Summary

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Along with all the heavy duty iDrive and ConnectedDrive technology, this car also has a very nice line in entertainment. Key components include the high resolution 8.8in LCD panel, 12GB of storage space for music files, support for MP3 and WMA formats, RDS radio tuner, USB connectivity, full iPod support and a single-disc in dash optical drive that not only plays DVDs and CDs but can also rip the latter to hard disk.

Music playback and management is arguably the most important aspect of any in-car entertainment system and here the 330d really delivers. Two USB sockets enable compatibility with MP3 and WMA music files located on a USB memory device. One is located in the glove box, the other in the centre armrest storage bin. Slightly oddly, the first only supports transfer of files to and from the system, while the other is restricted to direct playback of files from the storage device itself and iPod support.

If you choose to transfer files to the internal hard drive, you simply select the folder in question on your USB device and let rip. Any secondary folder hierarchy is maintained and each transfer creates a new entry in the on-board music library. It's a similar scenario for CD ripping, with each album appearing as an item in the library. CD ripping is pretty slow, but on the plus side the system is smart enough to recognise a partially ripped CD and resume the process should you accidentally eject mid-rip.

If you are wondering how the ripping works, CD data is provided by a built-in copy of the Gracenote database, enabling automated track labeling. Along with the static Gracenote database, the system can also poll the online version should you attempt to rip a CD that is newer than the built-in database. It's just a shame that this doesn't happen automatically. It requires that you drill down a few levels in the menu. Likewise, upon insertion of a USB key, the iDrive interface does not throw up any alerts or prompts. In our view, that's a bit of a basic oversight as well as being trivial to fix.

Nevertheless, in terms of overall music management, BMW has done a pretty good job. Not only can you delete ripped CDs and USB uploads, you can also transfer music back onto a USB device. As for playlist support, correctly formatted M3U files are supported, but there's no facility for creating playlists in the car itself. Given how simple that would be to implement, it's a pretty baffling limitation.

Still, viewing the remaining space available for music storage is very simple even if we do rather wish BMW had provided more than 12GB. For sure, that will be enough for many users. But this is the year 2009 and the 330d is a £30,000 motor car. Surely, that's enough to buy 100GB or so and therefore guarantee that 99.999 per cent of users never run out of space?

Of course, if you're a big iPod fan, on board storage will not be an issue. BMW was among the first car manufacturers to jump on the iPod bandwagon and its latest iPod control interface is one of the best. Effectively, all the music and data on your iPod can be played back or presented in the iDrive interface. That includes contacts, calendar entries and notes. The only exception is video files.

Indeed, the iDrive iPod menu offers essentially the same headings and hierarchy as the iPod itself, listing your music library by album, artist, track and so on. Likewise, playlists stored on iPods are also accessible. It's all presented extremely clearly and the iDrive wheel control interface will feel very familiar to any iPod user, which is a big win in our book.

At least, that's the theory. The system refused to pick up the playlists on our first-gen nano test iPod. We queried BMW's Ian Munday regarding this slight glitch and he told us that the early nanos are supported but that the software level of the device can sometimes cause problems. Unfortunately, we had to return the car before we had a chance to update our nano with the latest firmware and retest. However, such is the overall slickness and polish with which the iPod interface works, we're willing to give BMW the benefit of the doubt. Inability to create playlists on the go aside, using your iPod in the 330d is a thoroughly painless experience.

You might expect top notch music playback and iPod support to be a given for the latest revision of iDrive. But what about DVD movies? It's certainly easy to dismiss this as a gimmick - there are no screens for rear seat occupants, for example. But whatever you think about the idea of watching movies in a stationary car (motion video is only displayed when the car is parked) on an 8.8in screen mounted in the dash, there's no doubting BMW has absolutely made the most of the feature.

For starters, the screen boasts excellent interpolation thanks to its very tight pixel pitch. It is a little awkwardly proportioned, admittedly. The ultra-wide aspect means that standard 16:9 video content does not fill the screen horizontally. However, thanks to a zoom function, anamorphic DVD movies with aspect ratios of 2:1 and more can be set to fill the screen very nicely indeed, at which point you begin to appreciate the excellent viewing angles and subtle colour balance.

BMW has included a basic set of colour, brightness and contrast controls, while the large binnacle above the screen does a great job of reducing unwanted glare. Then factor in the superb surround sound imaging from the audio system and you have a remarkably pleasant movie viewing experience. It's so good, you just might find yourself 30 minutes into a test movie when you'd only intended to evaluate it for five minutes, if you catch our drift.

