Road Test: BMW 330e M Sport
Plug-in hybrid 3 Series is high on driver appeal, but suits a very specific user. Alex Grant explains.
SECTOR Compact Executive PRICE £36,735 (after Plug-in Car Grant) FUEL 134.5mpg CO2 49g/km
Having shown what it’s capable of with the futuristic i3 and i8, the iPerformance line-up is where BMW’s plug-in technology competes for the mainstream. Particularly the plug-in hybrid 330e, which combines the driver appeal of a quick 3 Series with ultra-low CO2 emissions to lure company car drivers.
It’s an interesting acceptance of market demands. This indirectly replaces the ActiveHybrid 3; impressively economical for the 335bhp it delivered at full throttle, but a hard sell next to BMW’s excellent performance diesels. At 49g/km, its nearest successor is finding homes as quickly as the cars can leave the production line.
But the 330e isn’t just an ActiveHybrid 3 with a bigger battery. It uses a more efficient 182bhp four-cylinder engine from the 320i, while the 88bhp electric motor means it’s better equipped for fuel-free driving. Losing two cylinders offsets the extra battery weight, so it only weighs 5kg more than the old hybrid, but it’s 100kg heavier (and slower) than the 330d it’s positioned alongside.
Not that you’d feel short-changed. Plug-in hybrids often sound better on paper than they feel on the road; the 330e doesn’t. Squeeze the throttle and its two power sources work in unison to produce 252bhp, delivering a muscular surge of straight-line acceleration and electric torque. Widened front and rear tracks mean there’s little evidence of the extra weight while cornering, either.
The motor is doing more here than it was in the ActiveHybrid 3. A full charge takes around two hours, typically offering a range of around 20 miles in its EV-prioritising drive mode. Or, for longer trips, the car can decide when it’s most efficient to use battery or petrol power, or both, spreading that range over a longer distance to minimise fuel usage and even pre-planning regenerative braking based on topographical information in the sat nav. Clever, but no more challenging to drive than any other 3 Series.
But, whichever way you use it, this is more of a performance hybrid than a thoroughbred green car. Economy settles between 35 and 40mpg if it hasn’t been charged, and that’s a slight headache because the fuel tank holds 41 litres instead of the usual 57. Brimmed and fully charged, the 330e has a range of around 350 miles, so covering any real distance means making regular petrol and charging stops.
Which means, tax aside, it’s hard to see a genuine use case for it. Long-distance drivers seeking high performance will still get significantly better economy from a 330d, while those who can keep the 330e running mostly on electricity would also be ideal candidates for BMW’s brilliant i3, which now offers a ‘real-world’ range of 120 miles before the optional range-extender petrol engine kicks in.
None of this is unique to the 330e, of course, and it’s hard to deny the appeal of a fast 3 Series with such a low tax outlay. But while the i3 and i8 are showing what’s possible when you’re forward-thinking with electric vehicle technology, you could perhaps accuse the mass-market models of not trying hard enough.