The BMW 330e iPerformance plugin hybrid is BMW’s first real attempt at combining its historically excellent sports sedan linage with electrification. But before we get to how good (and at times great) the 330e is, lets take a look at the electrification landscape as it pertains to BMW.
On one end of the electric car world you have something like the i3. Dedicated to electricity, it looks like the future and promises a rethink of everything from a car’s shape to the way you drive it. On the other end you have the 330e. Subtly electrified, it’s a car that hides it’s vision of the future under standard 3 series clothes. It’s also the type of hybrid that suits most Americans.
BMW has had a lot of experience with electrification. Finding themselves late to the party, they shuttered their F1 team in 2009 (RIP) to jump start what came to be known as BMWi. But BMWi was’t just about selling cars. it was about developing the technology to become a thought and technology leader in the new automotive world.
Seven years later we have the BMWi division with two dedicated cars that represent two dramatically different products. Admittedly it’s between those two extremes of the i3 and the i8 where BMW has had some missteps. The 3 and 7 Series ActiveHybrid were powered by the N55 inline six with batteries attached. It was fast with 335 hp but not all that efficient. Everyone knew that a four cylinder gasoline engine would have made more sense at the heart of a hybrid, but BMW didn’t have a sufficient one ready to go.
Enter the 330e iPerformance
Fast forward to 2016 and BMW finally has an answer. However the power equation isn’t new. 330e iPerformance is the type of plugin hybrid we’re used to seeing from everyone but BMW. The car’s primary source of power is the 2.0L B48 four cylinder with 182 hp coupled with the now ubiquitous 8 speed ZF transmission. But it’s the details that make it interesting. BMW has fitted a 87bhp electric motor powered by a densely packed 7.6kWh lithium ion battery placed under the trunk floor (eliminating a few gallons of fuel capacity). Coupled with a homegrown electric engine The 330e feels (and this is crucial in our book) genuinely like a 3 Series while returning boast worthy MPG numbers.
Down on the 335 hp offered in the old ActiveHybrid, the 330e still feels plenty quick with 0-60 happening in only 5.9 seconds. Engine weight is down but with the larger battery pack overall weight is roughly the same. Despite this the 330e feels a bit better tied down and quicker to turn-in. This is likely down to a revised suspension and the weight being better distributed front to back.
Despite the weight, the 330e surprised us with it’s overall performance and felt exactly what a 3 Series should feel like. There’s a crispness to the 330e that’s missing in other hybrids within its class. Perhaps more importantly it stacks up to the rest of the 3 Series range to the point that you come away feeling that there’s virtually no downside in making the move from conventional to hybrid power. You lose a few underfloor compartments in the trunk but otherwise you are never bothered by any engineering trade-offs that have been made to fit an extra engine and batteries deep within the car.
Even the extra weight is quickly forgotten. The fact that a the poverty spec 320i weighs a 650 lbs less than the 330e is shocking after some time at the wheel. In every day driving that weight simply isn’t evident. Even when pushed the 330e doesn’t reveal itself as a heavyweight without some real speed. How is this possible? Smart suspension design and excellent calibration for one. But there’s one stat that jumps out at you when you look closer at the 330e. This is that rare BMW that actually has more of its weight at the rear of the car with a 48.6 / 51.4 distribution. That figure is not inconsequential as it helps to naturally balance out 3 Series propensity to understeer creating a car that reacts in a surprisingly neutral way.
The Hybrid System
The hybrid system in the BMW 330e uses the same architecture as the one found on the X5 and the 7 Series iPerformance models. Hitting the eDrive button on the console gives the car a claimed 25 miles of range but we found that to be fairly optimistic. However the hybrid system’s engagement in daily driving is almost entirely transparent. In normal mode the 330e operates as a full electric car at low speeds. At higher speeds the hybrid system is meant to support the four cylinder in moments where more power is needed.
In action it all works as smoothly as a Bavarian commuter train. The B48 is noticeably more seamless in start/stop situations than any other BMW engine and the entire drivetrain has a smoothness to it that feels like it belongs in a near luxury car. Given that the price as tested price of $60,245 that’s a good thing.
For the enthusiasts the driving experience in 330e is heavily influenced by how you use its driving modes – much more so than in a typical BMW. The drivetrain itself has three modes of operation: Auto eDrive, Max eDrive and Save Battery. Auto is what you’d expect; the system handles the mix of petrol and electric power, Max is all electric all the time and Save Battery essentially turns off the electric engine and allows the car to rely 100% on it’s B48 four cylinder engine.
For most drivers these modes aren’t that important. Auto does a great job of administering both engines power at the right time. However for the enthusiasts these modes offer an opportunity to dial in power and/or efficiency in an engaging way.
Beyond the drive modes, the chassis also has it’s normal settings ranging from normal to sport which change throttle mapping, steering wheel weighting and suspension pliancy.
One pro-tip with the 330e. Entering in your destination in the navigation unlocks the full intelligence of the auto eDrive setting. With mapping and traffic data in mind, the car can calculate the best electric/petrol combination of power and get you to your ultimate destination with some electricity to spare.
Is The 330e The Best 3 Series?
For most buyers we believe it might just be. For those who use their cars primarily for commuting this car (with the optional ActiveCruise our test car came with) is a joy to live with day to day. Its ability to seamlessly go from sipping fuel to gliding on electric power to a true sports sedan was beyond any transformation we’ve ever experienced. While it’s not as fast as the scorching 340i or the M3 (naturally), it’s feels much smarter than both of those four doors.
Critiques? We’d love more electric only range and we hear that’s coming in the next generation G20 hybrid. Quicker charging would also be welcome as it takes almost 2 hours to charge completely on a typical high-speed charger. We’d also love to see (selfishly) a sport or M sport package that includes some form of electrified launch mode.
Walking away from its F1 Motorsports program was as tough pill to swallow for BMW and difficult for fans to wrap their head around. But eight years later we’re staring at one of the many pay-offs of a corporate pivot into electrification and its pretty damn good.
The 330e is over $5,000 more than the standard 330i and given current fuel prices you’re not likely to make the difference up during ownership. But the 330e isn’t just about saving on fuel costs. It’s about a different type of driving experience that likely fits the needs of most who are considering a 3 Series. In other words, for the majority of 3 Series buyers, the 330e just might be the perfect BMW.