16 August 2023
BMW Test Fest 2023

There’s only one answer when you’re asked to spend an afternoon test-driving the latest range of BMW models back to back…

The car industry moves at such a rapid rate that it doesn’t take long before an entire range changes right below your nose. After being away for the first half of the year due an overseas posting, the opportunity to be reacquainted with the latest range of BMW models proved to be timely. 

Conveniently, a range of 11 models from BMW and MINI were on offer where the invited media from the region would drive around Singapore in convoy and swap cars at regular intervals.

BMW 330i Touring

The cars that I wanted most to get my hands on were the Touring models. BMW-speak for wagons, these variants only appear in the brand’s local line-up once in a blue moon. Also, BMW is probably one of the last manufacturers to take the trouble to engineer rear windscreens that can open independently of the tailgate.

This clever feature is useful for hauling oversized items such as bicycles, Christmas trees or surfboards, that may otherwise prevent the tailgate from closing. Also, being able to open just the rear windscreen enables access to the luggage bay in tight spaces when opening the entire tailgate is not possible.

Independently opening rear windscreen on a G21 BMW Touring
The independently opening rear windscreen is a feature that’s all but disappeared on wagons

This used to be a common feature with wagons in the past but is now a rarity as other manufacturers strive to cut manufacturing costs and simplify their product lines. Over time, new customers do need even realise that such features existed and so it becomes something of a forgotten relic.

The other compelling reason for a BMW Touring is its styling. Easily one of the best-looking wagons in the business, the 330i Touring’s good looks are further augmented by the M Sport Pro package that is fitted as standard in Singapore. Some of the highlights include an extended M high-gloss Shadowline trim and the signature BMW kidney grille with double bars in black. A big hexagonal air intake with a honeycomb structure sits below the distinctive kidney grille, surrounded by vertical air curtains.

The look is completed with a set of 18-inch alloys, as well as gloss black roof rails and 100mm diameter tailpipes painted in Black Chrome.

Full disclosure, the drive in each car was very brief as the organisers wanted us to rotate and sample as many cars as we could in an afternoon.

However, being familiar with the local roads helps, so I was able to suss out the driving characteristics and some nuances from one model to the next. 

The afternoon traffic around Marina Bay presented very limited opportunities to sample the 330i Touring’s performance capabilities. On the other hand, the low-to-medium speed route on city roads were able to confirm my inclination that this would make for a more useable daily driver than the M3 Touring I jumped into right after this. 

BMW M3 Touring

The BMW M3 Touring was perhaps the most anticipated model on the list. Partly because this was the first-ever M3 Touring, and surprisingly, it is not available in the US market where I was stationed for the first half of the year.

Driving the 3 Series Touring models back-to-back is perhaps the best way to objectively notice the differences between the pair. What is immediately apparent is the ride quality and the sense of occasion that accompanies the M3 Touring. 

The BMW M3 Touring can do the thing with the rear windscreen as well

As you might expect, the M3 Touring is not for shrinking violets. On all senses, except taste, it demands your attention and that of passers-by as well. Inside, the sensory fest continues with carbon fibre panels, M badges, and the chunky steering wheel with red ‘M1’ and ‘M2’ buttons. 

As you might expect from a 510hp twin-turbo six-cylinder engine, there is more than enough ‘go’ to match the ‘show’. Even without calling up the M1 or M2 customizable sport modes, the M3 Touring is dramatically fast.

Electric Vehicles like the BMW i4 also tested here or the Porsche Taycan might match the M3, but the latter feels so much more involving to drive. It’s like cooking a steak with a microwave versus using a cast iron grill with smoked hickory and apple wood…

As its moniker implies, the M3 Touring is an endlessly capable car for long road trips. You’ll never want to stop driving it over a twisty set of Malaysian B-roads while the 500 litres of luggage space means there’ll be plenty of room for a shopping spree, or if you’re inclined, activity gear.

For the rest of us who are not fortunate enough to have a rotation of cars to suit the occasion, the M3 Touring can be a tad bit ‘extra’ on days when you want to cruise or are stuck in low-speed rush hour traffic. In such a driving condition, the firm, sporty ride and the enthusiasm for acceleration could grow tiresome.

Going one step down the 3 Series ladder to the M340i Touring would probably strike that perfect balance of performance and everyday usability. The problem is, you’ll just need to convince the BMW dealer to indent it.

BMW 318i

We round up the 3 Series family in this group with the entry model, the 318i. After the heady thrills of the fire-breathing M3 Touring, sliding into a garden variety 3 Series sedan felt relaxing and soothing, like a hot towel rubdown after an intense workout at the gym.

Most of the controls are still there, save for a gear lever and a few other switches. This otherwise plain vanilla 318i had some chocolate sprinkles on it that came in the form of the M Sport Trim.

This $9,000 topping buys you black gloss trimming, a chunky steering wheel, and a lowered rimer suspension, to name a few. Honestly, it’s an option I could happily live without, but to be fair, the M Sport suspension doesn’t affect the ride quality by much.

