Guest Rental Review: 2020 BMW 330i Premium Pack

Please give a warm welcome to Nick and his Rental Review, sent to me on November 17, 2020 but just published now! I’m sitting on a backlog of great contributions that will be trickling out in the month to come. If you’d like to see your name in here, let me know — jb

Making good on a promise to my youngest son, I picked up a Melbourne Red 2020 BMW 330i (G20) with a Premium Pack from Enterprise, upgrading from a full-size using points accumulated from a few 15-passenger van rentals and a little work travel. The plan – cannonball 1,100 miles to and from Northeast Indiana to Statesville, NC and back in a weekend for some mining, creeking, and fluming.

With my BMW experience limited to driving a friend’s dad’s E36 330i 6MT and a racing teammates’ 228i M-Sport 6MT, I went into this with an open mind and hoped for an improvement over the CVT Fusion Hybrid or Malibu in the full-size area, and the Chrysler 300 in the PXAR zone.

I made the wrong choice.

The 330i beats the hybrid Fusion and matches the real-world fuel burn of the Malibu, generates plenty of shove from the 2.0T/8-speed combo, but rides poorly, lacks Corolla-level radar cruise and lane-keeping assistance, and the hideously uncomfortable base seats will make you look for ways to exchange it for something else on a long trip.

Initial impressions of the BMW’s interior created a good impression, if your view of ‘luxury’ consists of ephemeral pixel counts and refresh rates. The “Live Cockpit Professional” digi-gages and big-ass high-res center stack screen clearly display information in bright sunlight. Wireless CarPlay quickly and easily paired with my phone, rendering the confusing BMW menus moot.

The dial knob reminded me of a worse version of the Mazda rotary controller, but at least BMW lets you touch the screen while underway. You’ll have to hack your Mazda to allow that.

The speedo and backwards-running tach (possibly a metaphor for BMW’s iX ad campaign), however, can’t be seen in my preferred driving position. Much like a Charger, a speedo repeater in the center left of the display makes it easy to keep an eye on velocity. The tach side of the dash displays horsepower, torque, fuel economy, and a few other bits of information.

Buttons for the three drive modes – Sport, Comfort, and Eco Pro – positioned next to the shifter, alter throttle, transmission, and steering response on command. Eco Pro turns the instrument cluster a refreshing blue, but retards the throttle to the point of it being an on-off button – no forward motion unless you smash it through the downshift detent.

Under way, it is immediately apparent this ‘compact’ sport sedan weighs as much as a Charger (3800lbs vs 3900 lbs in base-ish trim). Other autowriters hail the G20 as return to form for the 3-series from the F30.

Never having spent any time in a F30 BMW, I can only assume it was a Panther-platform derivative given how the base G20 felt on the road.

BMW attempts to mask the weight with a low-compliance suspension, and it did turn in crisply on low-profile Contis on the way home to load up.

The 2.0T, however, sounded as bad as the 2.0 Atkinson cycle MZR 4-pot lashed to an unhappy CVT in the Fusion Hybrid I rented in February to head to Barber Motorsports Park in the ‘before times’.

While the BMW had plenty of shove across its range and freely revved to redline, excess power doesn’t matter on long highway trips, particularly when about a third of the drive is across heavily-patrolled Ohio.

Only on I-77 did I utilize the turbocharger. Gaps to pass on the way up were few and far between. Lag-free turbo torque allowed rapid acceleration to advance up the Appalachians. This is a strong engine that flies in the 228i and is all you’ll ever need in a G20 platform 3-series.

Brakes, when needed, were more than adequate, but lacked feel and were very grabby. I’ll chalk some of that up to 27,000 hard rental miles. In any event, they were not as good as the C4 Corvette setup found on a certain Pontiac Transport I used to race.

Regardless, I’d gladly trade the surplus ponies for the Fusion’s highway ride, and would have paid double to be able to switch to the Chrysler 300.

