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BMW 330d M Sport with ConnectedDrive - Entertainment
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.