It’s been a few days since I took back the BMW 330e after spending a weekend with it and the main part of the experience that has stuck with me is the performance. I was expecting it to be quick, having driven the previous incarnation of the model, but I wasn’t prepared for how quick and muscular it feels when I buried my right foot into the gas.
And because it wasn’t an all-wheel drive car which I got to drive on some quite rainy days, the rear end was quite happy to swing wide when coming out of corners hot. Only when I wanted it to, though, and this made it a lot of fun.
The performance for me dominated the driving experience, especially since acceleration was relentless regardless of where in the rev range it picked up, thanks to the 111 horsepower electric motor that’s encased in the eight-speed automatic gearbox. This really does feel like a nearly-300 horsepower car.
BMW has made it so the fact that it’s a plug-in hybrid doesn’t really dominate the experience. Leave it Hybrid mode, and it will work out for itself when and where to shut off the gasoline engine, when to run on electricity and when to run both power plants; it’s not really perceptible, although sometimes when the car is stopped and the engine starts, it does move the car a bit.
My tester had the optional adaptive dampers which when set in their softer setting really make the 3 Series feel really supple and like a bigger car than it really is in terms of comfort. Ride quality was a really impressive and you don’t have to have the adaptive dampers to get it - cars with regular shocks still ride eight tenths as well and will be cheaper to service out of warranty.
Regarding the way the car looks, I must confess to being a fan. I like its proportions, the elongated hood and its front and rear fascias. BMW has thankfully not contaminated the 3 Series with the virus that makes its grille grow uncontrollably - its grille is not small, but it is nowhere near as large as on some other models.
Its interior also deserves a word of praise. I think it’s the best out of any car in the segment currently, in terms of design and quality feel. The design is such a big leap forward over the outgoing F30 3 Series that it makes that car look even more old fashioned than it already did.
The (optional, larger) infotainment and digital gauge cluster combo is another highlight. BMW calls this the Live Cockpit Professional and there’s a lot to like about it. The virtual instruments are great, easily legible and highly configurable, while the infotainment (running the latest 7.0 version of iDrive) is intuitive and easy to navigate through, both by prodding the screen or using the swivel wheel controller next to the gear selector. My tester also had gesture control which works well most of the time.
Regarding the PHEV side of things, it has to be said the 330e works as way to save fuel, especially in the city. No, you won’t come near BMW’s claim that it can travel up to 60 km (38 miles) on a single charge of its 12.4 kWh battery pack, but you might just nudge 40 km (24 miles) on a good (and warm) day.
Besides, if your commute is short and you charge the car via a wallbox at home, you won’t really feel the need for the gasoline engine to start because the car moves itself at a decent pace using only its electric motor. I timed it from naught to 100 km/h (62 mph) in Electric mode and it completed the sprint in a smidgen under 13 seconds.
If you keep its battery topped up, you should see a real world economy figure of under 4 l/100km, and if the engine needs to start to charge the battery, it will use around 9 l/100km, which is still pretty good given how much performance it has.
This is the problem with all PHEVs, though - if you have a place to charger it (preferably at home or at work), then it makes a lot of sense to get it, but otherwise you’re better off with the non-plug-in variant of the same model, in this case the 320i or 330i.
Gallery: 2020 BMW 330e
Questions from our readers:
Does the car come with run-flat tires? Do you think a lighter/better tire would greatly improve efficiency?
Yes, the car does come with run-flat tires, but it rides remarkably well (at least on 17-inch rims). Regarding the second question, whenever you lower unsprung weight, it has a whole host of advantages, one of which is the improved efficiency.
I'd be interested to see total real-world EV range for both city and highway. (which likely means two different complete charges, and two complete journeys to answer that.) . I'd also like to know if it has a true EV mode where the ICE won't turn on. If it does, I'd like to know what the 0-60 time is in EV mode.
I only had the car fully charged once, and I drove it 80 percent in town and 20 percent on the highway. I think I was able to eek out around 31 - 32 km (around 19 miles) before it had to start its engine to recharge the battery. Yes, it does have an EV mode when the engine doesn’t start and it sprints to sixty in just under 13 seconds.
I'll ask you a question, then: why is does the BMW styling never change?
BMW probably thinks that if it’s not broken, then why fix it, although, to be fair, the G20 looks quite a bit more stately and grown up compared to the F30. The latter could still trace its visual roots in the E90 that was launched some 15 years ago, whereas the new model doesn’t appear to be visually related to that old model.
Smart looking car, especially with the color! I just wish BMW would offer am all-electric version already, but at least the all-electric range seems quite decent for most daily trips!
Yes, the color (called Blue Ridge Mountain) suits it very well; it’s subtle and looks greyish most of the time, but when direct sunlight hits it, it comes alive with lovely teal hues. Well, BMW is going to launch an all-electric version of the new 4 Series, called the i4, and since it shares its platform with the 3 series, there’s no reason why a 3 EV couldn’t join the range later.
Does it run the engine to provide heat? How large is the gas tank? How is the ride (compared to Honda Clarity, for example?) Is luggage capacity affected by the battery? How strong is regen when you let go the gas pedal (compared to i3, for example?) Thanks!
No, it doesn't have to run the engine to provide heat. The gas tank can hold 40 liters (10.5 gallons) and it is pushed back slightly because the battery is under the rear seat, so it does eat into trunk space (which drops by 105 liters to 375 liters and is quite shallow). The ride quality is remarkably good, up there with the Mercedes-Benz C-Class. You can certainly feel the regen when lifting off, but you can’t really one-pedal drive it like you do the i3 or some other full EVs.