They say you can’t have your cake and eat it too. That’s true for most things most of the time – and indeed, with cake – but the BMW 330e has been one of those attempts to challenge conventional wisdom. Satisfy both camps, win here, win there.
For the Bavarian carmaker, rolling out electrified cars is a must – after all, we’re living in a time where policymakers across the globe are declaring when they plan to phase out fossil fuelled cars. Think of today as a transition period between the internal combustion engine and an all-electric future, with hybrids as the balancing act.
A car like the 330e sees its maker fulfil responsibility and regulations, and because it’s based on a format everyone knows and loves (the sports sedan), it will sell, too. Doing what you have to do while reaping profits from it is surely win-win.
Car buyers also stand to gain. A plug-in hybrid provides both eco friendliness and fuel savings, while twin propulsion satisfies the need for performance. There’s also the benefit of reduced costs, whether it’s in the form of benefit-in-kind tax savings in Europe or a lowered purchase price in Malaysia thanks to CKD locally assembled hybrid incentives by the government.
The latter is why the previous-generation 330e sold well in our market. The electrified F30 was an on paper no-brainer, and many followed both head and heart – as is usually the case with the 3er – to own the first ever PHEV 3 Series. The case for a 330e is even stronger with this second attempt, as we find out over a day’s drive in Munich.
Unlike the F30 330e, today’s version – unveiled digitally in November 2018, a month after the G20 with conventional powertrains made its debut; market launch was in the second half of 2019 – was part of the seventh-generation’s design plans from the start. While the format remains, there have been some reshuffling of the components’ location.
Under the hood is the B48 2.0 litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 184 hp, as found in the current 320i and previous 330e. An electric motor is integrated into the eight-speed ZF automatic transmission, and this mill spins out 113 hp max (26 more than before). This cohabitation allows the gearbox ratios to be used in full electric mode and negates the need for a torque converter. The latter partially cancels out the extra weight of the additional drive unit.
The two power sources combine for 252 hp and 420 Nm of torque. BMW hawks will point out that these figures are identical to the F30 330e’s, and they’re right. However, there’s a debuting XtraBoost function that provides a 10 second burst of 40 hp, taking things to 292 hp when you’re accelerating hard or overtaking. XB is available in Sport mode, upon kickdown or by manually pushing the gear selector into S/M. Today’s ICE-only 330i makes 258 hp and 400 Nm.
BMW says that if you stand on the gas pedal at 20 km/h, the 330e will within a second accelerate twice as hard an ICE-only car with the same output, and this advantage will grow to a car’s length in three seconds.
Speaking of full bore acceleration, the 330e with XtraBoost does the 0-100 km/h sprint in 5.9 seconds, and top speed is 230 km/h. That’s two tenths and 5 km/h faster than the F30 330e, respectively, and hot hatches will have to think twice before challenging. That’s welcome, but no one called the 330e underpowered before, and the most significant improvements lie elsewhere.
As for the location shuffling, it’s all at the back. The F30 330e had a fuel tank below the rear seats (smaller tank than an ICE-powered 3er, but conventional location), while its hybrid battery pack sat under the boot floor.
This time around, the lithium-ion battery is placed under the rear bench, pushing the 40-litre fuel tank (reduced from the regular 59L) up and behind, to above the rear axle. The move is a good one, as it has the battery pack – which is of considerable weight – lower and within the wheelbase of the car. The lower and more central mass is located, the better it is for centre of gravity.
With extra hybrid bits crammed in, there will be sacrifices. The sedan’s boot capacity shrinks from 480 to 375 litres, although this is still five litres more than before. 40:20:40 split folding rear seat backs and a two-level boot floor help you make the most of what’s available – the latter’s lower level accommodates taller items, but there’s a notch deeper inside for the fuel tank; the second level is shallower but the surface is flat throughout.
A PHEV’s vital stats depend on the size of its battery, and the gross capacity here is 12.0 kWh, a significant jump from the old car’s 7.6 kWh. That’s behind the big increase in pure electric range – from 37-40 km in the F30 to a claimed 59-66 km now. And this is based on the latest and stricter WLTP regime, too. Max speed on electric power alone is now 140 km/h (in Electric mode, 110 km/h max in Hybrid mode), 20 km/h higher.
BMW quotes a charging time of 4.2 hours for 80% battery fill via a regular home socket and the supplied standard charging cable, or 5.7 hours for a full charge. With the BMW i Wallbox, you can replenish juice in 2.4 and 3.4 hours respectively. As always, the charging flap is just behind the front left tyre, the opposite side of the fuel flap.
Fuel consumption and C02 emissions are lower by more than 15% over the previous 330e, to 1.9-1.6 litres per 100 km and 37-43 g/km respectively. All these are important in Europe as they determine benefit-in-kind tax for company car drivers. Probably less so here, where private purchasers dominate and a litre of petrol is the equivalent of 35 euro cents.
But that doesn’t mean there’s no satisfaction in eking out the best fuel consumption possible, or the strange joy of running around without using a single drop of fuel. That’s a real possibility with the G20 330e if your daily commute is below 40 km one way and there are chargers at both home and work.
