While there have been so many versions of the BMW 3 Series that it can be confusing to know which is which, this particular one, the 330e, is rapidly becoming the most important.
As it’s a plug-in hybrid (PHEV), it comes with officially quoted CO2 emissions of just 41g/km, which makes it a green car in the eyes of tax law-deciding politicians. So particularly for company car drivers – a market which the 3 Series is a massive player in, the 330e becomes a much more wallet-friendly option than other 3 Series models.
Of course the 41g/km is a fallacy as like most PHEVS this BMW will spend much longer using its petrol power than electric volts – but rules are rules…
What’s new about the BMW 330e?
According to BMW, the 330e is the first 3 Series that was designed from the start with a hybrid drivetrain in mind. What this means firstly is more grunt – compared to the previous 3 Series hybrid, the motor has had its power boosted by around 25%. Added to that is better handling, due to the various elements of the drivetrain being better integrated into the chassis with many of them between the two axles.
The other big change this time round is that you don’t have to have your 3 Series PHEV as a saloon – for the first time the 330e is available in the rather more practical Touring (estate) form. And you can have it in rear-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive, xDrive in BMW speak.
How does it look?
From the outside the 330e appears to be like any other BMW 3 Series Touring, its electric drivetrain only given away by a discreet letter on the boot-mounted model badge and what appears to be a second petrol flap on the nearside front wing, hiding the charging socket.
So you get a reasonably purposeful visual silhouette which has been updated in the latest model. Our test car looked better than that, because it came in M Sport trim, a £2,200 options package that adds a whole lot of performance-pitched extras such as bespoke wheels, sporty suspension and uprated brakes, and includes extra aerodynamic add-ons.
As a result this car certainly looks the performance part – appearing as if you have forked out for the almost mythical BMW M3. This extends to the grille – your reviewer is not a fan of BMW’s latest, enormous, in-your-face noses but the black version on the front of the 330e is rather toned down compared to the chrome monstrosities on some of the brand’s SUVs.
What’s the spec like?
As mentioned, the latest 330e comes in saloon or estate (Touring in BMW-speak) form, and with rear- or all-wheel-drive. Our test car was the Touring variant with power to all four corners.
Thankfully the bad old days when BMWs came with absolutely nothing in terms of standard equipment and everything was on the options list are along gone – such things as cruise control, a DAB digital radio, LED fog lights, automatic air-con and such do come supplied these days.
Even so this particular test car bristles with almost £10,000 worth of options including quite a lot of technology, and very few potential owners will go into a purchase without expecting to dig deeper into their budgets to afford some of the various nice-to-have extras on offer.
In terms of safety, the BMW 330e is also well equipped. It scored a full five-star rating from Euro NCAP when it was assessed in 2019, with an excellent overall set of scores in every category.
What’s the BMW 330e like inside?
BMW interiors have long been classy if not particularly distinctive and it’s no surprise to find this latest 3 Series incarnation maintaining the trend. There is plenty of space, and it is very easy to get nice and comfortable, especially as many of these cars are expected to spend their life cruising long distances.
The driver’s view is dominated by the enormous touchscreen of the infotainment system, best used as a sat nav map – its location, high up on the centre console as is practically possible is a definite positive, minimising time spent with one’s eyes off the road.
Our car was fitted with the optional Technology pack, a snip at £1,900. While this included such niceties as wireless charging, better speakers and ‘gesture control’ (adjust the radio volume by waving at it), this reviewer was most impressed by the highly efficient head-up display. Yes it projects on the windscreen and no it’s not a distraction, allowing you to take in info while never stopping looking where you are going.
The boot is quite practical and at 410 litres fairly generous, though it’s a bit smaller than a standard 3 Series Touring’s 500 litres so as to accommodate the hybrid elements. With seats down it stretches to 1,420 litres and there is still some underfloor storage, though not really big enough to hide all the electric charging cables.
What’s under the bonnet?
The hybrid drivetrain takes as its base the 2.0-litre 183hp turbo petrol engine of the 320i, attaches it to the regular eight-speed sequential auto transmission and then sandwiches between the two an electric motor powered by a lithium-ion battery placed under the rear seats. This battery is a major improvement, its capacity almost doubled from 5.4 to 10.3kWh.
The electric motor serves up its own 112hp for a total system output of an impressive 252hp. And the car comes with a new ‘Xtraboost’ feature which offers bursts – and they are bursts, only around 10 seconds a time – of power at 293hp. This is hidden in the Sport driving mode, in which sudden acceleration activates the boost.
All this means a 62mph sprint time of just over six seconds and a top speed where allowed of 136mph. The motor can of course drive the car by itself, and at speeds up to 68mph, and due to those battery upgrades the electric-only range jumps up too, officially quoted at up to 37 miles WLTP depending on which 330e you choose.
In terms of charging BMW quotes 80% recuperation from flat in 2.4 hours using one its own wallboxes, reaching full capacity in 3.4 hours. Using a conventional household socket quoted charge time is 4.2 hours to 80%, and our experience with a cable trailing across the reviews driveway confirmed this.
What’s the BMW 330e like to drive?
Traditionally BMWs have always been regarded as excellent machines to drive, a factor driving the overwhelming popularity of the 3 Series, and the 330e does not disappoint. This is a car that is very, very good on the road, a truly enjoyable experience.
The acceleration, particularly with Sport selected and activating the Xtraboost, is very impressive – but there is the nagging thought in the back of the mind as to why such niceties feature on a car aimed at those wanting greener motoring – more tax-cutting than planet-saving then?
It’s an enjoyable car through corners, the responsive chassis 3 Series owners expect not being diluted in hybrid form. And even though our car is powered on all four wheels it combines the resultant excellent grip with a slight bias towards rear-wheel drive which adds to the fun.
Of course you don’t have to hustle it and in normal travel driving the BMW is a relaxing, unflustered experience as befits its premium status. With hybrid mode selected the 330e will eat up motorway miles in a highly refined manner.
The hybrid side of the car is quite flexible – you can use it on full electric, when you want to, or you save what’s in the battery for when you know you might need it, such as in an urban controlled emissions zone. You can even choose how much battery charge you want to save and use the rest.
There’s also an automatic setting, when the hybrid unit works with the car’s sat nav to highlight the best places to use electric power on a journey you’ve programmed in. And like all the best BEVs the car offers brake-energy recuperation enabling you to put some juice back in the battery – specially useful around town with lots of coasting and braking.
As plug-in hybrids go, the BMW 330e is a good one. It starts off with the major advantage of the 3 Series itself, a car that has dominated the wish lists of particularly company drivers for very many years. But it adds an efficient PHEV system with lots of flexibility.
The car is enjoyable to drive, and most owners will likely rate the experience and the tax savings more highly than the little bit they are doing towards encouraging greener motoring.
Model as tested: BMW 330e xDrive M Sport Touring
Price as tested: £54,090 (inc. options)
Powertrain: 2.0 turbo petrol + electric motor
Battery: 10.3 kWh lithium-ion
Power: 252 hp combined (+ 40 hp boost)
Torque: 420 Nm combined
Top speed: 136 mph
0-62mph: 6.1 sec