People who like to drive a car, will tell you that the BMW 3 Series is the best. Indeed, in these very pages, we have waxed lyrical for years on just how good the 3 & the 5 Series are to drive. For example, we recently drove the new 320d & yet again, BMW has a class leader. As fleet managers & company car buyers make up a large percentage of 3 Series customers, the previous 330e accounted for a quarter of all 3 Series sales, BMW know that the 330e plug-in hybrid, needs to appeal to the corporate sector. Can a car that weighs 200kg more then the 330i petrol, really be that good to drive ? Read on to find out.
In reality, those who often make short journeys & can charge their car at work, at home or both, are the customers who will really benefit from choosing the 330e. High mileage is still better taken in a 320d or 330i. The previous 330e only had a real-world electric range of 25 miles, whilst the latest version significantly increases this to 41 miles. BMW have also cunningly priced the 330e to appeal too, with the range costing from £37,875, rising to £39,980 for the range-topping M Sport, just a few hundred pound’s more than the 330i, although the 320d is cheaper.
Having said that, company car drivers won’t care about the gross cost, just the Benefit in Kind & this is where the 330e shines, with a rate of just 16% compared to the 320d’s 30-32% depending on model. And who doesn’t want money in their pocket ? Despite the logic, existing 3 Series drivers may worry that the 330e doesn’t drive like a 3 Series. Let’s put that one to bed.
The 330e is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine in combination with an electric motor, both of which send power to the rear axle. The engine delivers 182bhp, with the electric motor adding an extra 67bhp for a total output of 249bhp. To add the fun, the 330e comes with a new XtraBoost mode, accessed when the 330e is in Sport mode. This allows the electric motor to run in overdrive for short periods, taking the total power up to 289bhp and 420Nm.
The 330e offers the driver various driving modes to make use of the hybrid, electric-only & Sport functions. To further the efficiency of the car during real world use, BMW has developed a feature called Intelligent Deceleration with Adaptive Recuperation. This tells the car whether to coast or to use regenerative braking to put power back into the battery pack. And there’s a Battery Control Mode, which allows the driver to keep the battery charged at a selected level so that battery power can be saved for later. Have a full charge but about to embark on a motorway trip, save the power & utilise it next time your’e in town.
We only had a short time driving the 330e, but on a series of winding Yorkshire roads in pouring rain, it feels both poised & purposeful. It helps that it uses an eight-speed automatic gear box & that it’s rear-wheel drive. In Sport mode, the torque of the electric motor is instantaneous & this makes for satisfyingly swift progress. Don’t get me wrong, experienced drivers will get a feel for the 12kW battery which is located under the rear seats, especially in tight turns. But, the extra weight doesn’t stop the 330e from being fun to drive, far from it.
We don;t always drive quickly though. When your’e driving more slowly in town or in traffic, the 2.0-litre engine shuts out, allowing the car to operate on electric power alone. In theory, if your commute is under 40 miles you should be able to get to work using electric power only. However, we would surmise that 35 miles is a more likely range. More good news is that if you use the motorway on your commute, the new top-speed on the battery powered motor is an improved 68mph. Again, be warned, drive in electric power at this kind of speed & the 35 mile range will evaporate in front of your eyes.
As with the rest of the 3 Series range, the 330e is larger than it’s predecessor; 85 millimetres longer (at 4,709mm), 16 millimetres wider (1,827mm) & just 1 mm taller (1,442 millimetres) than the Series 6. The wheelbase has also grown by 41mm, with the result of increasing leg room in the rear. The car’s front & rear tracks have also been widened, which in turn improve the ride & handling. More legroom also helps to increase headroom, which is better in the 3 Series than either the C Class or the A4. Getting in and out of the car is also easier for the rear passengers, because the door aperture height on the new version, has been increased.
Undoubtedly one of the best improvements over the previous model on the new 3 Series, is the interior. Gone is the slightly Bavarian drabness of previous incarnations, replaced by a far more attractive & user-friendly layout. Perhaps BMW felt it needed to change, because the latest Audi A4 & Mercedes C-Class are now pretty impressive inside. What BMW have cleverly done is to also up the ante with a selection of higher quality materials, which have really improved the finish. Both the look & the feel of everything is more aesthetically pleasing. I struggled to find anything you can see or touch, that doesn’t either look great or feel top notch. As far as the interior & exterior of the 330e go, they are almost identical to the 320d, with just a few subtle hints that this is a hybrid.
Negatives ? Inevitably, the battery reduces rear boot space from 480 litres to 375 litres. Plus, the 330e runs on low rolling resistance tyres, which in our experience don’t offer the same grip as normal tyres & are apt to need replacing, especially at the front, every 12,000 miles or so. And, the regenerative brakes, designed to recoup energy, don’t feel as responsive as the standard 3 Series set-up. Brake hard & the car shudders more to a halt than in the 320d for example & the brake pedal takes a little bit of getting used to. But, that is about it.
Hopefully, if you’ve read the review up to this point, you will draw the same conclusion that we have. The 330e is pretty damn good. Perhaps not quite a good to drive as the 320d or 330i, but it’s surprisingly close. Close enough we believe, that most won’t be put off , especially with a 41 mile electric only range, 16% BIK, fuel economy of up to 138mpg & CO2 emissions of only 39g/km.
We still love the 320d & for long motorway driving, it’s still our choice. However, if we had a shorter, regular, daily commute, then we would definitely not be disappointed to drive the 330e, which is at time of writing, the best plug-in hybrid BMW has produced & is arguably the best plug-in car full stop.
The best BMW plug-in-hybrid thus far. 4.25/5