BMW 330e Review
BMW’s 3 Series is one of the most popular premium cars in the country, offering style, features and a level of luxury in a family-friendly package. This 330e is the plug-in hybrid version, offering up to 36 miles of electric-only driving, but with a powerful petrol engine for extended range and extra performance. It’s available in both saloon and estate body styles, and with a choice or rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. Could this be the perfect all-round 3 Series?
Select's rating score* - 4.5 / 5
If you’re after an executive car, the BMW 3 Series is usually one of your first stops, and rightly so. It’s fully earned its place in leasing customers’ short lists, because it’s a quality premium machine that looks good, drives really well and has what many consider to be that all-important badge appeal. After decades of petrol and diesel options, BMW now offers the 3 Series as a plug-in hybrid, and this is it.
The 330e is a relatively high-end, powerful model, and uses a petrol engine and electric motor to give customers a blend of performance and efficiency, depending on how they use it. You can get up to 36 miles of electric-only motoring per battery charge, which can be done via a home wall box or a public fast charger. As well as promising excellent fuel economy, it’s also very attractive for company car drivers because of low benefit in kind tax.
Virtually all of the appeal of the regular 3 Series line up remains with the 330e. Stylish looks, plenty of space inside and the sportiest driving experience of all the Big Three German rivals are first and foremost (the others being the Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class). On top of that, you’ve got a wide choice of trim levels, rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive and saloon or Touring estate body styles. Inside is some of the latest cutting-edge technology to entertain and inform you, as premium customers demand.
In plug-in hybrid form you’ve got a 3 Series that can blow your socks off in a straight line, with up to 292 horsepower available. But at the flick of a switch it’ll cruise silently for more than 30 miles, consuming no fuel whatsoever. And did we mention the company car tax? It’s dramatically cheaper than any petrol or diesel model.
The 330e houses a 2.0-litre engine alongside an electric motor powered by a 12kWh battery. This gives it an electric-only range of up to 34 miles in the Touring models, and up to 37 miles in the Saloons. Expect slightly less – by a mile or so – on all-wheel drive xDrive models. That’s not bad at all as far as PHEVs go, but there are a few cars on the market that will nudge over into 40-mile ranges.
The 330e is, first and foremost, a 3 Series, which means it needs to be a proper driver’s car. Thankfully, it is; just because it’s hauling quite a lot of extra weight around doesn’t mean it’s not agile and responsive. It’s both of those things, although the stiff suspension needed to keep up the extra 200kg of batteries and electric motor means the ride can be quite firm, especially on larger wheels. Be wary of this if you’re eyeing up the top-spec M Sport trim.
In any trim though, it’s a fun car to drive, with lots of feel through the thick steering wheel. It’s well worth taking the country road home, rather than the motorway.
The plug-in hybrid system may have the potential to be very frugal on fuel, but it’ll also drop some serious performance if you want it to. The engine will give you 184hp, and the electric motor – which is built into the eight-speed automatic gearbox – has 113hp. Combined, it produces 252hp, but a system called XtraBoost means it can boost that to 292hp for up to 10 seconds when the car is set to Sport mode or when you hoof your foot to the floor. The net result is that it’ll hit 62mph from standstill in as little as 5.8 seconds. That might not quite be M3 performance, but it’s very strong and brisk in a straight line, and putting the car in sport mode really sharpens up the throttle response.
If you’re playing it cool and relying on electric power, the 330e is almost completely silent and wafts around town with ease. Depending on what setting you have it on, it’ll either stay on electric power until the battery’s depleted, or it’ll juggle petrol and electric power as it sees fit. If you’ve got a route planned in the nav, it’ll take that into account and allocate power depending on how long you’ve got left on your journey.
It’s very clever, and although the different options can seem almost overwhelming at first, it’s worth getting to understand how they all work, as the fuel savings can be very impressive.
You can recharge the 330e’s battery at home, using a wall box, or at a public charger. With such dedicated charging equipment you can refill the battery in around three-and-a-half hours. You can also use a normal three-pin socket, which will recharge it in around five-and-a-half hours.
You’ll pay a bit more to lease a 330e than a lot of other 3 Series, but that’s as much because it’s a high-spec, powerful model as it is a hybrid. Officially, it’s rated at up to 201.8mpg for fuel economy, but that figure is basically meaningless in the real world, as it depends so much on how you use it. Keep the battery charged and the journeys short and you’ll hardly use any petrol at all.
