BMW 330e review
BMW's 3 Series is one of the best cars in its class, so there is plenty of promise for the iPerformance PHEV model. BMW's expertise with electric vehicles has seen it claim a fair amount of the market, and it has plug-in models across a large number of its core models. The 330e has perhaps an opportunity for the greatest success though, since the high-selling executive saloon is a cornerstone of the market, and PHEVs can offer huge savings to company car drivers. We test the BMW 330e to see how it stacks up.
Review by Chris Lilly
The base engine used by BMW for its 3 Series plug-in hybrid is a 184hp 2.0 litre four cylinder petrol unit. This is then combined with an electric powertrain utilising a 65 kW (88hp) motor for a maximum combined power output of 252hp. That's good for a 0-62mph time of 6.1 seconds, and a top speed of 140mph. Despite it's focus on efficiency then, BMW hasn't scrimped on performance. And the good news is that the BMW 330e feels as fast on the road as it looks on paper. The combined powertrain works seamlessly, with the electric motor picking up the slack that all internal combustion engines have at very low revs. The instant pick-up gets the 330e shifting as quickly as anyone really needs in the real world, and the petrol engine has more than enough about it to power the BMW whether there is any electrical help or not. Throttle response is excellent in all modes apart from Eco - which is deliberately dulled - and essentially the 330e is faster than you might expect it to be. Power is put to the rear wheels in true BMW style, through the company's excellent eight-speed automatic gearbox. It's efficient, responsive, smooth-changing, and rarely caught in the wrong gear. The brakes are a little less spot-on, sometimes lacking feel as the car calculates brake energy recuperation. They're good overall though, and offer excellent stopping power.
BMW's 3 Series is renowned for its driving dynamics, providing a poised ride that encourages enthusiastic drivers, but doesn't become uncomfortable. The 330e continues that tradition, offering a ride that is unmatched in the plug-in hybrid market. It's beautifully set-up, communicates what's going on beneath the wheels constantly, and feels as though it is tailored to respond perfectly to your every input. The 330e is heavier than a conventionally powered 3 Series by a couple of hundred kilograms, and the extra weight can be felt when cornering hard. But because the added mass - largely due to the battery - is placed low down in the car, it still feels planted. If anything, the battery helps with stability, rather than hinders it. Although I've been extolling the virtues of the 330e's dynamic driving capabilities, the BMW is actually better in a more familiar environment to many potential buyers - the motorway. It settles down to a quiet cruise superbly, and although isn't as silky smooth as its Mercedes Benz C Class rival - also available as a PHEV - the 330e is a refined drive, either at speed or around town.
The 3 Series is such a regular sight on the UK's roads - and the design has changed very much by evolution rather than revolution - that it is easy to dismiss the saloon's styling due to over familiarity. It's a nicely packaged design though; well proportioned and athletic. The 3 Series is surprisingly spacious inside, with decent levels of head, leg, and shoulder room for rear seat occupants - and plenty for those up front. A large transmission tunnel can impact those sitting in the back, but the 3 Series is on a par for its class. The 330e sees very few changes over the conventionally powered models, barring a few subtle badges and blue detailing. The interior is similarly similar, the only real differences found on the centre console and dashboard, with the addition of an eDrive button and some PHEV-tailored displays. It is in the boot where the iPerformance differentiates itself from the rest of the 3 Series range, since it looses around 100 litres in storage capacity because of the addition of a battery. It means that the 330e struggles to compete as a load lugger compared to conventionally powered rivals. Against the Mercedes Benz C350e PHEV saloon, the BMW holds the upper hand - just. However, where the Mercedes and similarly sized VW Passat trump the 330e in terms of practicality is that they are available in estate form for those wanting more load space. The 330e is available as a saloon only.
