The arrival of the new BMW 330e Touring means that now, for the first ever time, you can buy an electric BMW estate (well, part-electric) – so how did the first 330e Touring on UK roads perform, including on a trip to Lands End?
The BMW 3 Series Touring has always been a car that combines a rewarding driving experience with the practicality of an estate body style. Now you can have a 3 Series Touring that you can also drive on electric power for up to 35 miles. But what if you have to drive from Manchester to Lands End and back? How does a plug-in hybrid 3 Series Touring perform on such a drive? Read on to find out…
The new BMW 3 Series Saloon was recently introduced, and now the new 3 Series Touring is here. There’s more in-car technology than the last model, and the exterior styling has been updated (which looks especially good in the M-Sport trim of our test car). The basic blueprint remains the same as before, with a rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive chassis, but in addition to the 184hp 4-cylinder, 2-litre petrol engine with BMW TwinPower Turbo Technology, the 330e gains a lithium-ion battery under the rear seat and a 113hp electric motor integrated in the 8-speed Steptronic transmission. The maximum system torque is 420Nm.
The Touring model aims to offer more practicality than the Saloon, and although you can fit more in the boot, it should be noted that in order to accommodate the battery, the boot floor is slightly raised compared to the non-hybrid models, so you do lose a small amount of height. By folding down the rear 40:20 split backrest, storage space can be extended to up to 1,420 litres.
The basic ingredients of a BMW 3 Series driving experience are a good driving position, a rewarding rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive chassis, and a responsive powertrain – all in a premium, quality package. All these essentials are present in the 330e Touring.
You can position the driver’s seat very low and you can pull the steering wheel down and out, giving a Touring Car-like driving position, if that’s what you want.
It only takes a few bends to appreciate the rewarding rear-wheel drive bias – even with the all-wheel drive xDrive system fitted to our test car. The steering wheel is a thick-rimmed M-Sport affair, and the steering is very well weighted – as are all the controls. However possibly one of the finest achievements of this latest 3 Series is the balance between the sporty handling and a comfortable ride (no doubt helped by the optional Adaptive M Sport suspension on our test car).
As luck would have it, during the week that the 330e Touring was on test, a drive to Lands End and back from Manchester had to be carried out (actually Porthleven in Cornwall rather than Lands End, but only a few miles short).
A common complaint levelled against plug-in hybrids is that they’re no good for long journeys, because they’ll be operating on their petrol engines for the vast majority of the time. Equally, it can be a challenge to charge pure electric cars (apart from Teslas) using the UK’s current charging infrastructure on long journeys. So over the 700 mile return journey, the 330e would offer a reduced journey time compared to an EV that would need lots of charging en route, but would it offer any benefits over a petrol 3 Series?
The vast majority of the 350 mile route from Manchester to Cornwall is on motorways or dual carriageways, and the 330e provides an extremely comfortable, quiet and refined method of transportation on such roads. There are three main drive modes: Electric, Hybrid and Sport. For a long motorway drive, you don’t want Electric, as all the battery charge will disappear very quickly (it’s worth noting that the 330e can be driven on electric power up to 68mph in Hybrid mode or up to 87mph in Electric mode). You don’t really want Sport, as this mode keeps the revs very high (even at 35mph the 330e revs at 2,250rpm compared to 1,600rpm for a BMW 320i based on a test that we carried out). The revs are high to help provide a more sporty driving experience, but in Sport mode the 330e also charges the battery.
So you’re left with Hybrid mode, but if you leave the car in Hybrid mode over a 700 mile journey, despite BMW’s intelligent technology, it’s unlikely that you’ll have any electric power left for the times when you want it.
Most plug-in hybrids have a battery ‘save’ or ‘hold’ button, but instead BMW now provides you with a somewhat more complex option of a battery button which you press and then you select how much battery charge you want to save (we’d question how many people would either do this or know to do this). So for the long motorway trip we selected Hybrid mode, then Eco Pro in order to maximise efficiency, then we selected saving 80% battery charge. And off we headed.
Most of the M6 from Manchester to Birmingham has had a 50mph speed limit for years due to construction workers removing the hard shoulder to make a ‘smart’ motorway. At 50mph, with the battery charge set at 80%, so using just the petrol engine, the 330e Touring was managing 58.9mpg. The complete journey from Manchester to Birmingham resulted in an average of 56.4mpg. This would seem to be a good result for a 2-litre petrol estate car. And for the occasional traffic jam, electric mode was selected, resulting in zero emission crawling.
The rest of the journey to Exeter was comfortable, quiet, relaxing and efficient. In order to test the breadths of the 330e’s abilities properly, a diversion was made across Dartmoor to allow Sport mode to be tried out. Performance is good; the total system output of 252hp can be increased by an additional 40hp for up to 10 seconds to deliver a total of 292hp, and the 330e has a 0-62mph time of 6.2 seconds. You can also change gear manually using the steering wheel-mounted paddles, and you can reduce the interference of the traction control system (although even if kept on, this is very well judged) (and you can also disengage the traction control in electric mode).
And although the 330e has the extra weight of the battery and electric motor compared to the 320i, we can confirm that the 330e still has the rewarding rear-wheel drive-biased driver’s car characteristics of the other models in the latest 3 Series range.
