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Car reviews - BMW - 3 Series - 330e

Our Opinion

We like
Sprightly performance, sporty acceleration, typical 3 Series dynamics, looks like a regular 3 Series, plug-in technology, smooth transmission
Room for improvement
Lack of charging infrastructure could turn people off, expensive options

Gallery

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BMW logo28 Sep 2016

Price and equipment

BMW took a gamble with its electrified i3 hatch and i8 sportscar a couple of years ago and it has clearly paid off because the German car-maker has since announced a rollout of electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, some of which are based on existing models.

In Australia at least the first of these includes the X5 xDrive40e large SUV and the 3 Series-based 330e sedan, tested here.

Priced from $71,900 plus on-road costs, the 330e is exactly $2000 dearer than the internal combustion 330i on which its specification is based.

You’d never call any of the big three Germans ‘generous’ with their standard features lists, but the 330e has a lot of kit for the money and if you walked out of the dealership with the basics, you’d probably be quite happy.

It comes with power-adjustable front seats, a sports leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel, stationary cooling (remote climate control function), DAB+ digital radio for the infotainment system, ConnectedDrive Services (real-time traffic data for the high-grade sat-nav, the SOS emergency call system and the TeleServices internet services), cruise control with braking function and the choice of either Sport or Luxury Line leather trim.

The 330e also features a surround view camera, a charge cable, access to eDrive services, LED headlights, Driving Assistant, a head-up display, the Comfort Access system and Acoustic Protection that is designed to alert pedestrians given its silent nature.

Naturally, our test car was kitted out with a number of optional extras.

In fact, once everything was factored in – $2600 M Sport package, $2366 Visibility package, $2444 Innovations package, $1885 Comfort package, $2920 electric sunroof and $1900 premium Harman Kardon audio system, among other less pricey extras – the 330e was a $89,544 proposition, which is about line-ball with the 340i flagship.

A lot of these options were not exactly must-have items, but we reckon the M Sport package with the front sports seats, M steering wheel, M aero package and M Sport suspension is well worth it, as is the double-spoke M light alloy wheels for an extra $800.

The subtle updates to the 3 Series styling introduced with last year’s facelift, combined with the sexy M Sport package and wheels, and the gorgeous Estoril Blue metallic paint ensure the 330e is a real looker.

Interior

Once inside, the only evidence that you are behind the wheel of a plug-in hybrid is the eDrive button just in front of the gear shifter.

Otherwise it is very familiar 3 Series territory here, with the iDrive controller in the console, large colour screen sitting atop the centre stack and the usual dials and buttons which, late in the model’s life-cycle, look dated against the likes of the latest Audi A4.

It will be interesting to see if BMW make many changes to the look of their cabins with the next-gen 3 Series – due about 2018 – but we think it is time for a big change.

Not that there is anything particularly wrong with the interior design.

Everything functions perfectly well, our gripes are purely aesthetic.

As GoAuto has commented before, the current iteration of iDrive is one of the best infotainment systems on the market today. It is simple to use, has quick responses, is easy to navigate and we believe safer than many touchscreen systems that require the driver to take their eyes off the road and their hands off the wheel for longer.

It’s certainly a far cry from when iDrive first showed up on the controversial E65 7 Series back in 2001 and was widely panned.

The head-up display also functions well and helps keep your eyes on the road and the three-spoke leather steering wheel – part of the M Sport package – is one of our favourite tillers. Just delightful.

The test car was swathed in ‘Oyster’ – that’s white – Dakota leather, while ‘Fineline’ Anthracite wood trim with pearl chrome highlights lifted the cabin.

While we would probably not order a white leather upholstery ourselves – too many ways to turn the white into a dull grey – the overall feeling of the interior was of high-end luxury, which was a relief after spending time in base model BMWs earlier in the year that featured drab monotones and vinyl seats, which we can’t support in a German ‘premium’ car.

The battery pack’s positioning under the boot floor has impacted cargo space which has dropped from 480 litres in the petrol or diesel 3 Series’ to 370 litres for the hybrid. It sounds like a decent drop but in terms of useable space, the 330e is fine.

Engine and transmission

Back in June, we drove the European-market 2 Series Active Tourer all-wheel drive plug-in (225xe) hatch in Germany and came away impressed and a little sad that it wasn’t going to be offered here in Australia.

It was an early taste of BMW’s wider electrification strategy under its iPerformance banner and, thankfully, the 330e is just as enjoyable to drive.

The plug-in hybrid system consists of a 65kW/250Nm electric motor and a 7.6kWh lithium-ion battery with brake energy recovery paired with a four-cylinder twin-scroll turbocharged 135kW/290Nm direct-injection petrol engine found under the bonnet of the 320i.

This unit drives the rear wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission. The total system output is 185kW and 420Nm.

The instant torque from the electrified powertrain makes accelerating from zero an absolute joy. BMW says it takes just 6.1 seconds to race from 0-100km/h but it actually feels quicker.

As with the 225xe, it is difficult to detect when the powertrain switches to the petrol engine once you are at speed, highlighting show smooth the system is.

