The 330e Plug-in hybrid is the technological flagship of BMW's improved 3 Series line-up. Jonathan Crouch takes a look.
Ten Second Review
With BMW's plug-in hybrid petrol/electric 330e model, the conventional 320i variant's 184bhp 2.0-litre petrol engine has been matched with an 80kW electric motor to create quite a package.
Not everyone wanting futuristic engine technology wants their car to also look futuristic. To look like BMW's i3 for instance. If you're buying from this Bavarian brand and want a petrol/electric powerplant, the 330e Plug-in hybrid offers a more subtle way to go. You get 21 miles of all-electric driving range when the car's charged up, which enables the creation of some impressive overall stats - 134.5mpg on the combined cycle and just 49g/km of CO2. Take some time to understand BMW's thinking here and it's hard not to be impressed.
The 330e Plug-in hybrid replaces the old ActiveHybrid3 model, the main difference between the two cars found when it comes to measurement of all-electric driving range. This was negligible in the ActiveHybrid3 but in a 330e, BMW clams up to 21 miles of zero emissions motoring from a fully-charged set of batteries. In other words, if you've a pretty typical daily commute, you might never have to fuel up this car to complete it. As you might expect, this kind of cleverness comes courtesy of a very advanced powerplant indeed, in this case a combination of the 184bhp 2.0-litre petrol unit from the 320i mated to an 80kW electric motor. These two elements create a combined output of 264bhp and a combined maximum torque figure of 420Nm, good enough when you switch into full engine mode to send this car to 62mph in 6.1s on the way to 140mph. The all-electric top speed is 74mph. Drive meets the tarmac via an 8-speed auto gearbox.
Design and Build
This isn't the kind of Plug-in hybrid model you'll buy if you want to make an eco-statement. Unless you really know your BMWs, there's almost nothing to visually differentiate a 330e from any other 3 Series saloon. And like other 3 Series saloon models, it benefits from a package of aesthetic revisions introduced in mid-2015. The idea of these was to make the car look wider and lower than before, so BMW revised the front and rear bumper assemblies with broader horizontal elements. The headlights feature LED indicators acting as eyebrows across the top of the light units. At the rear, the tail lamps are full-LED units with heavily curved light bars. The cabin looks predictably smart, with chrome finishing and high-gloss surfaces. Practicality has been improved with cup holders in the centre console that feature a sliding cover and an additional practical storage area for items such as a smartphone, positioned forward of the cup holders. There's a respectable amount of rear legroom for what remains a manageably-sized car. The saloon's luggage bay still measures 480-litres in 330e form, exactly as it would on any other four-door 3 Series model.
Market and Model
The 330e only comes in saloon guise, but you do get four trim levels to choose from - 'SE', 'Sport', 'Luxury' and 'M Sport'. Prices start at around £34,000, but you (or more likely your company Fleet Manager) will be able to deduct £2,500 from that figure courtesy of the government's Plug-in car grant. As with all Plug-in hybrids, you have to have automatic transmission. All variants get alloy wheels, auto headlamps and wipers, chromed exhaust finishers, power heated mirrors, an alarm and LED technology for the daytime driving lights at the front and the tail lamps at the rear. Inside, there's two-zone air conditioning, 'Comfort Go' keyless engine start and the 'Drive Performance Control' system that, via 'ECO PRO', 'Comfort' and 'Sport' modes, allows you to alter throttle response, steering feel and gearchange timing to suit the way you want to drive. Other standard items include a three-spoke multifunction leather-trimmed steering wheel, cruise control, an On-Board Computer and the industry-leading iDrive infotainment system, via which you can activate satellite navigation, a DAB digital radio and a Bluetooth hands-free facility with a USB interface with an Aux-in point.
Cost of Ownership
BMW claims that when fully charged (ideally from the optional 'BMW i Wallbox'), this car will run in full-electric zero-emissions mode for up to 21 miles, a factor that computes out to some impressive overall stats - 134.5mpg on the combined cycle and just 49g/km of CO2. Of course it's unlikely that you'd ever achieve those kinds of figures in the real world, but the important thing is that the government believes them, hence the attractive tax breaks that'll come as part and parcel of 330e model ownership.
BMW has at last brought us a hybrid 3 Series model that makes real world sense. The old 'Active Hybrid 3' model never did, with its high price and tiny all-electric driving range. Fortunately, technology has moved on and this 330e demonstrates just how far. If you were thinking of a high-spec diesel-engined version of this Bavarian model, we think you really have to look at a 330e as a realistic alternative. The long waiting lists for this variant suggest that many potential customers are.