Stealth- e sedan
BMW adds special powers to broaden the plug-in appeal
SILENTLY, the 330e glides up the ramp from the parking station beneath BMW World, the company’s futuristic customer-experience showcase in Munich.
Its looks are quiet, too. This new plug-in hybrid is like a normal 3 Series. Only the flap covering the recharging port behind the left front wheel and small “eDrive” badges on its roof pillars allude to its status.
This stealthy sedan also has the same stuff that’s made the long-running 3 Series BMW’s global bestseller.
It’s a quiet, refined and capable car, with a classy
interior and above-average tech throughout.
What the 330e adds to this mix is extreme fuel efficiency and, when running on electricity alone, even more extreme silence.
For affordability, as well as efficiency, the 330e beats the heck out of BMW’s previous petrol-electric 3 Series. The 2012 ActiveHybrid 3 used a 3.0litre six-cylinder turbo engine, teamed with electric motor boost with a small, non plug-in battery back.
While blindingly quick, it wasn’t especially fuel efficient. And the $100,000 price was eye-watering.
BMW Australia says it will charge “a small premium” for the 330e over its purely petrolpowered 330i, which is only fractionally faster. This points to $70,000-$75,000 when the car arrives in April.
The plug-in lithium-ion battery under the boot floor of the 330e can store more than four times the energy of the pack in the costly ActiveHybrid 3 Series sedan. It also has a more powerful electric motor. As a result, the 330e can drive a respectable distance on electric power alone.
According to the official European test, a fully recharged 330e should be good for a 40km electric-only range. Our drive in and around Munich suggests 25km-30km is more realistic in the real world.
Because the 330e doesn’t have a really big battery, like an electric-only car such as the Tesla Model S, it can be recharged quickly. Even using a normal power socket, the job can be done in about three hours, according to BMW hybrid drivetrain engineers.
The 65kW electric motor of the rear-drive 330e is sandwiched between the car’s 135kW 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo and its eight-speed automatic. Maximum combined power is 185kW, same as the 330i.
BMW gives the 330e driver decent control over the way the petrol-burning engine and amp-eating motor work together. Max eDrive mode drains the battery dry and limits top speed to 120km/h before calling on the turbo engine to start.
In Save Battery mode, the engine runs more to save charge for later. It’s a smart choice if there’s a long, energysapping climb on the route ahead.
Auto eDrive is the 330e’s default start-up mode. It’ll accelerate to 80km/h on electricity alone if you don’t press the accelerator pedal too hard. Full-throttle performance in this mode is very strong, as the electric motor adds real low-speed shove to the turbo engine’s high-rev output.
If an official fuel consumption claim of 2.0L/100km isn’t enough to win customers, BMW has equipped the 330e with other tricks. It’s possible, for example, to use the car’s battery or, if it’s plugged in, mains power to precondition the cabin temperature. This can all be done remotely via a smartphone app.
The 330e shows just how hard BMW is working to make plug-in driving attractive by broadening its appeal.
This hybrid is as pleasant to drive as a 330i, with some special powers added for not a lot more money.