About the time I started ascending I-77, my son pointed out the lack of legroom in the back. I had him behind the driver, thinking there’d be plenty of room in a car with a wheelbase longer than a standard-size E32 7-series.

There wasn’t. At a stop in West Virginia, I moved his booster behind the passenger seat and shoved the front seat forward to make more room, ending the complaining, but clarifying the 330i is far from space-efficient.

This also was the time the seat discomfort became unsolvable. The non-M Sport seats are garbage – hard with ridiculous lumbar adjustment, and just impossible to find a good seating position. The 228i M-Sport I’d driven had substantially better seats.

Being mainly an Audible and podcast junkie, I’m not qualified to opine on the stereo other than to say it was fine. Road noise is present, but wind noise isn’t. Overall, the cabin almost reaches the level of quietness my similarly-priced F-150 does with none of the extra room.

Over the summer, I drove the same route in a 106hp 6MT Yaris iA badged Mazda 2 to Charlotte Motor Speedway, where I raced against a number of E30s and E36s.

The little Mazda, at a lean 2300lbs, does a much better job at channeling the BMWs racers love than the current 3-series. Its Euro ND Miata 1.5 Skyactiv quickly revs, the seats are all-day comfortable, and it rides substantially better, although crosswinds push it around much more than the, uh, road-hugging Bimmer. No question, it is louder and the lack of a center armrest is annoying, but it’s a far more rewarding thing to drive in every situation than the lease-special status symbol BMW.

The BMW’s strong point came at the pumps. I went from a Pilot Travel Center in Wytheville, VA to my house – 468 miles – nonstop at a reported 39mpg (a lot of time on US 35 in Ohio helped raise it) and the trip computer said I could go another 80 miles before running out of gas.

While my son was fine after some seat rearranging, I regretted upgrading to the Ultimate Driving Machine. I’d have been far better served with a full-size rental spec lowercase ‘c’ car, let alone a Chrysler 300.

Supposedly, I’m in BMW’s target demographic. The G20 330i left me with spinal pain and a strong desire to never consider a BMW for anything. I returned it full of self-satisfaction about my choice to stock my driveway with a resale friendly F-150 and cheap and cheerful Yaris iA.

31 Replies to “Guest Rental Review: 2020 BMW 330i Premium Pack”

  1. Michael-Scott Earle

    I enjoyed this review. If the writer is looking for feedback, edging the vocabulary and esoteric references more toward the center of the bell curve would lead to a more enjoyable read.

  2. stingray65

    Nice review – BMW seats are almost always rated very comfortable in reviews, but most of the tester cars have the seat upgrade option so nice to hear how the base seat are – clearly BMW is trying to encourage most customers to check the upgrade box. Tesla fan boys will no doubt chime in about how the Model 3 would have been a better choice although no Tesla is able to do 468 miles on a “tank” with 80 left in reserve, but if the BMW seats aren’t good enough to roll up the miles non-stop it does take away a lot of the road trip range advantage.

  3. John C.

    Thanks Nick for the review. The mileage, I am assuming on regular is excellent and to their credit BMW hasn’t yet shrunk the gas tank. It is also has a nice color.

    The aggressive tires on the not sport model do seem off track. Today man-boys like to live simulated rather than actual life. So maybe hard seats, and the simulated feel of electric steering and the instant gratification of wild acceleration, once you set this mode to here and that mode to there, are where we are at to get buyers to sign up for the payments. It all seems like the manufacturer thinks we are 12.

  4. NYCFinanceGuy

    I also rented a 3-series last year. I can’t remember which engine or which seats it had, although the seats were fine.

    It was such a turd of a car – nothing felt special about it at all. The thing I remember the most was that when I accelerated briskly in sport mode, it made a cheesy engine soundtrack through the stereo. It didn’t sound realistic at all – can’t imagine it fooling anyone. This year as part of my move to the suburbs I bought an e90 m3. Part of my decision was the realization that bmws will never again be great driver cars – it’s now or never for this kind of car.

  5. goose

    Nice review, I read the whole thing, thanks!!

