18.2.2020BMW 330e saloon first drive
BMW's 330e is one of the best-selling plug-in cars in the UK. Drivers have found the combination of the regularly excellent 3 Series and a plug-in hybrid powertrain a great match, and there's now a new second-generation version. Based on the latest 3 Series, the new BMW 330e has more power and a longer electric range, so NGC has driven it to see how the new stats stack up.
Review by Chris Lilly
The BMW 330e is powered by a 2.0 litre petrol engine and 135 kW electric motor, producing a combined 252hp and 420 Nm of torque. BMW has included its XtraBoost technology too, which increases maximum power by an additional 41hp at the press of a button for a few seconds. It's designed for overtaking manoeuvres or similar with the 292hp a temporary figure. The performance figures come in at a 5.9 second 0-62mph time, and a top speed of 143mph. It's pretty quick then, certainly plenty pacy enough for most drivers, and the 330e proves a flexible car to drive. The electric motor gives a good slug of power and torque from zero revs, and will comfortably drive the car for as long as there's power in the battery. It doesn't struggle at all, and neither does the petrol motor - so combined in hybrid mode, the 330e offers a great driving experience. Although much has been made by BMW of the performance - and the 330e is a quick car - the refinement in day to day driving is first class. Allowing the electric motor to take up much of the strain makes things quieter, and driving it in urban areas or heavy traffic is far nicer in electric mode than with the petrol engine. The engine - combined with an eight-speed automatic transmission - works very well with smooth shifts, but the instant pick-up in electric power showcases the limitations of internal combustion engines in these scenarios. The 330e works well in just about any area, whether it's town driving, on open roads and country lanes, or stretching its legs on a motorway.
The BMW 3 Serie is famed as a class-leading car in terms of handling. The driving dynamics BMW offers in conventional 3 Series aren't quite matched in the 330e, simply because there is more weight to cart around. The BMW 330e remains an excellent car to drive however, and only falls short of the 3 Series' own superb standards - it's still a nicer car to drive than many rivals down a twisty road. The steering is precise and well weighted, while the suspension deals well with rough surfaces. It settles down nicely at pace, and the 330e can prove a truly enjoyable car to drive at just about any speed - within legal limits obviously. The agility remains, though a little deadened compared to a conventional 330i for example. Most will only notice the difference when driven back to back however, and the 330e remains a great car to drive.
There's almost no difference between this plug-in 3 Series and the rest of the range. As such, drivers will get the fairly stylish 3 Series design, though it can look a bit bulbous from certain angles. The rear is a tightly packaged bit of design, but overall, I prefer the looks of the Volvo S60 T8 TwinEngine when looking at rival compact executive saloon PHEV rivals. Inside, the 330e retains its passenger space from conventional versions. This means that rear occupant space is good, with plenty of head, leg, and shoulder room compared to its premium rivals. BMW has put the batteries under the seats to minimise impact on interior occupant space, though the same can't be said for the load area. Boot space is down by around 100 litres, which will prove a deal-breaker for some - though not many it must be said. The boot remains a reasonable size, but is certainly smaller than conventional 3 Series models. However, for those wanting a 330e and prioritising boot space, a 330e Touring will bring the estate set-up to BMW's plug-in hybrid 3 Series range for the first time, due next year.
COMFORT & CONTROLS
Like the exterior, there are almost no signs within that the 330e has an electric powertrain. The digital instrument cluster has a few added features to reflect EV range remaining and battery state of charge. There's a powertrain mode select too, in parallel to drive mode select, to allow drivers to pick electric only, hybrid, or battery save when required. That's about it visually, so the 330e effectively shares the rest of the 3 Series' interior. As such, seats are comfortable and supportive throughout, particularly in terms of lateral support, and it's easy to get the driving position just so. The model tested featured BMW's 10.3-inch widescreen touchscreen infotainment system, which can also be controlled using the rotary dial and shortcut buttons - easier when on the move. It's a good system, with clear graphics and it's easy to use. Looking at cabin quality, the 3 Series can't match some of its rivals when looking at certain areas. Overall, there will be few complaints, but perceived quality isn't as good as an Audi A4 for example.
MPG & RUNNING COSTS
On what was a fairly short test drive, and with other journalists having tested the 330e earlier in the day, a definitive report on how the BMW stacks up in terms of fuel economy will have to wait until a later date. We can fill you in on findings over a good route, mixing in country roads, villages, and fast A-roads. We didn't put the 330e through a busy urban centre or get it on the motorway, but it was a decent test of its abilities. Having covered around 15 miles in total, the 330e had used electric power for almost just shy of 10 of those miles. Considering there were only five miles of electric range showing when I climbed aboard, that's pretty impressive. The figures come the end of the run included a fuel economy of 76.3 MPG, seemingly with a mixture of 2:1 electric over petrol driven miles. Prior to my drive, the previous trip showed 70 miles covered by a variety of journalists, of which 35 were covered on electric power and fuel economy of 43 MPG - though I can't comment on routes taken or driving styles with that. Considering the 330e ended with no charge remaining, it had completed around 85 miles in total and used electric power for 45 of them - it's a very efficient PHEV system then. Official figures are an electric range of 36 miles, and 201.8 MPG. To tax, the 330e tested will cost nothing for the first year, and then £135 thereafter. Be careful of the pricing however, as trim levels sit over the £40,000 Premium Rate threshold. BIK rates will be attractive to company car drivers at 16% for the current year, and then 12% in 2020/21.
BMW's PHEV system is made up of a 12 kWh battery - of which 10.8 kWh is usable - and 83 kW electric motor. The battery can be charged via the Type 2 inlet at up to 3.7 kW in around three hours. The hybrid system can be forced into EV mode, left to its own devices in hybrid, or the battery saved for later use. BMW's latest systems work very well to maximise efficiency, with the hybrid model in particular able to use different power types or combine them depending on situation, including location if a route is planned on the sat-nav. BMW's more familiar drive mode select system includes Eco and Eco Pro for improved efficiency in terms of throttle response and gear changes through the automatic transmission. Brake energy recuperation helps top up the battery when slowing down, and owners can also pre-condition the interior.
BMW has incorporated the 330e into its normal trim levels, which means that it is available in SE Pro, Sport Pro, M Sport Pro, and M Sport Plus Edition. Standard equipment across the range includes BMW's EfficientDynamics systems, 17-inch alloys, automatic wipers and lights, parking sensors front & rear, reversing camera, 8.8-inch infotainment system with Bluetooth, USB, and DAB, adaptive LED headlights, active aero grille, and air conditioning. The M Sport model tested added 18-inch alloys, heated front seats, front sports seats, sports steering wheel and suspension, M Sport styling details, leather upholstery, and 10.25-inch infotainment system.
BMW's 330e was a popular model, and the new version is even better. Expectations of one in four 3 Series' sold being a 330e are not surprising, considering its capabilities. The driving experience remains top-notch, whilst the efficiency has been boosted to impress in real-world conditions.
Model tested: BMW 330e M Sport Saloon
Body-style: Compact executive saloon
Engine / CO2: 2.0 litre petrol and electric motor / 37 g/km
Trim grades: SE Pro, Sport Pro, M Sport Pro, and M Sport Plus Edition
On-road price: From £37,875. Price as tested: £47,100
Warranty: Three years / unlimited mileage
In the showroom: Now
Review rating: 4.0 Stars