BMW 330e Sport Saloon Review
BMW’s 3 Series model has achieved iconic status over its 40-year history and is a firm favourite with business drivers, but that appeal has gained in strength thanks to the arrival of a plug-in hybrid model that can achieve outstanding fuel economy.
- A claimed 148mpg (only if used for lots of city driving)
- No congestion charges
- Premium build quality
- Heavier than standard car
- Not quite as dynamic as pure petrol variant
- Slightly smaller boot as batteries are positioned under the floor
There’s no denying the fact that electrically-powered driving has come a long way. Long gone are the days when you could hear the whine of an EV coming along and it’s handling was not dissimilar to a milk float. But that was then and this is now.
BMW has proven that power, economy, handling and excellent efficiency can be achieved with the likes of its i3 and i8 vehicles, but now the Bavarian marque has extended its plug-in hybrid technology to its most popular 3 Series in the form of the 330e model.
There are a few design clues to the indicate this car is a little bit special such as the eDrive badging along with an additional plug-in charging port on the front wing, but otherwise it is a 3 Series through and through with athletic, muscular styling, 17-inch alloys, black mirror caps, LED lighting and BMW’s distinctive kidney grille.
On the Road
We tested the BMW 330e Sport Saloon which is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine delivering 181bhp and this is assisted by an electric motor that adds an extra 87bhp to the mix. It can run in pure electric mode for up to 25 miles so long as there is enough charge with the petrol engine cutting in when necessary.
But, this is a BMW so the performance stats need to be appealing and they are. The 330e can complete the 0-62mph dash in a creditable 6.1 seconds and onto a top speed of 140mph.
Despite all the clever on-board technology and various battery save, and eDrive modes associated with a hybrid, the 330e has one thing in common with more traditional 3 series cars and that’s its performance. When faced with the open road, the driver is guaranteed true BMW driving dynamics. The road-holding is super grippy and the acceleration through the eight-speed automatic gearbox is smooth and rapid. The driver can select from EcoPro, Comfort, Sport and Sport+ driving modes with the latter sharpening up the car’s responses and delivering a far edgier ride.
Despite being slightly heavier than the standard 3 Series, the 330e is beautifully balanced and is still very much a ‘driver’s car’.
BMWs have built a solid reputation for delivering the goods when it comes to performance, ride and handling and the fact that the 330e is a plug-in hybrid makes little difference.
Admittedly, the additional weight of the batteries does have a slight impact on the way the car responds, but you would have to be quite a purist or petrol head to really notice.
Steering wheel mounted paddles mean you can take control of the gear changes and the acceleration can be as fast or composed as you choose. Long sweeping bends can be attacked with a degree of confidence and there is excellent driver feedback which makes you feel like you have full control at all times.
The steering is beautifully precise and the car is just as content being thrown around country lanes as it is clocking up the motorway miles or performing its duties on the school run where it can be driven in pure EV mode if there is enough charge.
The interior of the BMW 330e oozes premium style and elegance with a whole host of techno treats to explore along the way. There are soft-touch surfaces, the finest plush leather upholstery and smart inlays and finishes to complete the look.
The heated sports seats along with the heated steering wheel are great to beat off the winter chill and all controls, readouts and switches are perfectly positioned for driver usability.
When driven in Comfort mode the car delivers armchair-like refined driving as it glides across the Tarmac. Such a powerhouse of a car starting up and pulling away in absolute silence takes a little getting used to, but even when the petrol engine joins in, which is a seamless transition, the cabin is well insulated against any engine noise.
It’s worth noting too that the highly efficient suspension system works tirelessly to iron out the bumpy road surfaces.
The BMW 330e offers the same exceptionally high standards of refinement as the traditional 3 Series - it just adds the option of silent driving too.
In the car
The BMW 330e is packed with all the latest infotainment and connectivity systems expected these days. There is plenty of seat and steering wheel adjustment available to get the perfect driving position and when you touch the start button all the instrumentation bursts into life but in the silence of EV mode.