Standard AM and FM RDS radio is your lot, there's no digital radio. But BMW has still done a great job of integrating an antediluvian analogue technology into the iDrive interface. The airways are constantly scanned for RDS enabled radio stations. The results are listed in alphabetical order, allowing you to scroll from station to station with gay abandon. It's hardly a unique system, but it still deserves credit for ease of use.

The sound quality of the BMW Professional Multimedia Package presents something of a conundrum. On the upside, it's extremely precise, the imaging of the sound stage is very well controlled and there's significant dynamic range and clarity.

However, the system is just a little clinical and lacking in warmth. The wow factor that enables the very best in-car stereos to pummel your kidneys while setting your hair on end is also missing. What it probably needs is a bit more bass extension. In the end, it comes down to expectations. For most owners, the audio package will deliver all they will ever need and more. The most discerning users will inevitably be left wanting more. It was ever thus.

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Steve

April 28, 2009, 1:16 pm

A hideously looking monstrosity of a car. BMW's of late look absolutely vile! And don't get me started on the X6....

Riyad

April 28, 2009, 5:44 pm

@Steve - You’ll get no argument from me, I think that the 3 Series saloon is an ugly beast. Although at least the rear light clusters on this facelift model aren’t as rank as the ones on the original. Of course my trusty coder Rich will argue to the death that the 3 Series saloon is stunning, but at least he’s otherwise sane.





Personally I just can’t believe how big the 3 Series is now. The 1 Series coupe is about the size that the E30 3 Series coupe was! There’s no denying that the technology that BMW is squeezing into its cars is pretty impressive though.

MarioM

April 28, 2009, 7:24 pm

Regarding Information Plus - I'm sure that Fiat had something like this about five or six years ago in the Stilo. Anybody remember? If you went for the satnav option and installed a simcard, you could press some sort of 'Help' button and be put through to a call centre where they could send e.g. a local hotel (or garage more like) to your Nav.


Or am I dreaming again? If not, it's surprising how long it takes for tech to make it's way through cars...

Chris

April 28, 2009, 10:27 pm

@Mario: Sounds like you're thinking of SmartNav. That's not particularly new or impressive technology and it's not confined to Fiat. It's not quite the same thing either. If you asked the SmartNav lady for the atomic weight of Boron, she'd probably hang up on you whereas a BMW lady would kindly oblige.


The closest I've heard of is the 'concierge' service that used to come with a VW Phaeton, although that was more for restaurant reservations, theatre tickets and the like.

ChrisC

April 28, 2009, 10:58 pm

I still think the previous generation 3 series looks far more 'premium' that the current version. The interiors have always been solid but at the same time looked a little old fashioned too, eg. the dials haven't changed much over the years. However, you just can't argue with the way they drive, they are all excellent cars (begrudgingly even the X5 & X6, for what they are), and the latest generation of diesel engines are in a league of their own, returning some amazing Co2 results alongside some serious performance figures.





Anyway, there has to be a point when all this tech gets distracting to the driver, but then seeing as we spend more and more time stuck in traffic jams, having lots of functionality might actually help preserve our sanity!!

Mark Peter

April 28, 2009, 11:49 pm

"open out the iDrive platform" - now there's a thought. It's one thing to brick your iphone with a dodgy app but messing up your traction control system opens up whole ranges of interesting possibilities...

Chris

April 29, 2009, 3:48 pm

@ChrisC: The facelift gives it a far more 'premium' look. The new creases in the bonnet lend some aggression and the new rear and light clusters are far more distinctive. The previous rear clusters were ripped straight from a Mitsubishi Charisma, the most inaptly named car in history.





Also, look out for some impressive new diesel engines from Mercedes and Jaguar. Merc's new 4-cyl C250 CDI does 0-60 in 7.1, returns 'over 50 mpg' and pumps out 138g/km CO2.

Jim Fulton

April 30, 2009, 1:31 am

I drive an 07 335d Coupe, with the earlier generation iDrive. I agree with a lot Jeremy says, I went for upgraded speakers and they make a big difference to the sound, much cheaper than the horrendously expensive Harmon Kardon option. As for the quoted range, you'll find that a bit optimistic. 600-650 miles, certainly, I manage around 500-550 in the 335d at a steady 75-80 on a long run.





Agree with Chris, the new Jaguar XF engine with the twin turbodiesel is getting great reviews, must be worth a look.

Rich 42c5

May 1, 2009, 7:53 pm

A stunning, stunning car. I'd hit it

rpmoore

July 27, 2010, 5:43 pm

Thanks for the great info on connected drive. I have just bought a new F10 5 series that includes the same system, and was looking for more in depth tech info that you described.





Overall it is a great system, I am just waiting until the third party hackers start on it so we get things like custom POI (speed cameras) for the NAV, video interface for iPod etc.

Newty

June 3, 2013, 10:39 am

Beautiful car man

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