Until, that is, something unexpected comes along that makes every road tester and magazine editor wake up and race to the phone in a frantic attempt to book a test car. And yet the car in question doesn't wear the coveted M-division badging that usually puts tailgaters in their place - in fact (and don't laugh) this car has a diesel engine under the bonnet. 'Diesel, special?' but believe me, swap keys with a new 330i petrol driver and watch him stare in disbelief at what this car can do.
But then I suppose you'd expect the Bavarian master to get it right first time: with 68bhp and 103lb-ft of torque per litre, the BMW 320d laid claim to the highest specific outputs of any production diesel car in its class, an average of 49.6mpg nudged the class-best and at 152g/km of CO2, green-minded fleet managers couldn't ignore it.
But this is old news because BMW has a new story to tell with the launch of the 330d, which it claims is the fastest and most accelerative production diesel in its class. And it's probably right: developing 184bhp at 4,000rpm and a monumental 288lb-ft of torque from just 1,750rpm right through to 3,200rpm, the 330d hits 62mph from rest in just 7.8secs and tops out at a maximum 141mph.
Key to the 330d's electrifying pace is the stonking 3.0-litre, straight-six common rail turbodiesel engine from the 530d. Turn the key and there's no instant reminder that this is a diesel, in fact you've got to have superhuman hearing to detect any 'clatter' at all on the move because BMW has substituted this for a sweet, deep growl through the gears.
But while BMW might wax lyrical about the accelerative forces from a standing start, it's the throttle response through the mid-range thanks to the colossal torque figure that makes this 330d such a joy to drive. Timed over the crucial 50-75mph hurdle, the 330d blitzes this in just 6.9secs, faster than a Subaru Impreza Turbo. In fact slower-moving obstacles become part of the 'torque challenge' - a game well worth playing just to see how flexible this engine really is. The rules are simple: come up behind said vehicle, spot a gap in the traffic and put your foot down; there's never any need to change gear because the car just takes off as the immense grunt does all the work for you.
Amazingly, economy doesn't nose-dive either: at 41.5mpg it might be 8mpg less than the 320d (but then this is the most economical diesel in its class by some margin), but it's 10mpg better than the petrol 330i which should appeal to fleet managers given the price of fuel in the UK.
Add in a CO2 rating of 181g/km against the 330i's 218g/km and when the BIK tax laws change in 2002, you'll be £476 a year better off.
But even if you're still not swayed by all this, the price should be the clincher: at £26,995 on-the-road for the SE four-door (£27,895 for the Touring) it undercuts the 330i saloon by £1,155. Specification highlights on the SE kit-list include alloy wheels, twin exhausts, full climate control, ABS, automatic stability control and traction control and six airbags.
In the end, it's difficult to see how anyone will ever improve on the 330d's all-round brilliance - it really is that good.
Diehard petrol-heads will, however be more interested in BMW's new aluminium alloy, four-valve-per-cylinder 3.0-litre engine - badged 330i -which produces almost 20 per cent more power than its predecessor and all for the same price.
This engine will replace the 2.8-litre six in all 3-series saloon, coup_ and convertible derivatives and the Z3 roadster immediately and it will also slot in to the new X5 off-roader's engine line-up early next year.
A power hike of just 38bhp might not sound much, nor indeed does the extra 61bhp produced over the 170bhp 323i, but on the move there are significant differences. Outright power isn't the key, but the flexible torquey character of the engine certainly is.
Despite maximum torque being reached at 3,500rpm, 90 per cent of this is available from just 1,500rpm which transforms the responses on the road.
As a result, acceleration through the gears is much improved, knocking half a second off the 0-62mph time and adding 6mph, bringing the top speed up to an electronically-controlled 155mph. Remarkably, fuel consumption remains the same at 31mpg.
In typical BMW fashion there are few visual clues to the extra performance of the 330i: all 3.0-litre 3-series models now get the chrome-edged facial treatment incorporating chrome headlamp surrounds and grille, plus chrome window trim, aluminium-style finishing to the fog lamps and air intake in the front spoiler and twin exhausts.
Inside, the interior remains unchanged apart from a new multi-function sports steering wheel and high gloss or graphite interior trim.
Standard equipment includes electric everything, twin and side airbags, ABS, cornering brake control, dynamic stability control, parking distance control, 17in alloy wheels, metallic paint and cruise control.