Munich, Germany - There are two schools of thought when it comes to plug-in hybrid vehicles. There are those who focus on fuel economy level at all costs, without worrying too much about the driving experience. And then there are those who seek to use electric power to deliver increased pleasure behind the wheel, all while saving on expenses at the pump of course.
BMW is part of this second school and decided to take the hybrid adventure seriously this time. The first Se3 Series Plug-in in 2016 was a bit of a wet firecracker. We did not feel the seriousness of the company behind this model. BMW look like they were compelled to respect California environment rules with minimal range required.
This second kick at the can is much more convincing.
The 2020 edition of the 330e comes standard with a 2.0L 4-cylinder turbo engine producing 184 hp – the same as found in the base-model 3 Series. Then the engineers housed a 68-hp electric motor in the 8-speed ZF transmission. For short bursts, it can peak at 113 hp, and you can summon that through a button on the dashboard. So while ou start with a combined output of 252 hp and 309 lb-ft of torque, with the "Xtraboost" you push the horses to 293.
Among other things, this allows you to claim do the 0-100 km/h in just 6 seconds. You can also drive at up to 140 km/h in all-electric mode, and 230 km/h with all systems running.
Beyond mechanical performance, BMW also addressed the capabilities of the electric motor and battery pack. The new 12 kWh lithium-ion battery is 50% more powerful than the old one and BMW promises an all-electric range approaching 50 km; we can agree this is a more respectable number than the 20 km offered by the previous generation.
Take note that the electrical and combustion engines are separated. The battery is powered only by the electrical network or by regenerative braking. The electric motor is integrated with the transmission while the fuel tank rests above the rear axle to maximize the interior space.
Those familiar with BMWs will feel at home inside this PHEV. You find the same comfortable seats and the same configuration of controls and commands found in the regular 3 Series. At the same time, you also have several characteristics that are distinct from the other 3 Series models.
For example, BMW has simplified the hybrid drive mode controls of the 330e. The car has three driving modes: Hybrid (default), Electric and Sport, as well as Individual mode that allows for configuring personalized preferences.
What’s more, the car is equipped with a navigation system that can identify public charging stations, same as i3 and i8. BMW says that drivers will be able to reserve a spot at a charging station for a limited period of time, though this feature will not be available at launch and is supposed to later one via an application.
Among other interesting functions, the 330e has a feature called Smart Deceleration with Adaptive Recovery that decides whether to slow down or power the battery when approaching intersections. The battery control mode, meanwhile, tells the vehicle to keep the battery charged to a level you have chosen (for example, 50%) so that you can save your all-electric driving for later in the trip or in future ZEV driving zones that are coming to major cities near you.
A real beemer on the road
The biggest difference with the previous-generation PHEV is the what you feel driving it on the road. We had the chance to put this car to the test both on small roads to check grip and handling, but also on the Autobahn, just to see if the new 330e is worthy of bearing the BMW badge. The verdict is yes.
Even if you feel the extra few hundred kilograms of the battery pack when pushing the accelerator, the increased power quickly absorbs this extra weight and exploits the optimal weight distribution of the car to ensure a nice balance on the road.
The chassis is very solid, the steering responds quickly and precisely, and thanks to the Xtraboost this 4-cylinder pushes like a 6. Of course, you don’t have the power of a 340 version, but the fuel economy will be much better.
Our test vehicle was equipped with the M Sport adaptive suspension, which helped maximize comfort and handling. We should emphasize the great stability of the model at highly illegal speeds. Note also that the transition from the battery mode to the engine mode is almost imperceptible, a good point in favour of the 330e.
The engineers also worked on the model’s default suspension, which offers more comfort without sacrificing handling. We felt the car to be more firmly planted on the ground on small roads and roll is less apparent than with the previous 330e. BMW has not confirmed it yet, but the 330e could be made available in an xDrive 4WD version, making it a practical wintertime vehicle.
At the end of the day, this is a 3 Series that seamlessly integrates plug-in-hybrid qualities in a model that manages not to lose its sporty soul in the process. The car arrived in Europe in July and will be coming to our market by the end of the year. For the moment, it’s too early to talk about price, but if BMW sticks to its price policy from the last version, it should sell for a little more than the 340i, before of course you consider which options you’ll choose from a very long list, as usual.
We like less
Still a jungle of options to wade through
Even greater electric range would be welcome