BMW's 330i Luxury offers a ride that is gentler on the back and your wallet than the 330i M Sport
BMW's 330i Luxury a more appealing option than 330i M Sport The BMW 330i Luxury excels on straights and wide sweeping bends, and is among the best-handling semi-compact sedans around. ST PHOTOS: ALPHONSUS CHERN

The BMW 330i M Sport reviewed here in April had a punishing ride, best suited for those with strong backs and well-padded posteriors. If not, the Luxury variant is a far better option.

The 330i Luxury is also $17,000 less expensive than the M Sport, on account of it having fewer features and slightly smaller wheels (18-inch versus the M's 19-inch).

Most of the missing features are not really significant, but the more crucial ones include variable sport steering, head-up display, LED fog lights and a Harman Kardon sound system.

The one feature which you will definitely not miss is the jolting sport suspension. BMW says future cars with this suspension will come with adjustable dampers, which should help soften the progress for non-track days.

Undoubtedly, that would incur more cost. The 330i Luxury, on the other hand, is a good, ready compromise. It may be a tad less dynamic in appearance because it does not have some of the aesthetics of the M Sport (such as the aerodynamics package) but, at the wheel, it feels no less capable. At least, on public roads.

The Luxury's ride is still obviously firm, with the car sometimes skipping over tarmac protrusions round a fast bend. Yet, fast is the best way to drive this BMW, as the frequency of its suspension seems to be tuned for a brisk pace. Driven leisurely, the ride still has a stony edge to it.

The same goes for the brakes. They are so grippy that it requires some effort to bring the car to a stop without making your passengers nod involuntarily.

At higher speeds, the Luxury's anchors are as competent as the M Sport's blue callipered brakes.

Both cars share the same drivetrain, with a turbocharged 2.0-litre squeezing out 258hp and 400Nm from 1,550rpm.

Paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission with paddle shift, it sends the car to 100kmh in 5.8 seconds and onto a peak velocity of 250kmh.

Again, this pairing works best when pushed. Keep the tacho above 3,000rpm and you will be rewarded with a keen throttle and the loveliest song from a four-cylinder.

The trouble is that there are not many opportunities here to drive the 3 with vigour. And even when they do arise, the car, having grown considerably, is not like its more compact predecessors.

It excels on straights and wide sweeping bends, but it becomes a bit of a handful if you try to tuck it into tighter corners.

That said, the car is still among the best-handling semi-compact sedans in town.

Like the M Sport, the Luxury has BMW's suite of driver assistance, including semi-automatic parking, reversing assist - which retraces the last 50m of travel - and BMW Connected (which offers concierge service, real-time traffic info and automatic emergency call function).

The test-car has a door locking tab which works well only if the key is really close to it.

Nonetheless, the 330i Luxury is clearly a more liveable car than the M Sport.