display.”
Anthony also solved one of the few problems that we’ve found with the 330d so far, our inability to prevent the passenger side door mirror angling down when reversing; he did this by moving the toggle switch out of the passenger mirror adjust position. This means two things. Firstly, it reinforces our incompetence with all things technical. Secondly, in our remaining two weeks with the car, we now have to find another fault with the 330d, otherwise it may very well be the most perfect car in the world
As can be seen on the video, the BMW 330d did a good job of keeping up with the BRZ . The light weight and the very low centre of gravity of the BRZ ultimately gave it the edge through the corners, where it was completely adjustable at all speeds. In comparison the extra weight of the 330d, with its 6-cylinder 3-litre powerplant, could be felt through the corners and when braking. However it could make up time against the Subaru when accelerating on long uphill straights, when the 330d’s 560Nm of torque really contrasted against the Subaru’s torque deficiency.
The BMW can also carry five people plus a good amount of luggage, compared to the somewhat more limited accommodation in the Subaru, so for a family estate, the 330d performed incredibly well.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the two cars was that although the BRZ was great fun, stepping back into the driving seat of the 330d reminded you how refined this car feels overall.
Paul Aston has already highlighted that he achieved 61mpg from the 330d on the return motorway journey (during a previous week we managed 60mpg). However on the journey into Wales we carried out a back-to-back economy test between the two cars. Under exactly the same driving conditions the Subaru achieved exactly 40.0mpg, and the BMW returned 46.7mpg. So as well as being an all-round highly competent car, the BMW is certainly the winner from an economy point of view.
Next week the 330d is due to provide transport to a Land Rover off-road driving test day at Eastnor Castle in Hereforshire . Perhaps the Land Rover off-road course might finally be a challenge that is one step too far for the 330d Touring
Fuel economy extra urban: 62.8mpg
Fuel economy urban: 44.8mpg
Real-life economy: TBC
CO2 emissions: 135 g/km
Green rating: VED band E – first year £120
Company car tax liability (2012/13): 21%
Insurance group: TBC
Power: 258 bhp
Max speed: 155 mph
0-62mph: 5.6 seconds