Plug-in hybrids are big business, especially at the premium end of the spectrum. Audi, BMW, Mercedes and Volvo are all heavily invested in them, and it’s in the saloon segment where they prove most lucrative. BMW’s certainly noticed this with its 330e PHEV – but can a new 3 Series plug-in option make it even more appealing?
- Generous electric range
- Great to drive
- High-quality interior
- Reduced boot space
- Could be more refined
- Not the most comfortable
BMW knows more about plug-in hybrids than most. With an electrified version available on the majority of its cars (and updates coming to the few without), it’s made sure these models are cheap to run, as well asenjoyable to drive.
Key to this success has been the 330e – a PHEV derivative of the popular 3 Series. Unlike the regular estate model, the PHEV has so far only been available as a saloon. But that certainly hasn’t harmed sales, especially as a company car.
With the latest generation of 3 Series arriving in showrooms in 2019, it’s taken BMW another year to launch the 330e model. To look at, there’s little to tell it apart from the standard petrol and diesel model, so it’s really underneath the surface where the changes lie. For a start, the powertrain is much more developed than the previous model.
While still using the four-cylinder petrol engine from the 320i, the electrical side of things has been changed – namely a much larger battery. This sees the electrical range more than double to a claimed 41 miles – something that aids both efficiency and performance.
Given BMW’s tagline is the ‘Ultimate Driving Machine’, it’s important for these models to be fun to drive. That’s something we were wary of, as usually the additional weight of batteries numbs the driving experience compared to regular cars.
But with the 330e, BMW has managed to mask this extra weight. Driving the 330e is just as much fun as the standard 3 Series, with the added bonus of a fantastic hushed driving experience when running on electricity. The only slight downside is that BMW have stiffened up the suspension to account for the weight of the battery – so there’s a bit of a firm edge to the ride.
Looks and image
The BMW 3 Series dates all the way back to 1975, and it’s been a desirable choice ever since. While the petrol and diesel engines remain popular, the offering of a plug-in version shows the car has moved with the times, something that’s certainly appealing.
While the fiddly looks of the latest 3 Series won’t suit everyone, it remains a stylish choice, whether you opt for a low spec with the smaller alloy wheels, or the M Sport with its bigger alloy wheels and sportier looks. Aside from a charging flap in the front wing and subtle ‘e’ badging, there are few clues to give away that this is a plug-in hybrid.
A disadvantage of plug-in hybrids is that the batteries eat into the boot space, and this unfortunately affects the 330e. While it’s by no means an impractical choice, the boot space is reduced significantly from 480 litres to 375 litres – exactly the same as that of a Ford Focus hatchback. It remains a useful shape, though, with split folding rear seats, an unusual asset for a saloon car. Plus, passenger space is unharmed, as the 330e has a roomy cabin and adults won’t struggle for either legroom or headroom if sat in the back.
The 330e’s appeal will increase further later in 2020, when BMW introduces a Touring (estate) version of this PHEV for the first time.
Engines and running costs
The 330e mates the 2.0-litre petrol engine from the 320i with an electric motor and 12kWh battery pack, producing a total of 249bhp, though the electric motor is able to unleash another 40bhp when in ‘Sport’ mode. In terms of performance figures, the 330e can reach 60mph in 5.7 seconds and hit a top speed of 143mph.
The 12kWh battery enables an electric range of up to 41 miles – something that would allow for some staggeringly low running costs. BMW claims you’ll return 138mpg, with CO2 emissions of 39g/km. Charged at home using a 3.7kW wallbox, the battery can be topped to 80 per cent in 2.5 hours. The low emissions also give the 330e a benefit-in-kind percentage charge of just 10 per cent – meaning it could cost as little as £64 per month in company car tax.
All 330e models are currently rear-wheel-drive, though later in 2020 an all-wheel-drive version will be made available.
- 2.0-litre petrol engine mated to electric motor and 12kWh battery
- Lexus IS 300h – from £33,265
- Skoda Superb iV – from £36,090
- Volkswagen Passat GTE – from £36,790
- Mercedes C300e – from £40,869
- Volvo S60 Recharge T8 – from £45,105
Four trim levels are available on the 330e – SE, Sport, M Sport and M Sport Plus Edition. Equipment highlights of each are as follows.
SE – from £39,345
- 17-inch alloy wheels
- Adaptive LED headlights
- Three-zone climate control
- 8.8-inch touchscreen
- Reversing camera
- Cruise control
- Front and rear parking sensors
Sport – from £40,745 (in addition to SE)
- 18-inch alloy wheels
- Gloss black styling accents
- Leather upholstery
- Heated sports seats
M Sport – from £41,450 (in addition to Sport)
- Revised 18-inch alloy wheels
- 10.25-inch touchscreen
- M Sport bodykit
- Anthracite headlining
M Sport Pro Edition – from £45,650 (in addition to M Sport)
- 19-inch alloy wheels
- Adaptive suspension
- Black mirror caps
- Aluminium interior accents