    Don’t understand the vocabulary request/note though. Seemed fine to me?

  6. Jay Puddybuc

    Great review. My father still talks about the BMW his grandfather bought back around 1970, and a couple of friends owned a few in the late 80’s/ early 90’s, but I also had limited BMW experience when I got a free upgrade to a BMW in Phoenix AZ a couple of years ago. I was quite excited, because even though I travel for work and rent cars 40 weeks of the year- I never get so lucky as to get a free upgrade to the Ultimate Driving Machine!… I returned it the following morning for some Korean compact with a Chevy badge. It was that bad. Maybe BMW builds a few great performance cars to sell thousands of crap ones to fools, I dunno.

    • Gary

      We’ve got a review author who prefers a Mazda 2 in every driving situation (or, at least finds it more rewarding… whatever that means) to this current BMW 3 series and you’re saying you actively exchanged a rental BMW (assuming 3 series) so you could instead drive a Chevy Cruz.

      Both sound like bullshit to me.

  7. Carmine

    One thing I’ve noticed on these, the grilles are completely fake……

    Sounds like an unpleasant turd of a car that is only bought because of the perceived prestige of the badge……so its pretty much like most other BMW’s.

    • Tom Klockau

      I saw what must have been a newish 3/4 Series coupe last week, at first I thought it was a Camaro, then I saw the steroid-misshapen grill and realized it was a Bought My Wife…

  8. gtem

    About a year and a half ago my wife and I were noodling on an upgrade to her 2012 Camry, looking very predictably at this exact segment of 3 series (used F30 gen), A4s, Infiniti Q50 as well as a Golf Alltrak and up-trim Mazda 3 2.5 (stick, hatchback). My overall takeaway is that none of the cars felt fundamentally different or better to drive than a almost-10 year old 4cyl Camry. Better acceleration sure, a few nicer interior bit sure, a bit nicer ride/handling, okay. But nothing stood out as particularly interesting/exciting that made us want to drop ~$25k on any of the above vehicles. We then shifted gears and considered half ton trucks (to replace said camry along with my old 4Runner). I understand why so many people are driving half tons these days. It was a much more exciting prospect to consider, and I enjoyed driving a new 8spd Hemi Ram Tradesman with 3.92 gears a lot more than any of those “sports sedans.”

    • Gary

      I think this says more about the quality of the Camry than it does the disappointment of the up market alternatives.

      I experienced the same thing when shopping to replace a 05′ Accord. I had to jump all the way up to a 15′ Lexus GS350 before I had a feeling of “this is a genuine improvement in every way”.

    • arbuckle

      “Infiniti Q50”

      You couldn’t coax oversteer from a Q50? Were you looking at a 2.0t version? I’m not saying the 3.7L Q50 is amazing but it does have a 7500 RPM redline and can do RWD things when you ask for it.

      • gtem

        I test drove a 3.0TT Premium trim car, so more cushy than sporty. The odd thing is that the 3.7L you mentioned is rated for as much (more?) horsepower than the twin turbo V6 that was the intended replacement. Now, presumably you can turn up the boost rather easily and get to the 400hp mark in a hurry.

        Driving it just didn’t elicit any kind of strong desire to buy the car.

  9. stingray65

    I haven’t rented a car for several years, but I was always told that vehicles that were widely available as rentals were models their manufacturers had difficulty moving through normal retail channels. Thus I remember getting a PT Cruiser and Taurus at great rates a year or two after those models went from hits to old news, and getting a Prius during a period when gas prices were very low and nobody cared about saving fuel. What does it say when BMW is apparently putting a lot of 3 series into rental fleets? It might be great strategy to give people who have always dreamed about a BMW a chance to experience one as a rental, but does it make sense to supply 3 series with few of the options that make them the sporty and/or very comfortable and/or technologically advanced cars they can be when properly optioned up, and leave so many “fantasy” car renters disappointed? On the other hand, the current base 3 offers more interior space and a quieter ride than the E39 5 series that everyone remembers fondly, and a mid 5 second 0-60 with nearly 40 mpg that the current 330i delivers thoroughly smashes the speed of the E30 M3 and economy of the E30 325e that many people fantasized about back in the day, so perhaps we have gotten thoroughly spoiled by all the good vehicle options available today.

