The 330e Plug-in hybrid is the technological flagship of BMW's current 3 Series line-up. Now, it has wider appeal. Jonathan Crouch takes a look.
With BMW's plug-in hybrid petrol/electric 330e model, the conventional 320i variant's 184hp 2.0-litre petrol engine has been matched with an electric motor and a larger battery to create quite a package. Now you can habve it with the estate body style and xDrive AWD too.
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 37 miles of all-electric driving range when the car's charged up, which enables the creation of some impressive overall stats - 138mpg on the WLTP combined cycle and just 39g/km of NEDC-rated CO2. Take some time to understand BMW's thinking here and it's hard not to be impressed.
This current 330e Plug-in hybrid took a big step forward over its predecessor, the main difference between the two cars found when it comes to measurement of all-electric driving range. This was rated at only 21 miles in the previous generation 3 Series plug-in but in this current 330e design, BMW clams up to 37 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 electric motor incorporating an 'XtraBoost' function. This can increase power to as much as 293hp, reducing the 62mph sprint time to six seconds exactly. The hybrid system's extra weight drops maximum speed slightly over that of the ordinary 320i, but it's still rated at 143mph. The brand's xDrive 4WD system is now available on this variant.
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. The 3 Series styling theme by now should be familiar to almost every business buyer. Classic cues like the kidney grille at the front, the sharp lines of the flanks and the powerful rear end are all present and correct.
The cabin looks predictably smart, with chrome finishing and high-gloss surfaces. This 'M Sport'-trimmed models get the full 'Live Cockpit Professional' package which gives you a 12.3-inch virtual instrument binnacle screen and a 10.25-inch centre-dash iDrive monitor There's some clever stuff incorporated into this pricier set-up, including gesture control and what BMW calls an 'Intelligent Personal Assistant', which works a bit like the 'Siri' or 'Google Assistant' systems you might use on your 'phone and is there to answer questions you can voice to the car as you drive it. 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.
The 330e now comes in both saloon and Touring estate guises, plus there's a choice of either rear-driven or 4x4 xDrive formats. You get four trim levels to choose from - 'SE', 'Sport', 'M Sport' and 'M Sport Plus'. Prices start at around £38,000 and rise to around £48,000. As with all Plug-in hybrids, you have to have automatic transmission.
Even base 'SE' trim gets you plenty of kit that previously you'd have had to pay extra for on a 3 Series - things like Adaptive full-LED headlamps, a Parking Assistant that automatically steers you into spaces, a reversing camera, acoustic side glass and 3-Zone air conditioning that allows rear passengers to set their own climate. BMW has even standardised its lovely 'Welcome Light Carpet' that illuminates the ground around the front doors when you get into the car or step out of it at night.
In addition, pretty much all the stuff you'd expect from a mid-sized premium executive model is present and correct too. So tick off alloy wheels (17-inchers on base 'SE' models), along with front and rear 'Park Distance Control' parking sensors, auto headlamps and wipers, power-folding heated mirrors, an alarm and LED illumination for the tail lamps and front fog lights. Inside, buyers get a leather-stitched 'Sport' multi-function steering wheel, cruise control and an anti-dazzle rear view mirror.
Despite the fact that these days there's no longer the government contribution towards the purchase price that helped to boost sales of earlier versions of the old 'F30'-series 330e, BMW still reckons this plug-in derivative will be a strong seller. The installation of a more capable 12.0kWh lithium-ion high-voltage battery has nearly doubled its potential electric driving range - to as much as 37 miles. And increased the all-electric top speed potential to 68mph.
As usual with Plug-in hybrids, the official WLTP combined cycle fuel figure - up to 201.8mpg - needs to be taken with a pinch of salt, but the important thing is that the government believes the quoted CO2 return - just 37g/km. Which means a super-low Benefit-in-Kind taxation rating of 16%. Of course it's unlikely that you'd ever achieve the quoted mpg and CO2 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 330e struggled a little in this regard with its relatively restricted all-electric driving range. Fortunately, technology has moved on and this current 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.
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