The unstoppable appetite for Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs) means that the X3 has overtaken the 3 Series sedan as BMW’s top seller these days and so the 318i is the only remaining variant offered other than the M3 that sits at the extreme end of the performance range.

Those looking to drive something understated yet, refined and luxurious enough to pamper themselves will find it in the BMW 318i. Powered by a 156hp 2.0-litre turbocharged unit, it makes enough oomph to satisfy all but the most fastidious and furious of drivers. 

In the handling department, the BMW 318i still has the rear-wheel drive pedigree the Bavarian carmaker built its name on. Take it to a twisty road and the ‘3er’ engages the driver in a way that SUVs simply can’t.

BMW X1 sDrive16i

Next up was the X1. For many, this will be their entry point to BMW ownership. It’s not a bad place to start, to be honest. For one, its 122hp output means that it qualifies for the Cat A COE which generally leads to more accessible pricing. Although at over a quarter million dollars, it stretches the definition of ‘affordable’.

Fortunately, the X1 is pretty well built and equipped comprehensively enough to take some of the edge off the eye-watering price, no thanks to the current COE prices.

For your money, you get an X1 sDrive16i with wireless smartphone connectivity and charging, electrically adjustable front seats, and like almost all the latest BMW’s Driving Assistant, Reversing Assistant and Parking Assistant packages. In short, these features help to no end to take the hassle out of everyday driving and you’ll wonder how you ever did without them. 

The only omission that is noticeably absent on the X1 is the lack of adaptive cruise control, which you will find even in a Suzuki S-Cross these days. But at least the Bimmer comes with an electrically-operable tailgate and of course, that coveted blue and white badge on its nose…

The 3-cylinder 1.5-litre turbocharged engine might sound diminutive, but it gets the job done around town. Real-world acceleration feels much brisker than its 10.5 second 0-100km/h time might suggest. I suspect that most of that time is taken to reach the last 10km/h or so.

Rest assured, you won’t be left behind when the traffic lights turn green. Given this car’s impressive fuel economy of 6.8 litres per 100km (WLTP combined), is a happy trade-off for any performance shortcomings at the top end.

Those who place a higher priority on style will find the X1 a compelling choice. In this silhouette, the oversized front grilles seem to blend in more convincingly with the rest of the styling. Add in the commanding driving position that gives the driver great visibility of the road ahead and the promise of more cargo space, and you have a compelling starter BMW. 

BMW 216i Series Active Tourer

Another Cat A option that wears a BMW badge is the 216i Active Tourer. Just as the German carmaker calls its SUVs, Sports Activity Vehicles (SAVs), it positions this car as an Active Tourer. In any case, it makes for a more spacious and practical version of the 1 Series Hatchback. 

Having first driven the 2 Series Active Tourer (2AT) at its international launch in Spain last year, I was curious to find out if the experience would be watered down with a less powerful engine on local roads. 

On this front, I can happily report that the 216i Active Tourer feels perfectly adequate on Singapore’s roads. To be fair, even the more powerful 220i and 225e plug-in hybrid versions felt out of their element at times on the hilly roads around Malaga. However, our Sunny Island doesn’t have roads that are anywhere as demanding.

Perhaps what is more telling is that the identically powered X1 also driven in this group feels decidedly better to drive on the whole. With the Active Tourer, body roll is somehow more pronounced and it feels a tad less enthusiastic to change directions when driven enthusiastically.

Picking up on this difference alone was one of the biggest advantages of organizing a group test drive like this.

To make up for it, however, the 216i Active Tourer saves its owner $27k over the identically powered X1 sDrive16i. Put into context, over a 7-year loan, the difference roughly works out to $230 a month. 

n terms of functionality, there’s precious little difference where the 2AT makes for a more practical car than the X1. Perhaps, it has a slightly lower seat height that may make getting in an out of the car easier for family members with mobility issues. To work out which suits your use case better, I suggest making a trip to the BMW showroom to try them on for size. 

The left shift paddle behind the steering wheel can be used for 10 seconds of maximum power. Useful for overtaking, for example.

The 2AT is also just about as well appointed as the X1 so you’ll get the same host of features that matter, electrically-adjustable seats, hands-free tailgate operation and smartphone connectivity, and a suite of safety and collision avoidance features. 

The previous generation had a 5+2-seater variant that was called the 2 Series Grand Tourer. It was something of a hit especially when it was sold as a plug-in hybrid. At the international launch of the latest car driven here, I asked a BMW executive plainly if a second-generation 2GT is on the cards. “No,” was the definite answer, so don’t hold your breath for one. 

Where once the marketplace was full of mini MPV alternatives in the form of Citroën C4, Renault Scenic, and Volkswagen Golf SV, to name but a few, these have quietly gone leaving just the BMW 2AT and Mercedes-Benz B-Class to fill a very particular niche. 

The lower seat height might help some with mobility issues

If driving a mini MPV means something to you, then you won’t do better than the BMW 216i Active Tourer. However, if you can swing the extra $230 a month, the BMW X1 offers a more rewarding drive. 

For a full review of the BMW 216i Active Tourer, click here.