Being a plug-in hybrid, the read-outs on the instrument dials will feature details regarding range, battery life and the brake regeneration figures as well as more traditional speed and revs.
On-board technology includes the likes of a neat 6.5-inch colour infotainment screen, internet connectivity, Bluetooth, dual-zone climate control, sat nav with real-time traffic updates and a multitude of car settings that are all accessed via the BMW iDrive dial.
I liked the fact that there are still some physical buttons and dials to control functions such as the temperature, air flow speed and direction – there is nothing worse than having to navigate your way through a touchscreen menu while hurtling down a country lane.
There are conveniently-positioned USB sockets to connect smartphones and full connectivity is available via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.
And as is the norm with all premium brands these days, there is the option to pack the car with additional kit. The test car ended up with a price-tag of £41,570.
The boot capacity on the 330e is reduced to 370 litres compared to the 480 litres available on the traditional saloon. This is due to the positioning of the lithium ion cells in the boot floor. By comparison a standard VW Golf can swallow 380 litres of luggage in its boot.
But space has not been compromised within the car so there is ample room in the back for two adults to travel in comfort with plenty of head, leg and elbow space.
Throughout the cabin, there are cup holders, deep door pockets, a generously-sized glovebox and a covered central bin to safely store away bits and bobs and the split-folding rear seats do open up extra space if necessary.
The BMW 330e can be charged in a little over two hours using a wallbox or three hours when plugged into a traditional household three-pin plug socket.
Although the car has an EV range of about 25 miles up to speeds of approximately 50mph, the energy can be stored. There are three battery modes to choose from - Auto eDrive works mainly on battery power from the electric motor but brings in the petrol engine when needed; Max eDrive uses only electric power and finally Save Battery does just that. This can be beneficial when needed for emission-free zone driving.
The test car had an asking price of £36,245 which increased to £41,570 with options fitted. The official figures show that the 330e can deliver combined fuel economy of 148.7mpg with carbon emissions of 45g/km, but those fuel efficiency figures would only ever be achievable if the car was used on short hops and charged regularly so it was running predominantly on electric power. A more realistic figure would be in the region of 50mpg.
It is also claimed that the car can complete 25 miles in EV-only mode. In real world driving expect about 18 to 20 miles at very best.
The 330e is not really a car that will be snapped up by private buyers even with its £2,500 government grant for plug-in vehicles, but it has plenty of appeal to the fleet market. However, if most of the routine driving is pounding up and down the motorway then this isn’t really a viable option. It is perfect for someone with a balance of city centre driving with the option to recharge regularly, combined with some longer distance motoring.
The combined CO2 figure of 45g/km would result in a Vehicle Excise Duty cost of £10 for the first year which is reduced to £140 after that.
The insurance group rating for the car is 30.
BMW has a solid reputation for producing reliable cars that will survive the test of time and the 330e is no exception. The interior boasts excellent high-quality materials and there are no rough edges to be found – no matter how far you go searching beneath the seats or steering wheel column.
I tested the car during some horrendous weather conditions and even after severe downpours when I opened the doors or the boot, the excess water ran off without dripping into the car. I recently drove a saloon costing £20k more than the 330e and after a shower water ran down the seals around the boot lid and straight into the boot itself.
The 330e comes with a three rear/unlimited mileage warranty.
BMW customers demand the highest levels of safety from their vehicles and the 330e lives up to those expectations receiving the maximum five stars when tested by Euro NCAP.
The range of safety features as standard is comprehensive with a raft of airbags, electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, cruise control, Isofix child seat anchors, parking sensors, traction control and plenty more besides.
And of course, there are plenty of optional packs to introduce the likes of lane change warning, automatic parking, adaptive lighting and autonomous emergency braking.
The car comes fitted with an alarm to keep any intruders at bay.