COMFORT & CONTROLS
Anyone that has driven a BMW in recent years will find the 330e's cabin familiar. The controls are basically the same in the iPerformance model as conventionally powered versions, and that's no bad thing. The 3 Series' interior isn't class leading in the same way as the Audi A4 for example, but it is still very good. Ergonomically positioned controls and comfortable seats keep the driver happy, as does a driving position that can be made just so, with a steering wheel of ideal size. The main PHEV elements come to the fore in the previously mentioned eDrive button, and displays letting you know how much battery capacity and electric range are available. As with all 3 Series' there seem to be quite a few buttons on the central console, though at least it allows you to switch between systems easily. I find it odd though since the iDrive system works so well that the whole dash could be tidied up a bit surely. Overall though it's a clean design, and one tailored to the driver.
MPG & RUNNING COSTS
The 330e's official efficiency figures are quoted at 44 g/km CO2 and 148.7 MPG on the NEDC combined cycle. As always with PHEVs though, these are largely irrelevant depending on how you drive it. With a mixture of runs, and not enough opportunity to recharge the battery as much as I would like, the 330e finished its time with me displaying 46.6 MPG after more than 400 miles. During more conventional runs though - a roughly 50:50 split between petrol and electric power - I was averaging 68.3 MPG, and it was only a long trip of more than 100 miles without recharging that the fuel economy slipped. The quoted electric range is 25 miles, but about 18 miles is more achievable; around 14 on faster roads, and 20 about town depending on traffic.
The BMW 330e clearly has greater green credentials than the rest of the 3 Series range, with BMW offering plenty of kit to help make the most out of the car's electric range. A Type 2 charging port behind the front near-side wheel allows for recharging the 330e's 7.6 kWh battery. The on-board charger will accept a maximum of 3.7 kW, which will recharge the battery within a couple of hours from a home or public charge point. Electric drive modes can be selected using the eDrive button, which will toggle between Max eDrive (electric only up to 75mph), Save Battery, and Auto eDrive. In the latter, the car will calculate which proportion of electric and/or petrol power is most efficient at any one time, and the system improves further if using the sat-nav for route guidance. Here, the car will anticipate what's on the route ahead to maximise efficiency. The 330e, like most plug-in vehicles, starts up in electric mode too and defaults to Auto eDrive. BMW's conventional drive mode select system is also on offer, which allows drivers to pick between Eco Pro, Comfort, and Sport for further control over the plug-in hybrid's set-up. According to our calculations, the model tested has a Next Green Car Rating of 36.
As you would expect from both a plug-in model and an executive saloon, equipment levels are generous across the board for the 330e. Standard or free to upgrade across all 3 Series iPerformance models are 17-inch alloy wheels, eDrive button, charging cables, remote key, cruise control, climate control, large infotainment system with sat-nav, DAB/Bluetooth/USB, leather trim, and park assist. Sport adds the likes of interior design details, sports seats, and Drive Performance Control, while M Sport adds an M Sport multi function steering wheel, 18-inch alloys, LED headlights and fog lights, M Sport styling pack, M Sport suspension, and predictive gearshift using navigation. The BMW ConnectedDrive app is available too, allowing drivers to set and change charge times or pre-conditioning levels, or call up information about the 330e such as charge remaining.
For BMW to add plug-in power to the 3 Series was a potentially risky move. With a car famous for its poise and driving dynamics, including a PHEV version could have diluted the line-up. In fact the reverse has happened, with BMW filling in a gap in its portfolio, and providing a great option for customers. Many private buyers are likely to still pick diesel, which is a shame since the electric range on offer - though not class leading - can deal with a great many journeys. Those that will really benefit though are company car drivers, who can take advantage of much lower BIK rates, likely saving themselves thousands of pounds over a conventionally powered 3 Series. It's not the most practical PHEV around, but it is still one of the best thanks to the great driving experience it offers.
Model tested: BMW 330e
Body-style: Executive saloon
Engine / CO2: 2.0 litre petrol and electric motor / 44 g/km
Trim grades: SE, Sport, M Sport
On-road price: From £34,185 (inc. Cat 2 PiCG)
Warranty: Three years / Unlimited mileage
In the showroom: Now
Review rating: 4.5 Stars