  10. gtem

    “On the other hand, the current base 3 offers more interior space and a quieter ride than the E39 5 series that everyone remembers fondly, and a mid 5 second 0-60 with nearly 40 mpg that the current 330i delivers thoroughly smashes the speed of the E30 M3 and economy of the E30 325e that many people fantasized about back in the day, so perhaps we have gotten thoroughly spoiled by all the good vehicle options available today.”

    This can be applied across the board, but the universal problem is that it seems they’ve engineered just about all the “road feel” and fun out of these things at the same time. It’s as true about a Civic as it is about a 3 series, etc.

    • stingray65

      “but the universal problem is that it seems they’ve engineered just about all the “road feel” and fun out of these things at the same time”.

      I know that electric power steering and the heavy weight of modern cars gets blamed for the reduced road feel and agility that many complain about with regards to cars such as the 3 series and Civic that were known for being fun to drive, but I wonder how much of that is “golden memories” rather than objective reality? In other words, how many people actually remember clearly how their e30 or mid-80s Civic Si handled and felt back in the day or have recently driven a well preserved one back-to-back with a modern equivalent? Or is the problem that competitors have closed the gap and a modern 3 series or Civic is no longer head and shoulders above the rest as they were when they built their reputations? On the other hand, I have to believe that BMW and Honda could engineer 1980s steering feel and handling characteristics into their modern cars if customers actually wanted it, but perhaps they have received feedback from dealers and buyers who tell them they like the lighter/isolated steering, more settled (heavier) ride and stability, and the lower noise levels and less frantic engine speeds, which all make it easier and convenient to interact with the infotainment system of the modern versions.

      • gtem

        I can tell you with absolute certainty, objective numbers for grip and acceleration aside, that the old cars were hands down more engaging. And a lot of it, beyond the whole electric power steering thing, truly is advancements in NVH suppression. I mean, we’ve gotten to the point where all these sound tubes and fake engine noises need to be plugged in. And yes all that insulation and safety brings more weight, there is simply more stuff cocooning you away from the road. I test drove a 2nd gen Prelude a few years back, and that thing was more fun at 35mph than any number of newer, faster cars at double the speed. Ditto my friend’s dad’s ’72 Camaro with a tired 350 and a 4spd. Hell even my ’91 Park Avenue, hardly the paragon of responsive steering or tight handling, was fun to whip down a twisty road, hit some gravel back roads, and cruise along the highway in, it’s just that “feel” that’s been so thoroughly engineered out of new cars.

        • SamIam

          The comment in regards to the fun level of a Prelude at 35mph rings true. I have a 1987 Mercedes Cosworth 2.3-16, the Mercedes prelude to the BMW M3, and as I tell everyone, it is the most fun you can have driving slow. I took my daughter out for a ride, and she complained as I pulled away from the stop sigh, “Dad, slow down, you’re scaring me.” I explained we were only driving 35 MPH, and she had to laugh. It is great fun to run through the gears, and make all sorts of growly go fast noise, but it gets blown off the line by all sorts of family sedans, actually probably most every, if not every, new sedan. Who cares, its fun.

          • JMcG

            I agree- my dad had a Fiat 131 back in the early 80’s that he used as a beater. It had skinny cheap tires. I used to love bombing that thing down backroads and drifting it through corners like I was driving on ice. I’d be killed if I tried it in my current car. I suppose I’m lucky I wasn’t killed in that Fiat. Though I was probably only doing 40 the whole time.

