What else can I get with my Polo money? How about a… BMW 330d
In March 2008, a litre of 95 octane petrol from a Reef pump would have cost you R8,25. Today, the same litre of petrol will cost you R13,08. That’s a more than a 55% increase over the last five years, which I think explains why small cars have become so much more popular.
There was a time when bigger cars were consdired better, and why not? They offer more space, and if I’m paying the same amount of money, why shouldn’t I go for the bigger option?
The reason is frugality. Bigger cars weigh more and therefore use more fuel, which was fine when fuel was a minor cost compared to what you paid every month to own a car.
Let’s assume that you drive an average distance of 20 000 km annually, or 1 700 km a month. In our reference Polo 1.6 Trendline, that means you would be using 110 litres of petrol every month, if we assume that Volkswagen’s claimed 6,4 l/100 km is accurate.
In 2008 that would have represented a monthly fuel bill of about R900, but today that same usage pattern will leave you an extra R540 out of pocket – and that’s quite a lot of money!
So what if you want a car that is both frugal, large enough for a family and still exciting to drive, but you only have R180 000 to spend?
Well, what about an E90-generation BMW 330d?
BMW’s turbodiesel 3-Series range has been a favourite among long-distance commuters since the E46 BMW 320d was released in 1999. But it was its younger sibling, the E90 320d, that really catapulted BMW’s diesel engines onto driveways.
Proof? Take a drive around town, and you’ll notice how many E90 BMWs are on the road, and how many of those are 2,0-litre diesels.
While the entry-level 320i had 110 kW and 200 Nm of torque, the 320d had a much more satisfying 120 kW and 350 Nm of torque. Butut it was the car’s fuel efficiency that really made it a favourite amongst drivers.
BMW claimed that the 320d would sip diesel at a miserly 5,7 l/100 km rate, a figure that even beats the frugal little reference Polo.
But for all its charm on paper, the 320d was unfortunately a soulless thing that failed to deliver anything more than its promised statistics. It was frugal and comfortable, but that was about it.
And that’s exactly why we are looking at its brawnier brother; the 330d. It too was an executive sedan with all the cabin comforts you would expect from a BMW. It was also powered by a turbodiesel motor and because of that it promised a respectable, albeit slightly thirstier fuel consumption figure of 6,5 l/100 km.
But the key benefit offered by the 330d over the 320d was power: its 3,0-litre straight-six turbodiesel engine was good for 170 kW and 500 Nm of torque – enough power to make things interesting if you so desired.
Accelerating from 0-100km/h was taken care of in 6.7 seconds and it would carry on moving all the way to the electronically limited 250 km/h top speed.
It turns out that 330ds are also quite reliable, with long-term owners sighting few serious problems with the car.
The turbocharger has been known to fail if the car has not been serviced frequently (or has been run on ‘dirty’ diesel, as opposed to the premium 50 ppm variety). It uses a lot of fluids, and requires regular oil changes to keep things running smoothly.
An example that hasn’t been cared for could therefore be at risk of a suffering a failed turbocharger, and replacement parts and labour does not come cheap.
There is also a rare fault involving a broken swirl flap that can ruin the entire engine. There is a preemptive fix which will see a specialist can remove the flaps, so it is worth asking if the work has been done.
As with any diesel, the Diesel Particle Filter (often referred to as the DPF) can become clogged if the car is mostly driven in urban traffic, and short trips. The filter needs heat to regenerate and prevent itself from becoming clogged up, which requires the occasional highway stint of around 40 km.
This might seem like a pain, but a replacement DPF costs more than R10 000.
Some users have also reported that a drop-off in fuel efficiency can be related to a faulty thermostat system, which causes the engine to run colder than its optimum operating temperature. This can be confirmed by checking the ODO temperature though the hidden menu system, which is detailed here<><>
South African 330ds were normally specced with loads of options. Xenon lights, leather, electric everything and climate control are normally included, as well as 18-inch M Sport wheels.
Before buying though, make sure to check that all the electrics are working as they should be. If something is not, be prepared to walk away. There are so many 330ds on the market that it is not worth taking a chance on one.
Because of the large number of pre-owned E90 3-Series on offer, we were able to find several 2006 and 2007 model year examples for our Polo money. Low mileage units are very rare, and command a premium, but with this car it is advisable to actually stay away from a low-mileage 330d because of the DPF’s distaste for short trips.
It’s worth noting that an updated 330d with a more efficient engine released in 2009. It can be identified by its four bonnet creases instead of the two on the early version. Our self-imposed price cap puts the updated 330d out of reach, but those able to stretch their budget should consider the later model.
Our choice would be a 2007 model with aluminium interior trim and 103 000 km on the odometer, which is selling for R179 900. It’s being sold by a dealer so it should come with a warranty on any major malfunction, which should add some peace of mind.
So, new or used?
Because of the diesel’s finicky driving constraints, I would say that it depends on what kind of driving you do. If your daily commute includes some highway stretches, and you don’t find yourself in too much stop-start traffic, the 330d will make for an excellent commuter, with the power and torque to transform it into a real performance car on demand.
But if it’s likely to be used primarily for short urban bursts, with only occasional longer journeys, the Polo would probably be better suited…