Stealth- e sedan

BMW adds spe­cial pow­ers to broaden the plug-in ap­peal

Herald Sun - Motoring - - PRESTIGE - JOHN CAREY

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.

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