BMW i4 eDrive35

These days, no list is complete without an Electric Vehicle (EV) in it. In terms of the latest range of premium EV models, the BMW i4 is up there with the likes of the Tesla Model 3 and Porsche Taycan and Polestar 2 in terms of performance, range and desirability.

The variant driven here, the eDrive35, represents the entry point to the BMW i4 range. With a base price of $333,888 with COE, it undercuts the iX3 SAV as the most affordable EV from the Bavarian car manufacturer by around $8,000. 

If you consider that the average Singaporean clocks up around 20,00km a year, $8k could buy you over 3 years worth of charging in this car. 

The i4 eDrive40 has quietly been taken off the price list for a few months now, but the last time was listed in May, the asking price was $369,888 with COE. For $36k less, the owner of the eDrive35 gets a car with a slightly smaller battery, 66kWh instead of 80.7kWh. Max power and torque also take a dip by about 40kW and 30Nm respectively. This brings the tally of the ’35 to 210kW (286hp) and 400Nm. 

As a result, the ’35 takes 0.3 seconds longer to go from 0 to 100km/h. It needs at least 6.0 seconds to complete the task while top speed remains the same at 190km/h. 

When driven, you would be hard-pressed to tell any difference between how the ’35 and ’40 drives and feels. Yes, the newer car has a range that’s 10km shorter but if that margin makes any difference to your driving habits, you’re probably cutting things too fine. 

Given today’s COE prices, “every little counts”, as they say. So $36k savings over an iX3 for a car with better ride and handling makes for a rather compelling proposition.


Although I have driven the next two models in Arizona, USA when they were launched in March, I was curious to find out how these cars fared in the context of Singapore’s roads and traffic conditions.

The XM’s size for one thing, was hardly a factor in America, but the streets of Singapore are something else for this behemoth.

The BMW XM dwarfs nearly anything else on the road

After all, “with great power, comes great responsibility,” and so the 653hp BMW XM has to be driven with restraint on local roads. Driving at 90km/h feels like you’re barely moving in this Million Dollar Baby ($1,007,888 with COE, to be exact).

Just as well then, that the BMW XM is luxuriously appointed with fine leathers and crystal knobs inside to pamper its occupants to no end. Too much is just enough, seems to be the theme of this car. 

There’s a loud button for the exhaust if you want the XM to make all the right noises, and you can drive it as an EV, if you don’t. Whether or not the exhaust notes are real or manufactured, you can never really be sure, but I suspect that most owners will be having too much fun to care. 

One less obvious advantage of driving the XM in EV mode is that operating in silence allows the occupants to savour the Bowers & Wilkins Diamond Surround Sound System that has no less than 20 speakers driven by 1,500 watts of amplification. Even over wireless Apple CarPlay, I could hear details in familiar songs that I was previously never aware of. You could say it brought The Cranberries’, Zombie to life…

Sorry, I couldn’t resist. To be objective, Dolores O’Riordan’s breathy vocals on this track were so detailed, it felt like you had a front-row seat to an intimate, secret concert at a small nightclub in Dublin.

THE BMW XM comes with an amazing 20-speaker Bowers & Wilkins sound system

Speaking of nightclubs, the XM’s extravagant styling inside and out makes every drive an occasion. I’m not sure if it would suit me as a daily driver, but when I get a chance to drive it once in a while, I know I’m in for a good time. 


The day ended with a drive of the M2, thankfully this time, we got back much earlier than the last time I drove this car…

After an extended amount of seat time when I drove it in Arizona, sliding back into the M2 felt like running into an old friend. I felt a bit more at home in the car with the main controls facing readily to hand. 

Although the M2 is far more satisfying with a manual gearbox, I was quite happy that the unit in Singapore was fitted with an 8-speed automatic instead. When I took over, rush hour traffic was beginning to build up to show this car’s broader breadth of talent as a daily driver.

The M2 may be packing a 460hp 6-cylinder twin-turbo engine that is largely based on the unit found in the M3 and M4, but it feels every bit as mature as its bigger siblings in terms of ride comfort. 

While the M2 is undoubtedly capable of violent acceleration and drifting shenanigans, driving it in moderation reveals a steering feel that sweeter than that of the M3 or M4. The way it’s weighted for that initial quarter-turn of the steering wheel, brings back that pure and direct feel of the 3 Series’ of yesteryear.

Comparisons with the previous generation M2 and even the 1M Coupe before that are inevitable amongst enthusiasts. Just as Air Jordan fans will have their favourites; 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 11 through 14, the M2 has its own identity that in time, will make it a classic in its own right. 

This M2’s styling may not be as universally likeable as the previous F87 M2 was. Take it for a test drive, however, and it’ll grow on you, as it did for me. 

So many cars, so little time

There were actually more cars to sample but we simply ran out of time. The BMW X5 for example, has just had a minor Life Cycle Improvement (LCI) which is BMW for face lift. I was about to get into that until a huge wooden stake was discovered in one of its rear tyres. 

Perhaps a longer drive up north over a few days and nights would be even better to assess the nuances and capabilities of these cars. Until next time, hopefully. 

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