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Driven: BMW eases into hybrid drive for 3 Series

Plugged in: The 330e follows the launch last month of the plug-in hybrid X5 and the 2014 arrival of the i3 and i8.

BMW puts the pedal down on mainstream hybrids with 330e plug-in

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BMW logo4 May 2016

BMW has continued its electrified vehicle roll out, despite an absence of rebates or concessions for low-emissions vehicles in Australia, with the launch of the 3 Series-based 330e plug-in hybrid this week.

The introduction of the i3 EV city hatch and i8 plug-in hybrid supercar in 2014 – which resulted in global sales topping 29,000 – as well as the plug-in X5 xDrive40e last month and now the 330e represented a “rounding out” of the company’s electrification strategy, according to BMW Group Australia head of product and market planning Shawn Ticehurst.

“Plug-in hybrids are basically our next step in the process for BMW Australia, it's our two best-selling models, 3 and X5, and mix all that we've learned from i3 and i8 in,” he said at the media launch of the 330e in Melbourne this week.

“They become part of the regular range and are priced close to the donor cars, which we think is a big step in the world of hybrids and acceptance in Australia.” As GoAuto has reported, BMW has expressed its ongoing disappointment at the lack of legislated incentives at any level of government to encourage buyers to adopt the greener technology on offer, pushing ahead with the introduction of the 330e but stopping short of nominating how many more sales the hybrid will generate.

“We had the choice of taking these cars here. As we looked at them more we decided they were relevant and had a role, reinforcing the BMW technology and innovation statement.

“They were a good extension of what we have done with the 'i' range, and the fact they were available in our two best-selling model ranges cemented the case for us,” Mr Ticehurst said.

The 330e is priced from $71,900 plus on-road costs, which represents a $2000 premium over the 185kW/350Nm petrol-powered 330i on which its specification level is based and well under the 240kW/450Nm 340i at $89,900.

BMW's electrified sedan is the only plug-in alternative in the segment but mild hybrid rivals include the Lexus IS300h from $60,000 to $79,000, the Infiniti Q50 Hybrid range from $67,900 to $73,400 and Mercedes' C300 Hybrid starting from $74,900.

The plug-in hybrid system has 65kW/250Nm electric motor, a 7.6kWh lithium-ion battery (tucked in beneath the boot floor) and brake energy recovery, teaming up with a four-cylinder twin-scroll turbocharged 135kW/290Nm direct-injection petrol engine from the 320i, all fed to the rear wheels via an eight-speed paddleshift-equipped automatic transmission.

This makes for a total system output of 185kW and 420Nm when the entire drivetrain is summoned. Depending on the driving mode, it has an electric only range of 37 km.

The system can operate in several modes – Auto eDrive will allow for electric-only propulsion up to 80km/h if the battery level is between 12 and 100 per cent, bringing the petrol motor into play if the speed or acceleration demands it.

If the battery levels falls below 12 per cent the system will still allow electric-only driving, but only at lower speeds and moderate acceleration.

Press-ahead driving is catered for by the Max eDrive mode, which allows for pure electric power up to 120km/h with the petrol engine joining in for higher speeds or hard acceleration.

The system also has a Save Battery mode that brings the petrol engine into charging as well as propulsion.

A Predictive Selection mode works with the navigation system once a destination has been selected, as the predictive energy management system analyses the route (using posted speed limits and real-time traffic information) and selects the appropriate mode of the drivetrain.

The drivetrain changes, with the petrol and electric motors over the front axle – the latter encased within the gearbox structure – has altered the weight distribution to 48/52 front/rear with the rear-mounted battery, but BMW has retained the split-fold rear seat back boot capacity has fallen from 480 to 370 litres.

Information systems and controls extend to the eDrive services, with a smartphone app that displays range and available charge, as well as the ability to set departure times, remote climate control functions and the location of public charging stations.

Charge times range from just over three hours from a standard home socket, with the $1750 (plus installation) 16-amp BMW I Wallbox reducing that by about an hour.

More than 260 public charging stations are available around the country – the majority currently available for free – with the infrastructure targets planning to almost triple that number by 2020.

A 0-100km/h claim of 6.1 seconds for the plug-in hybrid is a little slower than the two petrol variants, which hit that mark in 5.8s in the 330i and 5.1s in the 340i, but the combined cycle claim of 2.1 litres per 100km is less than half the thirst.

Standard gear includes 19-inch alloy wheels, digital radio reception for the infotainment system, the brand's 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, power-adjustable front seats, a sports leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel, stationary cooling (remote climate control function), with the choice of Sport or Luxury Line leather trim.

The safety features list includes 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 hybrid also retains the condition-based servicing system of its traditionally powered brethren, as well as the BMW Service Inclusive packs, which are an additional cost of $1340 for five years or 80,000km.

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