          • gtem


            Very good point on the much higher performance envelopes of cars today. Even my wife’s 4 cyl Camry on 215/55R17s takes some really aggressive/stupid driving to break loose on the street. I grew up bombing around in a Civic wagon with 92hp and 175/70R13s. So combining the much higher limits with the cocooning in of modern NVH and ride/handling engineering, you end up feeling like its always “Driving Miss Daisy” even when you try to drive aggressively on the street, and get frustrated by the lack of exhilaration, until you start pushing speed deep into the “dead/arrested” range. That’s probably why I had so much fun driving my 30 year old Park Avenue on junkyard whitewalls through the Appalachian twisties this spring: trying to maintain a steady 60mph (55mph speed limit) through the corners with smooth driving to not upset the chassis and break traction was about as much fun as I’ve had on a back road (on four wheels).

          • stingray65

            The comments bring me back to my original point. If skinny tires and limited NVH suppression are what make cars “fun to drive”, then why don’t more cars have them since such cars would also do better on fuel economy and emissions due to their lower rolling resistance and lighter weight? About the only cars that offer such things today tend to be hybrids and electrics such as the Prius, Bolt and Tesla that skimp on tire size and noise suppression in order to maximize mpg and range, but they also tend to be lethargic (Prius) and very heavy because of the battery weight and/or duplicative power systems. I therefore suspect that the reason “old fashioned” driving fun is no longer available is because very few buyers of even “performance” brands such as BMW actually drive for fun as they are too busy playing with the infotainment system on their daily slog through traffic, but they still like to have bragging rights about skidpad numbers and lap times that the vloggers and testers provide and hence get the wide sticky tires that provide them even though they don’t use them.

          • gtem

            Stingray I’d say the Miata and perhaps the BRZ are the only real expressions of this sentiment, and as we’ve seen even the “enthusiasts” that supposedly clamor for more feel and “slow car fast” sentiment lambast the BRZ for not having enough power. And I suppose it’s just too backwards for a manufacturer to create a nominally “sporty” car where they purposely put skinner tires with less grip on, make it rougher riding and noisier. It goes against every normal metric of progress on the NVH and performance front.

            You could argue that the last bit of fun in a new car is to be had in something like a stick shift Honda Fit (oops, even those are gone!), but I can say from my family going from a ’90 Civic to a new ’07 Fit, the Fit with its video-game EPS and cost cut strut front end and taller center of gravity feels nothing like that old “Golden Age” Civic to drive hard.

          • gtem

            Your point too about (most) buyers of high-zoot performance variants not actually caring about any of that stuff is very valid as well. Around here I see a lot of Macan GTS, AMG variants of whatever hunched over crossover things, etc with massively wide wheels and expensive performance brakes. They get driven to Starbucks and yoga. The wheels/brakes/badges are a LuLulemon fashion statement.

          • Jack Baruth

            You may know this, but I restored a 2.3-16 back in 2005 and ran it in the One Lap of America before selling it to a young fellow who let it rust into pieces. Great car. Beat a few Corvettes and Porsches around the One Lap tracks, even though the engine has 236k on it.

      • SamIam

        Stingray65, I did love that video. It really is a super fun car. I bought it from a widow who told me that her one request is I drive it more than her husband had. As it cost as much as a S Class in 87, I remember seeing one at a Speedway gas station in 1987 and wondering what people had to do to make enough money to buy one. Drove it in an 80 mile rally and had a great day.

      • Baconator

        I still own 2 BMWs from the 1990s, and can confirm that the older ones are much more engaging to drive. The steering feel and feedback is miles better in the older cars. They’re also much more adjustable in a corner and communicate more about the tires. I also find my older BMWs a lot more comfortable — BMW’s insistence on run-flat tires and huge wheels has made the newer models real oxcarts. Noise levels are higher on the older cars, and I do wish my E36 M3 had a sixth gear on long freeway trips.
        But the last two generations of 3/4 Series have just struck me as crappier, less comfortable, and less reliable versions of a Mercedes C-Class. As it turns out, the C-Class leases out about $100/month higher than a 3-series of comparable spec, and their unit sales are right on top of one another. So I suspect the market has agreed with me.

        BMW reminds me a lot of Cadillac in the 1980s: Still milking a brand identity that their product does not live up to.


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