We hit the road to see if the latest BMW 330e plug-in hybrid raises the bar once againVerdict4.5By tweaking the formula ever so slightly, BMW has improved the outgoing 330e in near enough every way. It drives just like the standard 3 Series, while offering an impressive electric range and class-leading CO2 emissions. Even given the inevitable price premium, the new model is likely to prove an affordable alternative to a 320d for lower-mileage business users as well. It’s not just a convincing plug-in; it could be one of the best members of the new 3 Series family.
When the BMW 3 Series went hybrid for the first time three years ago we loved the outcome: it was a genuinely dynamic and desirable plug-in company car contender.
It took a while for the firm to electrify its signature product, but this time round things are different. The new 330e arrives on the coat tails of the regular line-up’s launch. In fact, you’ll be able to order one from July, with prices likely to start from just under £40,000.
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Under the bonnet lies a 2.0-litre four-cylinder hybrid powertrain generating 249bhp. The 330e also boasts an XtraBoost system for the first time, adding an extra 41bhp (for 289bhp) at the touch of a button. BMW says the new car is 30 per cent faster than before, despite offering a 50 per cent increase in electric range. Yet visually it’s almost the same as any other 3 Series.
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The brand’s headline claims are 37 miles of electric range before the battery needs recharging, and CO2 emissions of 39g/km. That places the 330e in the lowest (13 per cent) BiK band for company car tax – both for the current tax year and through to 2020. For comparison, the 320d and 330i both fall into the 27 per cent bracket, making the hybrid an extremely attractive proposition for business users and fleet managers alike.
Private buyers will love it, too. BMW claims the 330e will return 138mpg, but as always, to get close to that figure you will need to charge it regularly. On our test route, which included a variety of urban, rural and high-speed roads, the range took quite a hit. Still, even with a heavy right foot you’re likely to see more than 20 miles in pure-electric mode, and potentially more than that around town. The new car will do 68mph before needing assistance from the petrol engine.
As with the hybrid 7 Series, the 330e has BMW’s Anticipatory Hybrid Drive set-up, which draws on sat-nav data to intelligently use the battery power over the course of your pre-planned journey. It will switch automatically to EV mode in urban areas or when you’re queuing in traffic, working seamlessly on our hour-long test drive.
BMW says the 330e offers performance on par with a 330i, and while you’d be hard-pushed to notice the XtraBoost system, in Sport mode it feels every bit as fast as the figures suggest. As in its non-hybrid sibling, the four-cylinder motor appears harsh and rather strained under hard acceleration, but when building speed gently the PHEV feels like any other 3 Series.
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Of course, at low speeds the electrified 330e is incredibly quiet. On our test car’s 18-inch wheels and winter tyres we did notice a bit of road noise, although the newcomer’s suspension seems to iron out most of the worst lumps and bumps. Overall refinement is similar to that of a new 320d; that’s to say it leads this class for sophistication at high speeds.
The maker has done a fantastic job of disguising the 330e’s extra bulk, too. BMW hasn’t given a figure for the battery’s additional mass or power, but the old one weighed around 160kg more than a comparable 330i. Even in spirited driving the new 330e demonstrates fine body control, retaining excellent composure and sharp steering.
Elsewhere, the 330e is nearly as practical as a conventional 3 Series. Space in the back is good thanks to an extra 41mm (over the outgoing car) in the wheelbase, and while the boot is 105 litres smaller than you’ll find in a 320d, it’s a usable shape and the seats fold 40:20:40. Insiders suggest there’s a 330e Touring on the way, too.
- Model: BMW 330e
- Price: £40,000 (est)
- Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl petrol hybrid
- Power/torque: 289bhp/420Nm
- Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
- 0-62mph: 6.0 seconds
- Top speed: 143mph
- Economy/CO2: 138.0mpg/39g/km
- On sale: July
For an alternative review of the latest BMW 3 Series Saloon visit our sister site carbuyer.co.uk
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