Think of its 14-mile EV range as a bonus
Electrification is proliferating through nearly every automaker’s lineup. Within a few years, many full-line manufacturers will have large percentages of their offerings dedicated to hybrid and all-electric options. But things don’t always mesh when you electrify an existing model. BMW has attempted to do just that with the 2016 330e, and although there’s room for improvement, overall it has produced a well-thought-out plug-in hybrid. And the best part is it’s still a 3 Series.
The BMW 330e plug-in hybrid is new to the 3 Series range for 2016 (and it’s mostly unchanged for 2017). BMW’s ubiquitous 2.0-liter turbocharged I-4 tuned to 180 hp and 215 lb-ft of torque lives under the hood. That gas-powered mill receives help from an electric motor that makes 87 hp, which raises output to 248 hp and 310 lb-ft combined. That’s the same horsepower rating as the 330i but significantly more torque—and much of it is available instantaneously. The electric motor is housed within the car’s ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic transmission, which transmits power from both gas and electric sources to the rear wheels. BMW says the electric motor is derived from the units used in the i3 EV hatchback and i8 plug-in sports car. The setup is also similar to the one found in the X5 xDrive40e plug-in, though the SUV gets a more powerful motor and a battery pack bigger than the 330e’s 7.6-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion unit.
So how does it drive? On the street, just like a regular 3 Series. Even though the gas engine is closer in spec to the base 320i’s detuned turbo-four, the 330e takes off from a stoplight like the more powerful 330i. When the battery is sufficiently charged, there’s no waiting for the turbocharger to spool up. Simply step on the pedal, and enjoy the immediate boost the electric motor provides. Testing director Kim Reynolds said that expedited delivery of EV torque, which amounts to a fraction of a second quicker response, makes all the difference when ducking through traffic.
Acceleration from a standstill feels quick, and it is. In our tests, the 330e hit 60 mph in 5.6 seconds. That’s 0.2 second behind a 2015 328i we tested, though the two cars tie in the quarter mile at 14.1 seconds. The hybrid has the faster trap speed at 98.8 mph (159 km/h). That performance isn’t far off from a 2017 Audi A4 2.0T Quattro we recently tested, which accelerated to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds and completed the quarter in 14 seconds at 99.1 mph (159.5 km/h). That car had the advantage of all-wheel drive and a lower curb weight. (The 330e is on the porky side at 4,030 pounds (1828 kg)). We have yet to test the 330e’s closest competitor, the Mercedes-Benz C350e Plug-in Hybrid, but the automaker estimates it will do 0-60 in 5.9 seconds.
The extra weight of the battery seems to help smooth the 330e’s highway ride, which can be stiff in a normal 3 Series. On the street, the battery pack’s presence doesn’t detract much from the 3 Series’ inherently sharp driving dynamics. I felt minimal body roll on a fast sweeper of an on-ramp and no perceivable understeer. The plug-in’s performance at the track, however, was a different story.
“At the figure eight, frankly, it felt a little awkward,” Reynolds said. “The electric assistance wasn’t too well matched. It wasn’t complementary to the internal combustion engine’s power curve. It had a sort of sudden, slippery oversteer feel about it. The car wouldn’t spin, but it briefly seemed headed for that. Like you’d stepped on a banana peel.”
Reynolds admitted, however, that the car felt a great deal better driving in the real world. But even if the hybrid stumbled through the figure-eight test, it did so relatively quickly. The 330e posted a time of 25.9 seconds at an average of 0.69 g, a tenth quicker than the last 328i we tested. The time also bests a rear-drive 2016 Mercedes-Benz C300 (26.5 seconds at 0.66 g) but isn’t quite enough to top the 2017 Audi A4 (25.3 seconds at 0.73 g) and its all-wheel-drive grip. The BMW 330e’s premium plug-in hybrid competition is still taking shape, and we have yet to test the aforementioned Mercedes plug-in or the smaller Audi A3 e-tron. We have tested a Euro-spec Volkswagen Golf GTE, though, and it’s mechanically similar to the A3 e-tron. That car, which has an 8.8-kW-hr battery pack, matched the 330e’s figure-eight time but did it at an average of 0.71 g.
Getting back to how the 330e performs in real life, the engine’s stop-start feature is better than that of the 328i but isn’t as seamless as other hybrids. You can still feel when the engine kicks on, and when it does, you’ll hear the diesel-like clatter typical of direct-injected BMW engines. When the battery is fully charged, the car relies more heavily on electric power, so it’s even more noticeable when the engine starts up after a long period of silence. BMW says the battery takes 2.2 hours to juice up at a Level 2 charger. That’s about right, as I plugged in at a public charger with 0 miles EV range indicated, watched a movie, and came back to a fully charged battery.
The 330e’s EPA-estimated all-electric range is 14 miles (22.5 km), but you probably won’t see that driving at highway speed. The electric motor can propel the 3 Series up to 75 mph (121 km/h)using battery power alone, but driving at or near that speed will deplete your range estimator very quickly. EV mode, or Max eDrive in BMW speak, is best saved for the street or stop-and-go traffic when you can also make use of regenerative braking. If your battery is depleted, Save Battery mode will use the gas engine to recharge it back up to 50 percent. While it’s doing so, you won’t have the benefit of the electric motor.
Having driven other hybrid variants of existing cars, I was expecting the 330e to have a smaller trunk. To my surprise, cargo volume didn’t seem to be reduced that much. The 330e has 13 cubic feet of storage versus 17 cubic feet in a regular 3 Series. Those extra feet are lost to a higher trunk floor that’s nearly level with the opening. The trunk is shallower because the battery pack is beneath the floor, which frees up the back for 40/20/40 split folding rear seats, a rarity among hybrids. With the seats folded down, I could fit a couple of large, oblong moving boxes.
The cabin is standard 3 Series fare. Our test car featured brown leather upholstery and metal trim, which looked nice and gave the interior an upscale feel. As tested, our 330e wasn’t cheap. Many checked boxes on the options and packages list brought the price to $61,795 USD. At that amount, it would be hard to find any long-term cost savings from picking the plug-in over a more conventional 330i. But the 330e starts at $44,695 USD, representing a premium of $4,950 USD over a base 330i, which for some will be easier to swallow. The EPA only assigns the 330e a 72-mpg-e (mpg equivalent) (3.3 L/100km) and 31-mpg (7.6L/100km) combined rating, but in our Real MPG tests the plug-in achieved 27.4/38.6 mpg (8.6/6.1L/100km) city/highway, which tops the 2017 330i’s EPA rating of 23/34 mpg (10.3/6.9L/100km). The model’s fuel economy numbers are also higher than our previous long-term diesel-powered 328d xDrive wagon, which scored 19.3/35.0 Real MPG (12.2/6.7L/100km).
The 330e is a great option for those who want a luxury sport sedan but also want the convenience and efficiency of a plug-in hybrid. Those who can charge at home and at work can make the most of the 330e’s limited EV range while still enjoying all the driving pleasure that comes with owning a 3 Series. Plug-ins still have a long way to go before they can enter the mainstream, but if the BMW 330e is any indication, our electrified future looks bright.
|2016 BMW 330e eDrive|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$61,695|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, RWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan|
|ENGINE||2.0L/180-hp/215-lb-ft turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4 plus 87-hp rear electric motor(s); Combined 248-hp/310 lb-ft|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||4,030 lb (48/52%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||182.8 x 71.3 x 56.3 in|
|0-60 MPH||5.6 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||14.1 sec @ 98.8 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||113 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.87 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||25.9 sec @ 0.69 g (avg)|