2016 BMW 330e review
Alex Rae’s 2016 BMW 330e review with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety, verdict and score.
In a nutshell: BMW is one of the leading lights in plug-in hybrid technology and the arrival of the 330e in Australia means you don’t need to spend Tesla-money to get into a premium electric car.
2016 BMW 330e
Pricing $71,990 +ORC Warranty three years, unlimited kilometres Safety 5 star ANCAP (tested in 2012) Engine 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol Power/Torque 185kW/420Nm (total combined) Transmission eight-speed automatic Body 4633mm (L); 1811mm (W); 1429mm (H) Weight 1735kg Thirst 2.1L/100km
BMW OFFERS a quirky array of electric vehicles, but if you don’t like to advertise the fact you want something electric, then it’s had very little to offer. Until now. The BMW 330e means you can now get something premium and electric, well, plug-in electric without having to spend Tesla-money, or look like you’re driving anything other than a regular vehicle.
What is it?
The BMW 330e joins BMW’s 3 series as the line’s first plug-in electric hybrid, utilising EV technology from the fantastical but impractical i8. Electric-only driving range is a claimed 37kms, however a relatively quick charge time to full (3 hours 15 minutes from a GPO or 2 hours 15 minutes from a quick charger) and a well-performing turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine blend long-range convenience with environmentally friendly weekday commuting. Remember that the average daily commute is a whole lot less than 37km per day… and if you do want something plug-in with a longer range (up to 100km) then you could always look at the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV… or not.
The 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine is a latest-generation Euro 6 compliant unit which drinks down a combined 2.1L/100km, and total power output (calculated when both electric and petrol motors work in unison) is similar to 330i levels, offering 185kW and 420Nm. Acceleration is also on par, sprinting from 0-100km/h in 6.1sec.
Slightly unexpected is pricing, with the 330e starting at $71,990 (+ORC) for either Sport or Luxury line; just $2000 more than the 330i, making the hybrid accessible to anyone in the medium prestige sedan market. Also available, and on test here, is the M Sport variant starting at $73,900+ORC.
What’s it like?
Approaching the 330e you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re getting into a ‘normal’ petrol or diesel 3 series sedan, but this 3 can be plugged into the wall when you get to work and not sip a drop of fuel on the way home. It’s one of the first pieces in BMW’s low-emissions puzzle that should see a plug-in hybrid available in every model series. Thankfully, there’s no brash aerodynamically-designed wheels or in-your-face badges that tell the world you’re an environmentally friendly person, bar a small eDrive badge on the c-pillar and an additional flap to access the charging socket on the front left wheel guard.
Inside, the heated front seats provide comfortable ergonomics with a low hip point and electronic adjustment that, when combined with tilt and reach steering, make finding a good driving position a cinch. The rear is equally as roomy and comfortable, as far as rear seats go, and the whole thing is finished in quality leather that should both age well and stand up to reasonable abuse from kids.
There’s ample storage between the door pockets and concealed centre-console capsule, along with a nifty phone cradle under the centre arm rest, although it seems to only accept iPhones and wasn’t happy with two Androids I tested (Galaxy S5 and S6), and the two front cup holders make lifting out small cups of coffee a chore (first world problems, I know).
Bluetooth connectivity is perfect, with no drop-outs and clear audio at all times for both voice calls and streaming music, which was also handled well by the standard six-speaker Harman/Kardon system.
An 8.8-inch screen sits neatly in the centre of the dashboard and is the display for all adjustments to the car controlled by the iDrive system located in the centre console, and it also displays changes to the eDrive system, selected by pushing a button below the transmission selector. The 330e must drive in one of three eDrive modes – auto, max or save.
A start-stop button is located next to the steering wheel and with one simple push the car is ready to roll, albeit without the engine kicking over and the usual idle noise you’re attuned to. Provided the car is set to max eDrive mode, the 330e will accelerate using only the electric motor to a top speed of 120km/h and will continue driving carbon-less (let’s ignore, for now, where the electricity came from to charge the thing…) to a claimed maximum range of 37kms, although reportedly 30kms is a more realistic figure. Given Australian’s travel on average 15kms each way to work, the idea that you can cut 100% of a car’s engine emissions during the week is feasible – notwithstanding 73% of power in the local grid is sourced from coal, for now, but the super green will already be using solar panels.
Recharging times are relatively quick – even if the range isn’t huge – requiring 3 hours 15 minutes to fully charge from a GPO (general power outlet) you’d find at home or 2 hours 15 minutes when using BMW’s ‘i Wallbox Pure’, a quick charger that can be fitted to your garage ($1750 excluding install). There’s also a growing network of charging locations nationwide, such as ChargePoint.
The caveat to keeping the driveline in max eDrive mode is that you are gentle on the go pedal – push it down for a quick take off or overtaking manoeuvre and the petrol engine will start up to ensure maximum power is available. On test through 15kms of suburban electric-only driving, the 330e feels as normal as anything fossil fuelled, with plenty of power to keep up with traffic.
Setting the eDrive mode to auto allows the system to detect the most suitable configuration based on the current driving style, using electric power only when driving around town and occasionally calling on the petrol motor; it’s the default setting every time you turn the car on.
On the highway the 330e’s ride is calm and smooth, and while only non-adaptive dampers are available the car reacts well on less even surfaces. NVH is good, although coarse chip surfaces and the M-package 19-inch run-flat Continentals do transmit some noise into the cabin. After 45kms of highway driving and with the eDrive in save mode, only one per cent has been recharged, however given the lack of waste energy when cruising this result is to be expected.
Moving back to auto eDrive mode the petrol motor’s transition from off to on is silky smooth and the shift is hard to discern, even when trying to feel it. There is however a noticeable increase in acceleration when the two systems combine, providing 0-100km/h in 6.3sec, just 0.3sec slower than the petrol-only 330i. It’s quite a feat considering the 330e carries an extra 165kg curb weight over its petrol twin – a snag of requiring an under boot battery and its ancillaries for the electric system. The boot space loses out too, cutting 110-litres from the 330i’s 480-litres, but there’s still ample room for luggage and shopping.
The weight differentiator is made up for by a little extra power in the 330e. The electric motor’s 65kW and 250Nm combine with the petrol engine’s 135kW and 290Nm to produce, after some driveline loses, a total output of 185kW and 420Nm – equal the power output of the 330i while providing 50Nm more torque.
The performance spec translates well in real world driving and during a brief sprint on a twisting road north of LaTrobe power plant the car presented its true performance colours. The extra weight and loss of adaptive M dampers is the biggest gripe, with body roll becoming most pronounced on medium paced connecting corners, although for the most part the car remains relatively flat. The front-end and steering feels typically BMW – alive and connected with transparency to the cars contact point.
Halfway through this drive I notice the battery has already gained eight per cent charge via regenerative engine and wheel braking. Given 10% will take you roughly three kilometres, the system certainly provides greater waste energy recycling when compared to other hybrids such as the Toyota Camry, which will only achieve up to one kilometre of electric-only driving, due in part to its older nickel-metal hydride batteries.
By contrast the 330e is a showcase of how far hybrid cars have come in little time, with its smaller, lighter, higher capacity and faster charging lithium-ion battery technology. With such an effective system available for a negligible premium over the 330i, the 330e is well positioned as an accessible starting platform for customers in the medium prestige sedan market. It offers practical electric driving range, but doesn’t ask the driver to give up the security of trusty old fossil fuel just yet.