For almost as long as we can remember, BMW has been billing their vehicles as the ultimate driving machines. While quite a boast, it is one that they have well lived up too. But it does present a dilemma. When it comes time for improvements, how do you make the ultimate driving machine, well, more ultimate?
Well, in this case, the good folks at BMW took the sterling performance of their 330i sedan and polished it to a higher sheen by giving it more traction.
The result is this 2001 BMW 330xi. The X denotes the addition of an all-wheel-drive system borrowed from the BMW X5 SUV. It’s similar in operation to Mercedes-Benz 4Matic all-wheel drive. But the most important point is that we found the extra all-weather prowess in no way compromises the 3- series’ superb dry handling. Torque is split 38 percent front, 62 percent rear. This not only minimizes pulling forces on the steering, it maintains the nearly neutral handling feel the rear-wheel 3-Series is famous for. The split is accomplished by way of a center differential that employs planetary gears to direct torque to the front and rear differentials. Torque steer is negated by using equal length axle shafts between the inner CV joints and the CV joints at the wheels.
The steering feel on the 330xi is a tad heavier, but that’s not a bad thing. There is also more feedback through the steering than on rear-wheel drive models, which is also desirable. The All Season Traction control works the brakes on all four wheels to keep the torque evenly applied. And unlike rear-wheel drive models, the Dynamic Stability Control system cannot be fully deactivated. It can, however, be reset to a higher threshold of slip for driving in deep snow, or when you want to just flat out thrash the car around.
The strut-front, multi-link rear suspension is the same set up found on other 3-series, and the all-wheel drive system adds only 2/3rds of an inch to the ride height. So other than a subtle feeling of power transfer from front to rear, the 330xi is comparable to its rear-wheel drive counterparts in every performance measure.
That holds true when accelerating too. In fact, the added grip allowed us to shave a few tenths of a second off our 0 to 60 pace, as the 330xi hit 60 in just 6.2 seconds versus 6.8 seconds in the 330i. The quarter mile passed in 14.7 seconds at 96 mph. So the slightly less than 200 pounds added by the all-wheel drive system is not a problem for the 330xi’s willing 3.0 liter, DOHC, 24-valve I-6 that spins out 225 horsepower and 214 pound-feet of torque. Our tester came with the standard 5-speed manual transmission, that despite a slightly rubbery feel, is easy to shift precisely and quickly. A 5-speed Steptronic manualmatic with Adaptive Transmission Control and Sport mode is optional.
The additional weight is not a problem for the brakes either. The large 12.8 inch discs at the front and 12.6 inch at the rear, with ABS and electronic proportioning, brought us down from 60 in a short 103 feet. Although the pedal feel is somewhat mushy, there is very little ABS feedback felt through the pedal, and very little noise. Stability is excellent and brake fade was a no-show.
Inside, our 330xi tester came equipped with the Premium Package. Which trims it out with, among other things, leather power adjustable seating and real Myrtle wood trim.
It also carries a base price of $36,220. That’s an additional $1750 to the 330i’s base price for the all-wheel drive system, and we think it’s well worth it. By comparison the 330xi is more expensive than a V-6 Audi A4 Quattro, but a little cheaper than the all-wheel drive 3.0-liter Jaguar X-Type.
As we mentioned earlier, BMW billing itself as the ultimate can be a two-edged sword. Because when you’re on the top, someone is always looking to push you off. But with its additional all-weather capabilities and no apparent penalty to dry pavement handling, the 2001 BMW 330xi sedan has plenty of grip to hold on, and on… and on.
Engine: 3.0 Liter, Dohc, 24-valve, I-6
Torque: 214 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 6.2 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 14.7 Seconds @ 96 MPH
60-0 MPH: 103 Feet
EPA Mileage: 20 MPG City 27 MPG Highway