Upon arrival in Porthleven, it was time to switch to electric propulsion, which meant near-silence, even more refinement, and zero tailpipe emissions. We also refuelled. The 350 mile journey had been achieved on one tank of fuel, and it cost just £40 to fill the tank (so it’s not a very large fuel tank). In comparison the price of a train ticket from Manchester to Penzance is £217.90, although BMW may suggest that the equivalent of 3 Series travel is a first-class rail ticket, which would be £380.40, making the fuel cost of the 330e around 10% of a rail ticket (yes, you would also need to buy the 330e in the first place).
The entire 700-mile journey showed how amazing the 3 Series satnav and infomedia system is. There’s a central touchscreen, which features clear, high quality mapping graphics. Then there are simple road layout graphics in the instrument display in front of the driver. And then there’s the (optional) head-up display, which projects your turns onto the windscreen – and so effectively onto the road. The system also identifies delays accurately. And you can speak to the car to tell it the destination you want rather than having to enter it on the screen. This is the best navigation system that we’ve experienced in any of the cars that we’ve reviewed.
One thing that you don’t want to be doing at 70mph is continually looking away from the road to the touchscreen and fiddling with menus and sub-menus. Thankfully the 330e has BMW’s excellent iDrive system, with a controller near the gear selector, to save having to constantly reach to the touchscreen. This also lets you easily zoom in or out of the map – something that seems unnecessarily difficult in many other cars.
So all is good. But surely there must be some issues? Well, very few, but one thing is the lane departure warning system, which tugs at the steering wheel, which we believe is at best annoying, and at worst potentially dangerous in all cars. This is a feature on all new cars; most allow you to switch this off with the touch of a button. However with the 330e, you need to go into the touchscreen to switch it off – every time you drive anywhere. And although there are separate climate controls rather than these being on the touchscreen, you also have to go into the touchscreen if you want to switch the air conditioning on or off.
The brakes also don’t provide the same level of reassuring feel as they do on a non-hybrid 3 Series.
There’s one final bit of good news for caravan owners: the 330e can tow up to 1,500kg.
The BMW 330e xDrive Touring combined fuel consumption is 156mpg and combined CO2 emissions are 41g/km (the 330e Saloon’s combined fuel consumption ranges from 176-201mpg and CO2 emissions from 37-32g/km). The 330e xDrive Touring offers an all-electric driving range of up to 35 miles and a combined range of up to 372 miles.
During our test of the 330e xDrive Touring to Cornwall and back, when driving just on the petrol engine, we managed 58.9mpg at 50mph, and we averaged 53.3mpg for the whole motorway journey. We averaged 45.0mpg for the entire 700 mile trip.
During our entire week with the car – most of which was spent on the motorway – the real-world electric range varied between 24-30 miles, it displayed a total driving range of 368 miles, and the average economy was 59.7mpg. The 330e could have averaged 1,000mpg+ if the car hadn’t been driven to Cornwall.
With a BMW i Wallbox, charging can be completed within 2.4 hours up to 80 per cent of the battery’s total capacity, and 3.4 hours to achieve full capacity.
The battery can also be charged at conventional household sockets, using the standard charging cable. Using this method, the completely discharged battery can be charged to 80 per cent of its total capacity within 4.2 hours, while 5.7 hours is required for a 100% recharge.
The BMW 330e xDrive M Sport Touring 2.0i costs £43,595 (compared to £39,575 for the 330e Saloon). However our test car had the usual extensive range of BMW options, including Portimao Blue paint (£670), Visibility Pack, including the excellent BMW Laserlights which give a 500 metre range (£1,500), Technology Pack including Head-up Display and BMW Gesture Control (£1,900), Premium Pack including panoramic glass sunroof and electric front seats (£1,900), Comfort Pack (£890), M Sport Pro Package including 18″ alloy wheels, M Sport braking system, Adaptive M Sport suspension and variable sport steering (£2,200) and Parking Assistant Plus (£650). The total price of our test car was £54,090.
The BMW 330e Touring is available with rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, and comes in four different models: 330e SE Pro, 330e Sport Pro, 330e M Sport and 330e M Sport Plus Edition.
Benefit in Kind rates for plug-in hybrids are much lower than petrol or diesel cars, with the 330e currently having a BIK rate of 10%. And if the car is driven primarily on electric power, then there will be considerable fuel savings.
Plug-in hybrids have had a lot of bad press over the years, but it’s less of a case of the cars being good or bad, instead it’s the way they are used.
If company car drivers buy a plug-in hybrid for the low benefit in kind tax rate, drive it up and down the nation’s motorways, and never charge the car because they get their fuel paid for by the company, then a plug-in hybrid is the wrong car choice.
A plug-in hybrid can be a good car choice for drivers who mostly drive less than 30 miles or so between charges, with occasional longer journeys. Our review of the BMW 330e Touring was a test of how a plug-in hybrid performs on such an occasional longer journey.
The key headline is that, unlike a two-tonne plug-in hybrid SUV, the BMW 330e Touring is actually very efficient on a long journey, averaging 53.3mpg over almost 700 miles at motorway speeds. However the 330e Touring is much more than that. It’s also sporty, comfortable, quiet, luxurious and practical. With xDrive all-wheel drive, it’s also very capable in all weathers (especially with the right tyres). But the key thing is that after the occasional long trip, the 330e can potentially drive all week with no use of petrol and zero tailpipe emissions.
Of course the 330e Touring isn’t cheap to buy, especially when options are added on, but for being such a complete, all-round car it’s awarded a Green Car Guide rating of 10 out of 10.