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Driving down country roads

Justin Harper
Justin Harper • 8 min read
Driving down country roads
We take a road trip to a vineyard in Australia in the new BMW 330i.
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We take a road trip to a vineyard in Australia in the new BMW 330i.

SINGAPORE (May 20): While drinking and driving is never a good combination, there is one rare exception — when you are invited to test drive a luxury German sedan up to a vineyard for a spot of wine tasting. Even better if that vineyard is next to one of Australia’s national parks and the car in question is the new BMW 3 Series.

That was the mouthwatering prospect I looked forward to as I touched down in ­Albury, a small city in between Melbourne and Sydney. The plan was to drive from Albury in New South Wales to Porepunkah in Victoria, where the Feathertop Winery is based. The route down would feature many twists and turns along B and C roads, giving me the perfect opportunity to put the BMW 3 Series through its paces.

The car I test drove was the 330i, which will soon be available in Singapore. While I got to drive two variants — the 320d (diesel) and 330i — the former will not be available in Singapore. But I think the 330i, especially the M Sport package, will keep BMW 3 Series fans more than happy. There will also be a Luxury package available.

The 330i is powered by a two-litre, four-­cylinder turbocharged engine. This produces 258bhp of raw power and 400Nm of torque, which helps get the car from a standing start to 100kph in just under six seconds. But statistics only tell half the story, the proof is in the pudding as they say. And given Australia’s vast road network, there are plenty of tarmacs to test out this luxury sedan’s power and handling.

I took delivery of the car in Albury on the border of New South Wales and Victoria, and started out along minor B and C roads heading west. This is real Australian countryside and the roads were fairly empty, with ample corners and snaking bends to throw the 330i around.

Heading down to Porepunka, I had a spiralling mountain pass to navigate, which was the perfect opportunity to test out the car’s handling. It had been a while since I took on such a series of sharp left and right turns, but I was confident the 330i would give me all the help I needed.

After starting off slow, I realised the car could easily take on these snaking roads. So, I sped up and really got to feel how comfortably it hugged the corners. I was actually disappointed to be back on more familiar straight roads, although this gave me a chance to see how fast I could get up to 100kph and beyond.

Because the car is so firmly planted to the road and comfortable inside, it is dangerously easy to get up to high speeds, as you can hardly tell how fast you are going. But of course the head-up display gives you a firm reminder to slow things down. The car is driven by its rear wheels and power is efficiently channelled to the tarmac via an eight-speed automatic transmission. With the sunroof open and my hands glued to the chunky steering wheel, I reached the winery in no time. Sadly, I only got to drive to the winery, as those sensible Germans organised a coach to take me back to the hotel after the wine tasting.

But two hours of solid driving gave me a good idea of what this new 3 Series can do. It is very rare to experience a BMW that is not a pleasure to drive, and the new 330i is no different. After all, BMW’s motto is “designed for driving pleasure”. While luxury sedans are not normally my car of choice, the 330i really grew on me over the course of the drive. Performance-wise, it packed plenty of punch, although a large part of that pleasure also came from the revamped cabin.

Some would argue that the 3 Series’ previous generation looks a little outdated from the inside, especially when you look at the cabins of arch-rivals Audi and Mercedes-Benz. But the new seventh generation has undergone some major modernising. Within BMW’s new digital dashboard (called Live Cockpit Professional), there is a fully digital 12.3in instrument cluster and 10.25in control display. The display screen responds to both touch inputs and gestures, which means you can change tracks and adjust the volume by moving your left hand.

This new 3 Series has plenty of technology that not only catches up with its rivals but puts it ahead of them in many areas. For example, semi-autonomous driving technology has been introduced, so you can take your hands off the wheel for a few seconds and the car will automatically accelerate/brake and follow the road.

Standard safety equipment includes lane departure warning as well as a collision and pedestrian warning. The intelligent city braking function alerts the driver when a cyclist is detected, and is supported by driver assistances such as lane change departure warning, rear collision prevention and cross-traffic alert.

Even the BMW head-up display has been updated and now features a larger projection surface, new graphics and additional display content. If this were not enough, making its debut in the new 3 Series is BMW’s Intelligent Personal Assistant, a kind of in-car Siri or Google Assistant. Just start your sentence with “Hey BMW” and ask it a question — such as “How does the high beam assistant work?” or “Is the oil level okay?” The Intelligent Personal Assistant can also help the driver with numerous other tasks including on-board entertainment.

The M Sport package is likely to be popular in Singapore, given the number of them you see on our roads. And the 330i’s M Sport features look great, adding some sporty touches to the luxury sedan. It comes with M Sport suspension (a 10mm reduction in ride height) along with electronically controlled dampers. This translates into a more direct and precise feel when you drive, improving agility, stability and cornering dynamics. And to let everyone know you opted for the M Sport trim, there are blue-painted calipers displaying the M logo. The Luxury trim is also worth considering, with its wide choice of leathers and materials.

But whether you choose the M Sport or Luxury package, you will always get a sporty and luxurious experience with the new 3 Series. I’m not sure if it was the choice of route that I took, or the prospect of wine tasting to come, but the 330i glided 300km to my final destination in no time. Or perhaps that is due to its excellent handling and balance, and the fact that it is 50kg lighter thanks to aluminium replacing some steel parts. Whatever the reason, I arrived at the Feathertop Winery with a spring in my step and a smile on my face.

While Singapore may not have Australia’s long and winding, empty country roads, the BMW 3 Series will still fit nicely into our urban landscape. It is a very versatile car that is equally at home bombing down a stretch of highway as it is cruising around a city centre. But don’t just take my word for it — the 3 Series has sold more than 15 million units since it was first launched in 1975. It has been a bestseller for the German brand for more than 40 years and it is hard to see this not continuing into the future.

BMW 330i M Sport

$252,888 including COE

Engine: 1,998cc, four-cylinder, twin turbo petrol engine

Power/torque: 255bhp/400Nm

Fuel consumption: 6.4L/100km

0 to 100kph: 5.8 seconds

Top speed: 250kph

Plenty to see and do

The twin cities of Albury-Wodonga offer a country atmosphere combined with a cosmopolitan feel. While food and wine tastings are a must-do activity for all visitors to this region, there is also a chance to burn off those calories in the nearby national park or around Albury and Wodonga.

Both cities can easily be explored by foot, allowing you to take time to appreciate the many historic buildings, some dating back to the 19th century, wide country streets and gardens. To be honest, they feel more like towns than cities — Albury has a population of just over 50,000 people.

There are also plenty of parks to wander around including the beautiful Sumsion Gardens and Albury Botanic Gardens. Albury’s Noreuil Park is one of the city’s most popular with its many picnic tables, open grass spa­ces and wildlife along the banks of the Murray River.

About 100km south of Albury-­Wodonga is the Feathertop Winery, which sits on the edge of the Mount Buffalo National Park in Victoria and was established by Kel Boynton in 1989. Originally known as Boynton’s of Bright, the wine range was rebranded as Feathertop Wines in 2005.

There are 22 varieties in the vineyard, including 14 clones of Shiraz, perfect for a full-bodied red wine lover such as myself. But there is plenty of choice whatever your preference among Prosecco, Sauvignon Blanc, ­Pinot Gris, Riesling, Vermentino, Pinot Noir, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The tastings are accompanied by food made from locally sourced produce such as prawns, pork belly and vegetables.

Justin Harper is a freelance journalist with a passion for all things fast

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