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Fancy a compact luxury car that doubles as a killer driving machine? Then look no further than BMW's iconic 3 Series. That's been the familiar refrain ever since BMW launched the Three way back in the 1970s. Time and again, competitors from rivals including Mercedes, Audi and Lexus have taken on Bavaria's finest only to eventually stagger away bloodied and punch drunk. The 3 Series is an extremely tough customer.
The same applies to the latest version, known internally at BMW as the E90 in saloon trim. Its lead over the competition might be slimmer than ever. But most agree if it's driving thrills you're after, the 3 Series remains the weapon of choice. For that you can thank BMW's ongoing attention to detail in areas such as weight distribution. Put simply, in a BMW everything is in the right place.
Of course, here at TR we're all about the technology and in this area the blue and white propeller hasn't always been quite so dominant. When it comes to technical innovations, historically speaking at least, it's actually arch rival Mercedes-Benz that tops the table. Everything from anti-lock brakes, seat-belt pre-tensioners, crumple zones and arguably even stability control first appeared in cars bearing the three-pointed star. More recently, Toyota has carved out a niche as the market leader in hybrid technology.
But that was then. Today, BMW doesn't just make some of the best driver's cars around. It's also pushing the envelope with technologies such as Efficient Dynamics, iDrive and ConnectedDrive. Whether it's fuel efficiency or digital systems, BMW is leading the way. To help us find out more, particularly regarding the funky new ConnectedDrive platform, BMW supplied us with an example of the latest facelifted 330d in M Sport guise.
The most obvious aspect of the E90's mid-life lift is a much needed visual buff. Subjective as styling is, there's little doubt the bland E90 is one of the weakest BMWs to come out of the "Bangle era", so called because of the controversial shift in design lead by BMW's recently departed design maestro, Chris Bangle.
While we'd hardly call the updated E90 a classic, BMW has done a solid job of tightening the car up with a few judicious updates. The added creases on the bonnet give the car palpably more surface tension, for example. Likewise, the new rear light clusters are a big improvement. They're far more distinctive than the cheap-looking sub-Korean castoffs fitted to the original model.
While a spot of panel beating may be what turns heads on the high street, it's actually new technology under the skin that makes the E90's overhaul significant. First up is a revised version of BMW's sometimes maligned iDrive infotainment system. Then there's ConnectedDrive, a new Internet-enabled subsystem within the iDrive platform. It's actually an umbrella for a wide range of loosely related services and functions where the common theme is some form of remote connectivity.
Key features include the ability to send messages and information directly to the car from any web-enabled device, a service that alerts emergency services in the event of a crash and automatically relays the location of the vehicle, in-car Google Search incorporating Google Maps and even a direct link to a dedicated call centre manned 24 hours a day by BMW flunkies keen to do your bidding.
Anyway, our 330d test car represents what you might call the state of the art in mainstream BMW motoring. The revised single-turbo six-pot diesel engine ups the ante to 245bhp and a slightly silly 383lb/ft of torque, while the six-speed automatic box adds a modern vibe courtesy of steering-wheel mounted paddle shifters. The M Sport trim option fills out the car's stance with 18in wheels, bigger bumpers and uprated chassis settings. Inside, we have wall-to-wall leather, the full iDrive treatment and of course ConnectedDrive. Elsewhere, the car is maxxed out with an immense array of additional features including servotronic steering, electric seats and an intelligent dynamic stability control system. So specified, a 330d M Sport saloon is yours for a piffling £33,885. There's a lot to get through, so let's get cracking!