The transmission is another silky smooth part of the 330e, something that the Bavarian giant is renowned for.

The driving models include Auto eDrive that allows electric-only propulsion up to 80km/h if the battery level is between 12 and 100 per cent, before bringing the petrol engine in and Max eDrive which allows for pure electric power up to 120km/h with the petrol engine joining in for higher speeds or hard acceleration.

Finally there is a Save Battery mode that brings the petrol engine into charging as well as propulsion.

The 330e has an electric range of 37km, which doesn’t sound like much, but depending on the drive mode, it can, in fact, be driven solely on electric power quite successfully.

Let us explain.

If your daily commute ranges from just a few kilometres up to 20 or 30km, and there is a power supply at your home and workplace, there is little need to use the petrol engine.

Your writer has a commute of 20km in the morning to the GoAuto office and the week we spent with the 330e we simply plugged in at work and charged the car for our return trip in the evening.

We don’t have appropriate charging facilities at home, so we could not charge it in the evenings, but if you are spending the $72k on a car like this, then we would recommend investing in BMW’s 16-amp i Wallbox that costs $1750 (plus installation) and takes about two hours to fully charge the battery.

A trek into the city for a Saturday afternoon shopping spree meant leaving the 330e in a carpark and coincidentally the one we chose had two ChargeNow charging bays that were, perhaps unsurprisingly, not in use.

By swiping the BMW/ChargeNow card on the keyfob we had instant access to the charger and after a couple of hours of spending far too much money on overpriced clothes, we returned to our fully charged BMW.

The thing is, in Melbourne, and realistically, most of Australia, these charging bays are few and far between.

Governments at both state and federal levels do not support investment into EV charging infrastructure, unlike in Europe where you can charge your car on the street.

Tesla has shown that you don’t need to wait for the government to wake up to changing trends by installing its own supercharger network down Australia’s eastern seaboard, so some blame should be placed on the car-makers themselves.

Build it and they might actually come.

So if you know where your nearest public chargers are and have suitable charging facilities at home and work, then plug-in technology can work, potentially saving you money, and also having less of an impact on the environment.

Ride and handling

One of the best things about the 330e, aside from the whizz-bang hybrid tech, is the fact that it drives exactly like a 3 Series should.

The taut chassis, flat ride and lack of any bodyroll ensure that the 330e is just as adept at cornering as any other mainstream 3 Series variant.

In fact, its eagerness to dart around bends without fuss and smile-inducing acceleration make the 330e feel more like a performance sedan than a fuel-saving eco-car, and that is probably what BMW was aiming for.

The ride leans more towards comfort than sportiness but it does not diminish the performance capabilities of the 330e, rather it is refreshing that the ride is not as harsh as so many German cars.

BMW’s official combined fuel use figure is 2.1 litres per 100km and given our mixture of city and country driving with intermittent charging, we achieved 6.6L/100km. Electric consumption was 1.6kWh/100km.

Had we been more diligent with our charging we suspect our fuel figure would have been significantly lower.

Safety and servicing

Safety wise the 330e features LED headlights, a head-up display, surround view camera and parking sensor system, BMW’s Driving and Parking Assistants, lane departure warning, Acoustic Protection for Pedestrians and Driving Assistant (which includes Approach Control Warning, Lane Departure Warning, Pedestrian Warning with light city braking activation).

The 3 Series has been awarded a five-star ANCAP crash safety rating.

It is offered with BMW’s condition-based servicing system, as well as the BMW Service Inclusive packs, which are an additional cost of $1340 for five years or 80,000km.

Verdict

BMW is just starting out when it comes to its electrification strategy, so expect a lot more plug-ins and EVs from the German car-maker, as well as most of its rivals, in the coming years.

If the charging infrastructure existed in Australia to make owning an electrified car easier, the 330e would be a no-brainer for buyers shopping in the premium sedan segment.

But the lack of support will, understandably, prevent many people from even considering a car like this.

And that is a great shame because the 330e is one of the most impressive cars we have driven this year.

By combining the dynamic capabilities of a 3 Series, the acceleration of a sportscar and infusing it with the latest in EV technology, BMW has produced a true all-rounder that highlights the company’s capabilities and its future.

If only the government and parts of the private sector could see the potential and push for real change, the 330e would be a mainstream offering, rather than a niche player.

Rivals

Mercedes-Benz C350e Hybrid from $77,800 plus on-road costs
Benz added a plug-in to its ultra-popular C-Class range this year and while the price is a little higher than the BMW, it sips just 2.4L/100km and is packed with a generous amount of standard kit.

Lexus IS300h F Sport from $69,360 plus on-road costs
It might not be a plug-in but Lexus has been in the hybrid game for a lot longer than the Germans. The IS is a solid offering with stacks of standard equipment, but its fuel economy figure of 4.9L/100km can’t match the plug-ins.

Infiniti Q50 Hybrid S from $68,900 plus on-road costs
Infiniti is still an unknown quantity to many but the current crop of models is worth considering. The Nissan-owned brand says its hybrids are about performance rather than fuel saving, which is clear from the 6.8L/100km fuel consumption figure.

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