The 330e powers up as an EV in the default Hybrid mode, gliding into your chosen route silently. I can imagine the daily self-challenge of keeping it this way, and not waking up the ICE for as long as possible. But we didn’t have the luxury of sweet time, only half a day’s worth of seat time (and half of that as a passenger), so the full “how’s it like to live with as a PHEV” part (max electric range, charging times, etc) will have to wait for a full local review.
Still, we did marvel at just how serene the new 330e is as a part-time electric car as we eased our way out of BMW’s Garching office. Personally, I’m surprised at how much pressure my right leg could apply without calling out the B48 – we even made it to the highway, so pure electric short trips in easy traffic are definitely doable.
To do that, and ensure that the engine remains dormant, you can select Electric mode (buttons are beside the gear lever) to lock the 330e as an EV. Now, the e-motor is used to its full potential – we tried Electric mode in town areas and the 330e handled stop-start traffic and acceleration to town limits with ease. It’s no gimmick, that’s for sure.
It was my first time in the G20 and this writer was eager to drive the 330e in normal 3 Series fashion, which you can read as “with enthusiasm”. We’re happy to report that the engine enters the room politely, as opposed to barging in and causing a scene. The repeated process of the ICE coming in and going out is rather seamless (unlike regular cars with auto start-stop), and that contributes much to the overall driving experience, which is pleasant and normal.
Normal is good, as far as a PHEV 3 Series is concerned. That’s because we want the benefits of a hybrid, but not at the expense of the 3 Series driving experience. That’s pretty much the case here except that the 330e feels especially fast when both ICE and motor work towards the same goal.
We didn’t have a 330i on hand for comparison, but I’d wager that not many owners will be wanting for more acceleration. Sometimes, quoted performance figures – whether hp/Nm or 0-100 km/h – don’t quite match the reading from your butt meter (Volvo and Mercedes-Benz PHEVs come to mind), but the 330e feels every bit a sub six seconds car, and then some. It loves revs, too.
The fulsome contribution from the e-motor helps make the 330e a rapid cross country device – powering out from slow corners and responding to “More!” at-speed, in-gear, are among the moments that make you nod in approval. Of course, the transmission never puts a foot wrong – we almost take it for granted, but you only need to occasionally sample the competition to appreciate the ZF8’s perfect blend of intuition, speed and smoothness.
The best performance hybrid powertrain in town? I’d say yes. The 330e’s case is helped by a brilliant base car. The latest generation of BMWs are very comfortable and refinement is strong. Not saying much for a premium car? If you’ve followed them over the generations, you’ll know that this isn’t always the case with BMW.
Ride comfort was very good on our tester’s 18-inch Pirelli runflats and Adaptive M suspension, which we left in auto mode. It remains to be seen if this set-up can neutralise Klang Valley’s third world road surface, but based on trend, it should be OK. The 3 steers lightly and feels agile on its wheels, displaying a ride and handling balance that’s not just satisfying, but betters its chief German rival’s firm take on “sporty”.
The final driving note concerns the brakes, which feel natural in use. On PHEVs, the action of braking takes on the extra task of recouping energy, and not everyone achieves a good blend. At times, brake pedal response that’s not progressive can really detract from the driving experience, such as with the Volvo S60 T8 Polestar Engineered.
What’s not to like? In the previous 330e, we’d be pointing at the F30’s interior, which feels less premium, less special than its classmates from Stuttgart, Ingolstadt and Gothenburg. That’s no longer the case with the G20. This cockpit is still very BMW, but it has been simplified and modernised, with nice trimmings.
What was good from the previous generation is still here, and still the best in the business (driving position, iDrive), but they’ve elevated the ambience. I sampled the rear seats just before handing back the keys, and it beats the C-Class in space and seat comfort.
The latest 3 Series is a desirable product and a good drive, and the best thing we can say about the new 330e is that it “feels normal” and doesn’t detract from the package. This is a car that can be an EV with zero tailpipe emissions on the way to work, and the benchmark sports sedan when you take the long route home in the evening.
What’s not to like? I’m a fan of the F30’s understated exterior design, and while the new car’s looks are growing on me (thanks to my neighbour’s new 320i Sport in handsome dark blue), I still find parts of the G20 such as the M Sport front bumper (one line too many) overdone. Yup, nitpicking.
The new 330e M Sport is now available in Malaysia in CKD locally assembled form for RM264,613, on-the-road without insurance, with the 2020 sales tax exemption. This price is only valid on cars built before December 31 this year – next year’s batch will revert to the SST-inclusive price of RM268,800.
This means that the PHEV comfortably undercuts the 330i M Sport (priced at RM286k without SST) while mirroring the ICE-only car’s kit list. The Driving Assistant package – which includes autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring and rear collision prevention – is included. Besides the extra power (34 hp/20 Nm) and hybrid hardware, the 330e rides on Adaptive M suspension versus the 330i’s fixed M Sport suspension. It’s a lot of sport sedan for the money then, more so than when the F30 330e debut in 2017 for RM259k.
Plug-in hybrids aren’t for everyone. If you don’t have permanent access to home or office charging, you won’t be using the 330e to its maximum potential. Sure, you can drive it like a regular car, just like how you can have banana leaf rice without soaking it in curry, but why?
Then there are some who prefer a more straightforward car without the extra hardware and electronics – that’s fair, however it remains to be seen if BMW Malaysia will keep the 330i in its range. But you’re open to a plug-in hybrid, the new BMW 330e is quite a master in cake magic.