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Quick and sophisticated, it makes a serious case for plug-in hybrids, and maintains the model’s reputation for class-leading excellence - though not without some sacrifice

Our Verdict

BMW 330e

After five years, the current BMW 3 Series gains a plug-in powertrain. We find out if it was worth the wait?

13 August 2019
Follow @@_rlane_

What is it?

Take two otherwise identical versions of any given car and the conventionally powered model will out-handle the hybrid.

This applies as much to supercars as it does to a supermini. Add a battery pack and you have a heavier car with greater inertia and fractionally delayed responses – the need to manage the additional mass with higher spring rates for the suspension, and so on. People who really enjoy driving therefore tend towards whichever pure petrol or diesel version strikes the best balance of performance, refinement and economy for their tastes and budget.

Which brings us to the new BMW 330e: an unapologetic plug-in hybrid whose maker cannot afford not to build and yet, as a 3 Series, ought to put handling on a pedestal. We’ll come to that in a moment, butelsewhere the 330e looks impressive. At £37,875 in SE trim (rising to £39,075 for the M Sport version driven here) it costs roughly the same as the 330i four-cylinder petrol but gives away just 0.2sec in the sprint to 62mph, despite weighing roughly 200kg more thanks to the hybrid hardware.

With carbon dioxide emissions of only 39g/km, company car drivers will also pay only half as much benefit in kind, and BMW has upped the battery capacity for this second attempt at a plug-in hybrid 3 Series from 7.6kWh to 12kWh, so the electric driving range increases from 25 to 41 miles – even on the stricter new WLTP regime. The new car can also hit 68mph in electric mode – a useful increase from 50mph in the original 330e of 2015, though still a sure-fire way to drain the battery in double-time.

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In fact, in the context of specification, it seems the only real trade-off against the 330i in daily use concerns boot space, where the 330e sacrifices just over 100 litres to make way for the repositioned fuel tank. With 375 litres, there’s less space than you’ll find in a 2 Series.

What's it like?

At the other end of the car sits the exact same 181bhp turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine used in the 320i, which on its own might only be enough to propel a 1660kg, rear-driven saloon of this size to 62mph in around 8.0sec. It isn’t alone, though, because within the 330e’s eight-speed Steptronic transmission there’s an electric motor that normally contributes 67bhp but can swell that to 111bhp for short bursts thanks to a new XtraBoost system activated in Sport mode.

Open the sluice gates and you’ve therefore got 289bhp and 310lb ft to play with – figures that comfortably surpass those of the 330i and make the 330e the most potent non-M 3 Series until the six-cylinder M340i xDrive arrives.

Altogether, the 330e makes a strong case before you’ve even turned a wheel, and indeed continues to do so once the wheels are turning. For a start, with both power sources on stream, this is a prodigiously quickcar. It defaults into electric mode when you ‘switch’ it on and once on the move there’s a useful marker in the digital instrument binnacle that tells you how much throttle you can use before combustion enters the fray (answer: more than you’d think).

The transition is seamless, and thereafter the 330e pulls fiercely hard. However, it doesn’t match the crisp delicacy of the 330i through direction changes and isn’t so alert. This is hardly a revelation, although with the weight of the battery pack kept within the wheelbase and similar physics at the front axle, the same satisfying poise is at least present.

In short, it’s no synaptic delight but neither is a car whose appeal disintegrates on a challenging road, and from the mid-range upwards, torque-fill from the electric motor means throttle response is effectively on par with a finely tuned naturally aspirated engine. 

Should I buy one?

Ultimately, the case for the 330e boils down to that of any plug-in hybrid: those who often make short journeys and can charge either at work or at home overnight could benefit significantly. Those who can’t, or hit a triple-digit mileage on a daily basis, are probably better off with a 330i or 330d.

What we can say is that the BMW is probably now the most convincing car of its kind, if not quite as convincing as the conventionally powered model.

BMW 3 Series 330e specification

Where Munich, Germany Price £39,075 On sale now Engine 4 cyls in line, 1998cc, turbocharged, petrol, electric motor Power 289bhp at 5000-6500rpm Torque 310lb ft at 1350-4250rpm Gearbox 8-spd automatic Kerb weight 1660kg Top speed 143mph 0-62mph 6.0sec Fuel economy 138.0mpg CO2 39g/km Rivals Volkswagen Passat GTE, Mercedes-Benz C300e

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Comments
17

14 August 2019

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14 August 2019

Why do reviews of Hybrids and EV assume Electricity is free? There is little assistance or guidance on how much it actually costs to recharge a car. The review on the 330e makes an assumption incorrectly that there is no cost to charge these vehicles. It does cost, so how much typically can an employer expect his electric bill to increase on a car for car daily charging session. How much will a consumers electricity bill increase with an overnight charge? What does it cost at a Service station on a motorway? Stop pretending this is free travel. It is not. The HMRC are working out ways to tax the unsuspecting Hybrid driving employee as it starts to experience large drops in income from preferential BIK rates. So please start to inform potential vehicle switchers the true cost of Hybrid or EV motoring and the make the cost of a charge transparent to the public. The sooner the better. 

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14 August 2019

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14 August 2019

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14 August 2019

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14 August 2019

You do have to factor in about a £1 per night for a charge. It won't be worth charging on a motorway charger, it costs more than running on petrol for a hybrid.

But BMW REALLY know what they are doing when it comes to benefit in kind, its like this version was designed for the UK market as the BIK tax tables are now sub-divided into EV range bands too, many popular hybrids don't gain as much advantage as they could. With an official range of 41 miles, this (just!) gets itself into the 8% band whilst all other hybrids are in the 12% band.

The really 'need to know' factors here is how much is boot space compromised, and what is the actual fuel consumption beyond battery range running on petrol. Although for the market this is specifically designed for, the company car market, the drivers will have an employers fuel card covering the cost so if it does 10,30, 50mpg who cares when your personally only paying 8% BIK!

14 August 2019

just looked at the pictures, same with all hybrid conversions of normal cars, the boot is really screwed, overnight bags only!

14 August 2019

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14 August 2019

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14 August 2019

great for the original business owner and likely a hectors house after 3 years for everyone else. These kinds of cars need a 10 year warranty to ensure the technology is reliable which will lead to more "waste" in ther longer run.

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