Fail to charge it, or do lots of long journeys between charges, and the fuel economy will be rather underwhelming. On battery power alone, the 330e promises up to 4.1 miles per kWh. This is the electrical equivalent of miles-per-gallon, and that’s not a bad rating.
When it comes to emissions, the 330e emits between 38 and 46gkm of CO2, and with its 34-37 mile range fits into the 12% bracket for benefit-in-kind company car tax (2021/22).
The 3 Series interior is very impressive, with great build quality, lots of tech and an appropriately high-end feel. The seating position is low with plenty of adjustment in both chair and steering wheel to let you get the best driving position. The 330e gets a digital driver display in place of traditional dials, which lets you customise what information you see. As with the rest of the infotainment system, it pays to spend some time understanding what it can do; once you figure it all out, it’s one of the best systems out there.
The central infotainment screen houses most of the many sources of info, from navigation to energy information and everything in between. It’s controlled by a central dial-and-buttons interface between the front seats, which works really well. It’s much easier to use on the move than a touchscreen-only system – once you’ve remembered which buttons are which.
Space inside the 330e is very decent, with plenty of legroom and headroom in the rear. Two adults will have no issue in the back, but the raised floor in the centre means the middle seat is best kept for children.
The extra space needed for the electrical components means boot space is compromised over non-PHEV cars. In the saloon, capacity drops from 480 litres to 375 litres, and there’s a similar story in the Touring, although the overall larger space means there’s less of an impact on practicality. However, the raised boot floor means that when you fold the rear seats down, there’s a drop step in the load space. If you do want to drop the rear chairs, they fold in a 40/20/40 split, and you can do so using buttons inside the boot.
There are plenty of cubby holes to store odds and ends, including a covered tray in front of the gearstick, space under the armrest, a couple of big cupholders and door pockets designed to hold a drinks bottle.
The 3 Series was tested by independent safety organisation Euro NCAP in 2019 and scored the maximum five stars, with very good marks in all areas. All models come with some of the latest active safety systems, including automatic emergency braking and lane departure warning. You can add other systems, including a blind spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert as options. There are Isofix child seat mounting points on the outer rear seats.
After you’ve decided whether you want a saloon or a Touring, and whether you want rear-wheel drive or xDrive all-wheel drive, you’ve got to choose a trim level. There are four to pick from.
The entry-level model is the SE Pro, but it’s still well kitted-out. It rides on 17-inch alloy wheels and comes with adaptive LED headlights, automatic air conditioning and the full iDrive infotainment system, including Apple CarPlay.
Sport Pro upgrades to 18-inch wheels and sports seats with leather upholstery, as well as choice of black or silver interior trim.
M Sport takes inspiration from BMW’s M performance cars, and includes a more aggressive body kit and a different design of 18-inch wheels, as well as a different steering wheel. For all the standard toys, go for M Sport Pro Edition, which puts on metallic paint, 19-inch block alloy wheels and black elements on the outside, as well as smart stripey M Sport seat belts.
Options are plentiful, and range from upholstery and trim upgrades to new wheels, brighter headlights and a head-up display.
The obvious rivals to any 3 Series come from the Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. But right now, Audi doesn’t have a plug-in hybrid version of the A4, so we’ll focus on the offering from Mercedes. Available in both estate and saloon form, the C-Class is similar in spec to the BMW in a lot of ways, but there’s one crucial difference – you can get it in both petrol and diesel PHEV form. The diesel model particularly offers the potential for really impressive fuel economy. However, it’s not as fun to drive as the 3 Series.
Other PHEVs to consider include the capable and spacious, but less premium Skoda Superb iV and Volkswagen Passat GTE, as well as the smart Volkswagen Arteon. Volvo’s S60 Recharge T8 is worth a look too, as is its estate sibling, the V60.
The plug-in hybrid 3 Series does have a few compromises over the rest of the range, most notably with boot space and a slight edge of handling, caused by the extra weight. But it also offers a huge amount of flexibility to leasing customers.
Now you don’t have to choose between performance and fuel economy, because if you use it correctly, you can have both with the 330e. It’s a really capable car that will have lots of appeal, and not just to company car drivers. Sticking a plug-in hybrid system into the already-great BMW 3 Series was a very smart idea.
Where to next?
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*Score based on Select’s unique meta score analysis, taking into account the UK’s top five leading independent car website reviews of the BMW 330e
**Correct as of 27/07/2021. Based on 9 months initial payment, 5,000 miles over a 48 month lease. Initial payment equivalent to 9 monthly payments or £3,283.09 Ts and Cs apply. Credit is subject to status.