The BMW 330e plug-in hybrid delivers the rear-wheel drive handling of a touring car, the ride comfort of a BMW 5 Series, the performance of a sports car, and the zero emission driving ability of an electric car. What’s not to like?
The latest BMW 3 Series feels even more like a sports car than the last model, and the 330e Saloon is now here, which delivers a 50% increase in electric-only range and a reduction in CO2 emissions of more than 10 per cent.
The BMW 330e has a 4-cylinder, 2-litre petrol engine combined with a 12.0kWh lithium-ion high voltage battery, an electric motor integrated into the eight-speed Steptronic transmission, and it’s rear-wheel drive.
Visually, it’s an evolution of the last 3 Series model, which we think looked excellent, so whether the new model represents significant progress is a matter of personal opinion. The interior has also been updated, with more of a high-tech feel.
The lithium-ion battery is positioned underneath the rear seats and the fuel tank is located above the rear axle to minimise any impact on boot capacity (which is 375 litres). The rear seat backrests can also be folded down (in a 40:20:40 split).
It doesn’t take long to realise that the new 3 Series feels very special as a driver’s car. You can get an excellent driving position, with the seat going low and the steering wheel having lots of reach (and height) adjustment. The thick-rimmed M Sport steering wheel feels great, and you just need one movement of the gear selector and you’re in Drive.
When you move off you’ll probably be driving on battery power, which means that the 330e is very quiet and refined, and you can continue on to a top speed of 68mph on electric power.
The main three drive modes are Electric, Hybrid and Sport, and these are in a convenient position next to the driver to access quickly and easily. Each does what it says on the tin. Electric is ideal for local journeys in built-up areas. If you’re going further afield on mixed roads then Hybrid mode should choose the best powertrain source for you depending on your driving. The Hybrid mode also gives the opportunity to choose Eco Pro.
And if you’re heading to the best driving roads in North Wales, as we did, then it would be best to select Sport mode. Point the 330e down a road with a series of bends and the fluid, rear-wheel drive chassis is incredibly rewarding, yet the ride is also comfortable, and the steering is well weighted. In Sport mode the revs are kept higher and the car makes a good noise, and when you select Sport mode you can opt for ‘XtraBoost’, which increases the 252hp by a further 41hp.
You also have the option of changing gears manually using the steering wheel-mounted paddles.
At this point it’s probably worth noting that our test car had the M Sport Plus package (which costs £2,200) which adds 19-inch alloy wheels, M Sport braking system, Adaptive M Sport suspension and variable sport steering. So the suspension is excellent, but the combination of 19-inch wheels and low profile tyres mean that potholes can be felt.
There’s also an adaptive driving mode, where the car decides the best powertrain option based on the route.
And there’s a battery hold button, although there’s no text on the switch saying this, just a half-empty battery symbol, and this switch is located on the other side of the start-stop button from the drive mode switches, so it’s not that clear what this button does. If you press it then a dial appears on the touchscreen and you can select the percentage of battery charge that you want maintained using the iDrive rotary controller. Battery hold is ideal for long motorway journeys before entering a built-up area. And as well as being sporty and zero emission, the 330e is also very comfortable, quiet and refined at motorway speeds – aside from tyre noise on some road surfaces.
The new 3 Series has an excellent infomedia system; there’s a wide screen, and the iDrive controller, along with the shortcut buttons surrounding it, is so much better to use than a touchscreen, and there are now digital instruments. If you’re using the satnav, you get clear mapping and instructions on the touchscreen, in the centre of the instrument panel, and on the head-up display. So there’s really no excuse for getting lost. You’re also provided with warnings such as ‘dangerous curve ahead’, showing that safety systems can help a driver, while the driver – rather than the technology – is still able to drive the car.
Some silver buttons have appeared in the latest BMW interiors, which are used to control items such as the cabin temperature, with the more traditional black buttons either side – in our view this experiment shows that white text on black buttons are clearer, and BMW’s old rotary dials are more effective for quickly changing the interior temperature.
The official WLTP combined fuel economy for the BMW 330e Saloon is 201.8mpg, with CO2 emissions of 37 g/km. It has an electric driving range of 37 miles.
As regular readers of our reviews will know, you can expect anything between 30mpg and 300mpg from a plug-in hybrid depending on how much driving is done on electric power. So a key metric for us is what a plug-in hybrid will average at 70mph on the motorway, because that’s where the typical 330e is likely to spend much of its time. Our test car averaged 44.0mpg at 70mph on the petrol engine, which is much better than the 30mpg you’re likely to get from a petrol plug-in hybrid SUV.
After a week of mixed driving with the 330e in winter we averaged a 24 mile electric driving range and 56.5mpg.
The BMW 330e M Sport Saloon costs £39,575. Our test car had a number of options including Visibility package (£1,500), Technology package (£1,900), Premium package (£1,700), Comfort package (£990), M Sport Plus package (£2,200) and Parking Assistant Plus (£650), taking the total price to £49,300.
The BMW 330e Saloon is available from £37,875. Of course a plug-in hybrid with CO2 emissions of 37 g/km attracts a much lower company car Benefit in Kind (BIK) tax liability than a petrol or diesel car: 16% for 2019/20.
Almost the entire range of optional equipment features for the new BMW 3 Series Saloon are also available for the plug-in hybrid models. The new 330e comes in four different models: 330e SE Pro, 330e Sport Pro, 330e M Sport and 330e M Sport Plus Edition.
If you love driving but you also want a car that can transport you around with zero tailpipe emissions then the BMW 330e has to be at the top of your list. It offers rewarding rear-wheel drive handling with lots of performance, yet it can also be a comfortable and refined electric car for local journeys. And pretty much everything else is almost perfectly evolved in this latest generation of the 3 Series. The driving position is excellent, and the interior is high tech but also extremely functional. There are different drive modes, and you can change gear manually. All of this shows that you can have a car that has the ability to drive on electric power but it can still be engaging for the driver. Surely this latest 3 Series is the benchmark against which all other cars should be judged. Therefore the BMW 330e M Sport Saloon is awarded a Green Car Guide rating of 10 out of 10.
How could it be improved? Offer the PHEV powertrain in a Touring body style – which is exactly what BMW is doing in mid-2020. Beyond that, offer an xDrive all-wheel drive option to give the 330e all-weather and all-surface traction – something that BMW isn’t offering – yet.