Winner: BMW 330i
SUV popularity continues to erode medium-size prestige car sales and it’s a tough market for all its competing models. The race for your hard-earned cash remains close between the traditional European brands, and this year the reinvented Genesis, having untied the apron strings from Hyundai to become a standalone premium brand, has entered the mix.
Back in 1975, BMW’s first 3 Series was touted as the ‘ultimate driving machine’, and that DNA has flowed through the veins of successive models ever since. It’s no coincidence that the range has featured on the Australia’s Best Cars podiums every year since 2011, occupying top spot on four occasions.
The current 330i, launched earlier in 2019, is the seventh generation from the marque and is a product of evolution, with a carry-over 2.0-litre petrol engine and eight-speed automatic transmission, albeit with slightly more power and torque. BMW’s M Sport package is a standard no-cost option and, if buyers prefer, they can go for the Luxury Line option featuring different leather trim, minus the M Sport body kit.
Sporting a new-look, single-piece kidney grille and LED headlamps, the 330i’s silhouette is sharper and better integrated, enhanced with larger 19-inch alloys. Aerodynamically, the 330i has been improved to cut through the air more efficiently and 55 kilos have been shed (depending on spec) to reduce fuel consumption, putting it close to the hybrids in the category in terms of fuel economy.
The interior has had a complete makeover with a multi-configurable electronic instrument cluster, colour head-up display and 10.25-inch infotainment display. Leather-trimmed seats deliver category-leading levels of comfort and the new design is more spacious, providing additional legroom in the rear. Ergonomically, the design is simpler and cleaner, with major controls operated via a rotary dial in the centre console, which is surrounded by key shortcut buttons.
BMW’s continuing pursuit of 50/50 front-to-rear weight distribution – aimed at striking a better-balanced and more dynamic chassis – continues to pay dividends, and this latest version is just as impressive as its forebears in balance and poise through the bends, which its peers in the category are yet to match. The sporty flavour doesn’t compromise ride quality unduly, where the 330i remains at the forefront.
As a long-distance tourer the 330i would make an excellent choice. The 2.0-litre 190kW, 400Nm four-cylinder turbo engine is more than suited to the task. Performance from the engine is deceiving, where it feels sporty and responsive, but with smoothness and quietness levels normally the domain of more luxurious and expensive models. A car that provides such a sense of connection to it is difficult to achieve, and the 330i manages to capture the feeling for a deserving win once again in 2019.
Nipping at its heels, the all-new Genesis G70 2.0T inherits some of the attributes that made its larger sibling, the G80 (then known as a Hyundai Genesis), a former Australia’s Best Cars category winner. Those attributes included a long warranty and low running and repair costs, and the G70 builds on those strengths with an impressive set of on-road scores.
Powering it is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo engine developing 179kW and 353Nm, matched to an eight-speed automatic transmission. While it’s not as refined as the 330i’s, it’s an effective package delivering solid performance levels. Development work carried out in Australia ensures the G70 has the ability to handle the tight stuff and the plush ride impressed the judging team over poorer sections of road.
While the interior has all the features expected in a premium sedan and the finish is well executed, there’s still a hint of Hyundai design. However, the G70’s second placing at its first attempt will no doubt be unsettling for the competition in the future.
For the third-placed Volkswagen Arteon, persistence had been rewarded as its predecessor CC sedan has always been among the front-runners in the category. The Arteon’s mechanical package features a 206kW, 350Nm four-cylinder turbo and seven-speed DSG, and the potent combination uses Volkswagen’s AWD system to get the power to the ground. The Arteon has a sporty attitude and feel on the road and it’s not far off the BMW 330i in its handling ability. It’s only towards its limits that the Arteon loses its composure and is where the BMW has an edge.
Astute buyers will notice that in most of the key areas the Arteon does well, accumulating scores across the board, and the standard features list is extensive. The package is wrapped in an eye-catching fastback body style that’s arguably one of the most stylish to come from the brand yet.