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First drive: BMW 330e. Image by BMW.

First drive: BMW 330e
A plug-in hybrid drivetrain for the crucial BMW 3 Series.

 



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BMW 330e

4 4 4 4 4

Astonishing efficiency is promised by the BMW 330e, a plug-in hybrid 3 Series that preserves all of the 'regular' car's character in its conversion to a part-electric format. It proves to be a thoroughly likeable PHEV priced on the same level as the existing 318d (with current Government grants), so if you can stomach its real-world returns - which remain excellent if some way off the quoted numbers - then it could be the pick of the current Three line-up.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: BMW 330e
Pricing: 330e starts at 33,935 on-the-road (excluding Government's grants)
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol with synchronous electric motor
Transmission: eight-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Body style: four-door saloon
CO2 emissions: 44g/km (VED Band A, 0)
Combined economy: 148.7mpg; 11.0kWh/62.5 miles battery
Top speed: 140mph
0-62mph: 6.1 seconds
Power: petrol 184hp at 5,000- to 6,500rpm; electric 88hp at 2,500rpm; combined peak output 252hp
Torque: petrol 290Nm at 1,350- to 4,250rpm; electric 250Nm at 0- to 2,500rpm; combined peak output 420Nm

What's this?

The new BMW 330e. Which means it's a petrol-electric plug-in hybrid (PHEV) 3 Series, using a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder internal combustion engine and a synchronous electric motor. We've seen this drivetrain already in the X5 xDrive40e we sampled late last year, although in the 3 Series application the overall outputs have been reduced compared to the 313hp/450Nm SUV. Here, we're looking at 252hp and 420Nm, which puts it (roughly) on a par with the four-cylinder turbocharged 330i on the former score and the straight-six 340i on the latter; BMW chose 330 badging as it felt it a natural alternative to the existing 330i and 330d Threes, yet thanks to generous Government grants its pricing aligns it with the 318d for now.

Aside from the '330e' legend on the boot, the 'eDrive' logos on the C-pillars and that extra 'filler flap' on the nearside front wing (it hides the electric charging port), this new 3 Series looks like any other four-door variant. Inside our test car, mesh-effect cloth trim, blue stitching in all quarters, some extra jazzy hybrid displays in the instrument cluster and iDrive menus, and that eDrive button near the Steptronic gear lever were the only giveaways. That, and a boot reduced in capacity by 110 litres thanks to the PHEV components, meaning you've got 370 litres in total to play with. The practical 'Through-Load' system with 40:20:40 split rear seats makes the cut, though, while the floor is flat and there's a neat pocket on the left-hand side of the cargo area in which you can store your charging cable when it's not required.

Three modes are available via that eDrive button: Auto eDrive, which allows the car's brain to manage the available energy sources accordingly; Max eDrive, which locks the car in full EV mode, if the battery's charge state will allow; and Save, which utilises the petrol engine as a generator, along with regenerative braking, to maintain or charge the battery (back up to 50 per cent capacity) for later EV-driving needs. Theoretically, you can get 25 miles out of a full charge with a limited top speed of 75mph in Max eDrive, while the 330e weighs at least 1,665kg, which is fairly hefty by executive saloon class standards. Its bulk might also explain what could be the major sticking point in buying the 3 Series PHEV, which we'll come on to now...

How does it drive?

It's quick. It's composed. It's comfortable. And in reality, it returned eco-stats that would shame any equivalent-power, petrol-only exec saloon, and we daresay a few diesel ones too. But on our test drive it was a long way off its quoted returns and not hugely exciting to drive. Allow us to expand on all the above.

The 330e's drivetrain is fine. OK, the 2.0-litre engine never sounds particularly nice under hard acceleration, but nor does it sound coarse, and the way it powers up and shuts down without a shudder on the move is absolutely remarkable. So is the glorious, silky eight-speed automatic gearbox: Toyota/Lexus, please take note, part-electric hybrids do not need CVTs utterly ruining everything in the name of efficiency gains. The brakes have a slightly uneven rate of progression, a result of their duality in having to charge the battery and stop the car, but after a few hairy moments initially you soon re-attune to the rather large amount of pedal travel you need to pull up smartly. And this Three proved exactly why you don't need BMW's Active Steering, because it felt absolutely lovely without it.

