BMW 330e hybrid saloon review
"The BMW 330e plug-in hybrid is fantastic to drive, comfortable and great for company car tax"
- 37-mile EV range
- Impressive efficiency
- Low BiK for business drivers
- Unknown reliability
- Engine can sound strained
- Battery pack eats into boot space
The BMW 330e plug-in hybrid is the electrified version of the BMW 3 Series saloon, although it’s also available in Estate form. Either way, it’s an alternative model in the range that uses electric power to achieve low running costs, especially for company car drivers.
The latest model uses a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine under the bonnet teamed with an electric motor. The batteries, which can be charged up using a plug at home or at work, allow a 37-mile all-electric driving range.
Most of the time it has 249bhp, but in Sport mode, as long as there’s enough power in the battery, it can boost this to 289bhp. This means it’s faster than the 330e that came before, and that lines up with the sporty ethos of the BMW brand; the 330e is more enjoyable to drive than the rival Volvo V60 T8 or Mercedes C 300 de plug-in hybrids.
Key to the car’s appeal are its CO2 emissions, which stand at 30-38g/km depending on both specification and whether or not you go for the xDrive four-wheel-drive model, which is heavier. Every version is appealing for company car drivers, though, as it delivers a much lower tax rating than diesel equivalents. Not only that, but this petrol-electric version is smoother, quieter and faster than the diesel versions that used to dominate the company car park.
The 330e is available in SE Pro, Sport Pro, M Sport and M Sport Pro trim levels, although even the entry-level models are well equipped and good to drive. It’s roomy inside, despite the boot space being reduced to 375 litres thanks to the 12kWh battery pack taking up some space, which is typical for plug-in hybrid cars. An 80 per cent charge takes two and a half hours from a home wall box, although most people will simply plug in overnight.
If you’re considering a 330i model, you should definitely think about changing to a 330e. The latter is quieter in town and just as good to drive, plus you get instant performance from the electric motor and low running costs as well. Even if you’re not a company car driver, the 330e is an appealing family vehicle.
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 wall box. 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 if you drive more gently the 330e will get 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, while the steering is sharp and accurate, but the 330e’s low-rolling-resistance tyres don’t grip quite as hard as normal 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 speed up. Overall the experience is similar to that of a 320d, which makes the 330e one of the most refined models in the compact-executive class. It’s also pretty comfortable, soaking up most bumps 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 Pro, Sport Pro, M Sport and M Sport Pro trims, and with almost every optional extra you can choose for petrol and diesel versions. SE Pro includes 17-inch alloy wheels, an 8.8-inch touchscreen display, adaptive LED headlights and rear-view camera. Sport Pro adds heated sports seats, leather upholstery and 18-inch wheels, while M Sport brings a 12.3-inch display, M Sport bodykit and different steering wheel. M Sport Pro adds the M Sport Plus pack for an even sportier look, along with 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 to 375 litres. However, the BMW has retained its usable shape, while it’s also possible to fold the 40:20:40 seat backs to create more room for bulky items.
Reliability & safety
BMW finished 21st out of 30 manufacturers in our 2021 Driver Power owner satisfaction survey, which is a worry. The BMW 3 Series came in 31st place in our ranking of the top 100 cars as rated by their owners, though, which bodes well – especially as the 330e’s electric parts should be reliable due to the fact there are few moving parts.
The 330e should certainly be safe, thanks to a five-star rating from independent crash-test body Euro NCAP. It comes fitted with the latest safety devices as standard, which include autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian-detection and lane-departure warnings.