BMW 330e hybrid saloon
"The BMW 330e plug-in hybrid is not only cheap to run, it's also as good to drive as any other 3 Series"
- 37-mile EV range
- Impressive efficiency
- Low BiK for business drivers
- Unknown reliability
- Engine can sound strained
- Battery pack eats into boot space
This is the BMW 330e plug-in hybrid, which is now in its second outing. It promises to be able to travel further on a single charge, and go faster than before.
At its heart lies a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine, but allied with a punchy electric motor and new lithium-ion battery pack that can hold enough energy for up to 37 miles of zero-emissions driving range.
It also boasts an 'XtraBoost' feature that sounds more like a gimmick from a racing series than a feature in a saloon car. In Sport mode, this temporarily increases power from 249bhp to 289bhp, as long as there's enough charge in the battery pack, and overall BMW says its new 330e is 30% faster than before. It's a more sporty proposition than the Volvo V60 T8 plug-in hybrid or Mercedes C 300 de.
As part of an update in 2020, the 330e xDrive model was added to the saloon range alongside the rear-wheel-drive version. With CO2 emissions of 30-38g/km depending on specification and whether you choose rear- or four-wheel drive, the 330e holds strong appeal for company-car drivers, who'll no doubt be tempted by its low Benefit-in-Kind (BiK) liability - a significant advantage over the much higher BiK of a diesel 320d. It feels responsive too, with prods of the accelerator met with instant acceleration from the electric motor before the petrol engine kicks in.
All this extra technology hasn't come at the cost of driveability or choice, either, with the 330e feeling just as good from behind the wheel, and coming in SE, Sport and M Sport trims. There's plenty of room for passengers too, although its boot has shrunk to 375 litres as a result of the 12kWh battery pack. Charging it up to 80% takes 2.5 hours from a 3.7kW wallbox, so anyone with off-street parking should find it easy to keep topped up.
Both the rear- and four-wheel-drive versions of the BMW 330e cost only a few hundred pounds more than the equivalent BMW 330i, and this mid-range price point should make it compelling for a wide swathe of potential customers, propelling it into the mainstream market.
MPG, running costs & CO2
While it's more costly to buy outright than the diesel BMW 320d, the plug-in hybrid 330e is sure to attract business and private customers thanks to its low running costs.
Even when tested under the strict new WLTP regime, both the rear- and four-wheel-drive versions of the 330e saloon are capable of 34-37 miles of pure-electric driving, and claimed fuel economy of between 166.2-201.8mpg, depending on specification. Significantly, the emissions figure qualifies the car for a low Benefit-in-Kind (BiK) rating, cutting a serious amount from your tax bill. Both the BMW 320d and 330i fall into the upper bandings of the company-car tax brackets by comparison.
While it's debatable whether most owners will achieve triple-digit fuel economy figures - very much depending on their driving style and how often they charge its batteries - the 330e's CO2 emissions will remain fixed for the life of the vehicle. Short to medium journeys suit the 330e best, so long distance motorway drivers may still find a diesel cheaper to run. With the petrol engine fired up, both versions of the 330e are capable of around 40-45mpg on longer drives.
Charging the 12kWh battery pack to 80% takes around 2.5 hours using a 3.7kW wallbox. Using a domestic three-point plug takes around 5.5 hours. It's also worth noting that a Type 2 cable costs extra, and you'll need one to use public charging points.
Most drivers will be able to achieve an all-electric range in the mid 30s, meaning it will be possible for many to cover their commute on battery power alone. Selecting the Electric mode helps keep the 330e in its zero emissions state as much of the time as possible, but the petrol engine kicks in if you go over 68mph or push the accelerator to the floor.
Engines, drive & performance
While the previous BMW 330e wasn’t slow, the German brand has used its latest technology to further bolster performance for this version. The changes include an electric motor capable of unleashing an extra 40bhp when the driver selects Sport mode, bumping the car’s combined power with the 2.0-litre petrol engine from 249bhp to 289bhp.
With rear-wheel drive, the 0-62mph benchmark is dispatched in six seconds, with the 330e feeling as quick as its specifications suggest. Opting for BMW’s xDrive four-wheel drive system costs around £1,500 more across the range, and reduces the car’s 0-62mph time to 5.8 seconds.
The petrol-electric powertrain boasts excellent throttle response, with an instantaneous shove from the electric motor instantly helping the car pick up speed. Under hard acceleration the 2.0-litre engine can sound strained, but drive more gently and the 330e gets up to speed as gracefully as any other 3 Series. It handles like one too, with little sign of the extra 200kg of weight added by the electric motor and battery pack. There's almost no body lean in corners and the steering is sharp and accurate, but the 330e's low rolling resistance tyres don't grip quite as hard as normal, though, and energy recuperation technology makes the brakes feel slightly inconsistent.
With both petrol and electric propulsion, you also have more choice over how the 330e drives via its driving modes. Left in Hybrid, the on-board computer juggles power based on your driving style and even data from the sat-nav, while EV mode uses just electric power whenever you have enough charge and are travelling below 68mph. You can also choose to save the battery pack's charge for use later, relying solely on the petrol engine.
Interior & comfort
At low speeds the 330e's electric motor makes it especially refined, with tyre noise becoming the most obvious disturbance as you reach higher speeds. Overall it's similar to a 320d, which makes it one of the most refined models in the compact executive car class. It's also pretty comfortable, with most bumps soaked up well.
There are some comfort advantages to be found here too because power from the high-voltage battery can be used to precondition the 330e, warming up the interior before you set off on cold days, or cooling it down in hot weather.
Now considered a key model in the range, the 330e is available in SE, Sport and M Sport trims and with almost every optional extra you can choose for petrol and diesel versions. SE includes 17-inch alloy wheels, an 8.8-inch touchscreen display, adaptive LED headlights and a rear-view camera. Sport adds heated sports seats, leather upholstery and 18-inch wheels, while M Sport brings a 12.3-inch display, an M Sport bodykit, a different steering wheel and even upgraded brakes and suspension.
As part of a 2020 update, the 330e can be specced with BMW Drive Recorder, which adds a series of cameras around the bodywork. This system continuously records when the car is moving, automatically saving the footage in the event of an accident.
Practicality & boot space
In most ways the BMW 330e is just as practical as a regular 3 Series, with plenty of passenger space for adults to sit in comfort. In fact, the latest model has 41mm more space between the front and rear wheels (the car's wheelbase) than the old model, with noticeable benefits to knee room.
The battery pack is positioned underneath the rear seats, and this does have an impact on luggage space, reducing it from 480 litres to 375. However, BMW has retained its usable shape and it's also possible to fold the 40:20:40 seat backs to create more room for bulky items.
Reliability & safety
BMW finished 27th out of 30 manufacturers in our 2020 Driver Power owner satisfaction survey, which is a worry. The BMW 3 Series didn't appear in our 2019 or 2020 results, but in 2018's survey, 30.6% of BMW 3 Series owners told us they'd reported at least one problem within the first year; hopefully the latest version of the 3 Series will prove more reliable.
The 330e should certainly be safe, thanks to a five-star rating from independent crash-test body Euro NCAP. The 330e comes fitted with the latest safety devices as standard. These include autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection and lane departure warnings.