The ride was nice too, that underlying firmness all BMWs present still there but with any nervousness flattened out by the 330e's increased kerb weight. Word of warning, though; our car was on 17-inch alloys shod in German regulation winter rubber, so the way it wafted serenely over largely pristine Munich road surfaces is likely to be unrepresentative of the manner in which a 19s-equipped M Sport version will thump along knackered British tarmac. We'll hold fire on a definitive call on ride comfort until we've driven it in the UK, then.

And in full EV mode, it's of course so much quieter than any diesel or petrol model, no matter how refined, could hope to be. Wind noise, electric engine whirr, tyre whoop - they were all well suppressed. What a shame, then, that beyond its extremely comfortable cruising lower ground, there's no dynamic plateau to be explored by the keener adventurer... sorry, driver. Despite its monster pace (the 330e feels every bit as rapid as its 0-62mph time suggests, and maybe a bit more besides) and excellent body control, the 3 Series seems to have become a bit soft in recent years and the 330e is no exception. It's supremely composed and still more exciting than an Audi A4 or Mercedes-Benz C-Class, but the gulf between them is no longer so big that the BMW automatically becomes a no-brainer. Both the Audi and the Mercedes can do comfort to a high standard, which makes brand loyalty the biggest showroom decider nowadays, rather than BMW's historic ability to turn out super-sharp sports saloons.

Which leaves us with the real-world economy data. This is where it gets tricky to convince the electric car naysayers, and where the 330e's heftiness comes into play. Compared to the extraordinary quoted figures of 148.7mpg and 44g/km CO2 (134.5mpg and 49g/km on larger alloys than the 17s), you're probably thinking 62.8mpg at an average 34.4mph, across 79 miles in seven-degree temperatures and on flat ground, is atrocious. But, come on, be reasonable - BMW is legally obliged to quote these astounding figures due to the NEDC farce, the company knowing full well that regular usage of the 330e's petrol motor will render the economy/emissions data utterly impossible to achieve. And, if you live in a city and commute less than 19 miles a day (as BMW reckons most of its customers worldwide do), all the while making sure you charge the battery on a regular basis, you might even end up driving exclusively in Max eDrive; meaning you'll eclipse 150mpg by some margin. Wow. Furthermore, no diesel nor petrol of equivalent power and performance could ever hope to realistically achieve 62.8mpg, so we're giving the 330e a big thumbs-up on the economy front. It's one of those instances where you need to ignore the official numbers and accept the hybrid drivetrain has really earned its crust.

Verdict

Don't go into this BMW 3 Series proposition expecting dynamic fireworks, because although it's very fast, capable and unruffled, the 330e is no wolf in sheep's clothing. However, as a convincing PHEV package, it's pretty hard to fault. It'll be cheap to tax and run thanks to its part electrification, and its refinement levels are class-leading whether you're making progress on a motorway or just ambling about town. The 330e is the best, most polished BMW hybrid yet launched... if you discount the stellar i8, that is.

4 4 4 4 4 Exterior Design

5 5 5 5 5 Interior Ambience

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Passenger Space

4 4 4 4 4 Luggage Space

5 5 5 5 5 Safety

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Comfort

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Driving Dynamics

4 4 4 4 4 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 28 Jan 2016









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2016 BMW 330e Saloon. Image by Max Earey.2016 BMW 330e Saloon. Image by Max Earey.2016 BMW 330e Saloon. Image by Max Earey.2016 BMW 330e Saloon. Image by Max Earey.2016 BMW 330e Saloon. Image by Max Earey.

2016 BMW 330e Saloon. Image by Max Earey.2016 BMW 330e Saloon. Image by Max Earey.2016 BMW 330e Saloon. Image by Max Earey.2016 BMW 330e Saloon. Image by Max Earey.2016 BMW 330e Saloon. Image by Max Earey.



2016 BMW 330e Saloon. Image by BMW.
 

2016 BMW 330e Saloon. Image by BMW.
 

2016 BMW 330e Saloon. Image by BMW.
 

2016 BMW 330e Saloon. Image by BMW.
 

2016 BMW 330e Saloon. Image by BMW.
 

2016 BMW 330e Saloon. Image by BMW.
 

2016 BMW 330e Saloon. Image by BMW.
 






 

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