Still a real 3 Series, only better
On paper, the 2016 330e looked like a perfect example of everything that was wrong with modern BMWs. BMW’s lost its way. BMWs aren’t fun to drive anymore. Why would you even bother building a hybrid 3 Series? Yet, as we found out in our First Test, the 330e was actually pretty good. Thanks to the electric motor’s low-end torque, it actually felt slightly more responsive than the 330i.
But if the old 330e wasn’t enough to convince you that a plug-in hybrid can be a real 3 Series, the new one definitely should. In part, that’s because the new 3 Series is such a better car than its predecessor. Somehow, it manages to be larger, more spacious, and more upscale while also being quicker and more fun to drive.
As with the rest of the lineup, the plug-in hybrid version of the 3 Series comes with a more impressive spec sheet than before, too. Yes, it still uses a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder paired with an eight-speed automatic, and 252 hp is only 4 horses more than the old 330e’s 248 hp. But when you really step on it, the electric motor can temporarily add an extra 40 hp, bringing total system output up to 288 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque.
BMW says that’s enough power to give the 330e a 0–60 time of a little less than 6 seconds, but that has to be conservative. Extremely conservative. When we last tested its predecessor, it made the same run in a relatively quick 5.6 seconds. The new car is no M3, but after driving both generations back to back, it definitely feels quicker.
In theory, my butt dyno (or as one BMW employee called it, my popometer) could have been deceived, but I doubt it. On the other hand, few if any of these cars will ever be raced on an actual track, so tenths of a second are much less relevant. If you get into the previous 330e after driving the new one, it feels noticeably slower. Almost like you accidentally got into the 320i instead.
If your main concern is straight-line speed, though, you’ll probably be better served if you spring for the much more powerful M340i instead. Assuming BMW prices the new 3 Series like the old one, the M340i will only be a few thousand dollars more expensive than the 330e.
But if you’re interested in a hybrid 3 Series, you’re probably at least partly interested in better gas mileage. We’re still waiting for EPA figures to be announced, but BMW claims the 330e’s electric range has been increased by 50 percent. On the European test cycle, that means it’s rated to go 60 kilometers (about 37 miles (60 km)) on a single charge, but because the old version only had a 14-mile (22-km) EPA range, we’re going to be conservative and bet it’s actually closer to 21 miles (34 km). The mpg-e should also be improved, though we’re not sure by how much.
As with its other plug-in hybrids, BMW gives you several different drive modes to choose from. Depending on what type of trip you have planned, you can put it in pure EV mode, choose to save the battery for later use, charge the battery using the engine, or let the car manage everything for you. Most people will probably leave the drive modes alone, but we appreciate BMW offering them anyway.
Thankfully, BMW appears to have also fixed one of the old 330e’s most annoying flaws: the rough, loud way the engine fired up every time the stop/start system decided to start up again. The six-cylinder engines may be a bit more refined, but the 330e’s four-cylinder starts up much more smoothly than before.
The engineers also improved the handling. The suspension soaked up uneven pavement nicely, but in the corners, the car felt much more planted. Taking those same corners in the old 330e resulted in significantly more body roll.
One trait that we appreciate BMW carrying over, though, is the 330e’s highway ride. Our tester had the M Sport adaptive suspension, which probably helped, but on unrestricted sections of the autobahn, the ride was impressively smooth.
We’ll need to see pricing and the official EPA figures before we can say just how much of an improvement the new car is, but at least for now, we’re confident that if you want a fuel-efficient sport sedan, the BMW 330e is going to be a hard car to beat.