The BMW 3-series has always been the benchmark for compact luxury sedans. It has a good blend of performance & luxury. But does the addition of an electric motor help or hamper that performance & luxury?
Engine – Just like the BMW 330i, the 330e is powered by a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine. However, it’s not the most powerful engine that BMW produces because this one only has 181 hp. But due to the electric motor – which provides 107 hp and 77 lb-ft (80 kW & 104 Nm) – the total system output is 288 hp & 310 lb-ft (215 kW & 420 Nm). A pretty healthy sum of power but don’t be fooled because the car can only produce 288 hp for 10 seconds at a time in a mode called “Xtraboost”. Most of the time, the power output is only 248 hp (185 kW). Furthermore, with the added weight of the battery pack, 0-100 km/h is slower than the gasoline only version of the 3-series at 6 seconds for this 330e & 5.6 seconds for the 330i; both with xDrive.
Thankfully, it doesn’t feel that slow from behind the steering wheel thanks to the near instant peak torque of the electric motor. In Hybrid mode, the car primarily runs on electricity until you push really hard on the throttle pedal. Then the gasoline engine will be aided by the electric motor. You can prevent the gasoline engine from turning on by using electric only mode. In this mode, the engine will not turn on even under full throttle applications. And the final electric mode is Battery Control. This mode can hold the battery charge up to a certain percentage or use the engine to charge it to a set percentage. But be warned that if the engine charges the battery, it will burn a lot of fuel.
Speaking of which, the 2021 BMW 330e xDrive is rated for 7.9 L/100km (29.7 MPG) on a highway and 10.7 L/100km (21.9 MPG) in a city. Those are high numbers but because this is a PHEV, I managed to average a fuel economy figure of just 1.3 L/100km (181 MPG) during my week with the car. Every chance I got, I plugged the 330e in to recharge the battery. However, if you do plan to take the BMW 330e for a long trip, be aware that BMW had to reduce the size of the fuel tank in order to accommodate the battery. It’s now 20 L (5 gallons) smaller than the 330i’s gas tank. As a result, the overall range is only around 400 km (248 miles).
Battery & Charging – The 12 kWh battery holds enough charge for a claimed electric range of 32 km (20 miles). It doesn’t seem like much but most commutes are around the 30 km mark from the suburb to the city center. With regen braking, smooth throttle inputs & no climate control, I managed to increase the range to around 40 km (25 miles).
Charging the car from a level 2 charger takes 2 to 3 hours and from a regular 120-Volt wall socket, it’s approximately 9 to 10 hours from flat to 100%.
Transmission – Like many other BMW vehicles, the 330e xDrive utilizes an 8-speed automatic transmission. This is a smooth & fast shifting automatic transmission. It still goes through the gears when in electric mode to better utilize the electric motors power. In Sport mode, the shifts become a bit more noticeable but are very fast.
Braking – The 2021 BMW 330e uses regenerative braking to recoup some electrical energy when slowing down. The regen braking force is stronger than in other PHEVs but it’s not quite strong enough for one pedal driving. This particular demo vehicle did not have the optional M-Sport front brake calipers and it shows when stepping on the brake pedal. The car will stop quickly but you don’t get the same firm brake pedal feel as you would with the optional brake calipers. Furthermore, there is a bit of a noticeable difference between regen braking & friction braking which isn’t there in similar vehicles like the X5 & X3 PHEVs.
Handling – Due to the extra weight of the battery, the handling dynamics don’t feel as sharp as on the non-hybrid variant of the BMW 330xi. The weight is a fairly substantial difference with the gasoline 330i xDrive weighing 1,711 kg (3,686 lbs) while this 330e xDrive weighs 1,877 kg (4,138 lbs). The suspension is also tuned differently to accommodate the extra heft. It’s not that the car won’t go around corners, because it does. It just doesn’t feel as sharp & as delicate which takes away from the driving enjoyment.
Ride Comfort – One benefit to having softer suspension is better ride comfort. Compared to other 3-series models, this one is the most forgiving when driving over bumps and poorly maintained roads. It doesn’t feel “floppy” or “floaty” but instead well composed.
Interior Space – Front occupants have a generous amount of room even if they are as tall as myself at 6’4”. The front seats have enough adjustments including lumbar and thigh extensions. The back seats, however, are not so generous for adults. Legroom is very, very tight and expect your hairdo to be brushing up against the headliner.
Worse still is the trunk space. Compared to the BMW 330i xDrive, this 330e xDrive has a whopping 104 L (3.7 cu-ft) less cargo volume. Total trunk space for the 2021 BMW 330e xDrive is 373 L (13.2 cu-ft)
Noise, Vibration, & Harshness – Overall the 2021 BMW 330e is a quiet vehicle. Of course, it’s very quiet when it’s running in electrical mode with very little wind and road noise intruding into the cabin at highway speeds. When the engine does need to turn on, it is a smooth transition and the engine itself is quiet at normal operating rpm ranges. Engine noise only becomes more noticeable from the mid-range to the redline with a few “enhanced” noises coming from the stereo when in Sport mode.
Odds and Ends
Gadgets – The rear-wheel-drive version of the 2021 BMW 330e starts at $44,950 CAD ($44,550 USD). However, if you want xDrive AWD, then be prepared to pay a hefty premium – in Canada – as the starting price bumps up to $54,000 CAD ($46,550 USD). For that money, you get a slew of features that one would expect from a luxury compact sedan. Heated seats, sunroof, forward collision alert with automatic emergency braking, front & rear parking sensors, backup camera, LED headlights, automatic climate control, & leatherette seating upholstery as some examples of standard features. Of course these standard features differ between the Canadian market & American market.
For more features, be prepared to pay almost $15,000 CAD ($10,000 USD) more for all of the available options. Realistically all this car needs is the Premium Essential Package (which includes LED fog lamps, comfort access, heated steering wheel, & lumbar support) and the M-Sport Package with the M-Sport brake calipers. Unfortunately you can only get the calipers with the package but they make a big difference in braking performance & brake pedal feel. For American readers, the Convenience & Dynamic Handling packages would be the equivalent.
Interior Design – Apart from the buttons that control the drive modes & battery control, the interior of the BMW 330e is identical to that of the BMW 330i. Same styling, same button layout, same ambient lighting, same seats. Everything is well laid out and easy to understand. The infotainment system is one of the most robust and easiest to use among the luxury brands. Outward visibility is also very good for a compact sedan.
Exterior Design – Just like the interior, the exterior is also identical to that of the non-hybrid variants of the 3-series apart from the charge port on the front left fender. The exterior is a more mature design than previous generations. The front grille is nowhere near as big as the one found on the new 4-series and instead is more proportionate to the rest of the car. This demo vehicle came equipped with the M-Sport package which adds a more sporty looking front bumper. Around back, the 330e has circular exhaust pipes and “L-shaped” taillights just like the non-hybrid 3-series.
Warranty – Like most other BMW vehicles, the 330e is protected by a 4 year / 80,000km new vehicle & powertrain warranty. Although BMW Canada’s website doesn’t specifically mention battery & hybrid component warranty, in the United States they are covered for 8 years / 80,000 miles (130,000 km).
Overall if we look at the car without the BMW badge, it is a good PHEV luxury sedan. It has a decently good electric range, it’s comfortable, quiet, and reasonably priced in RWD form. But because it is a BMW, the extra weight of the battery takes away from the driving characteristics that the 3-series is known for. If you care more about driving dynamics, stick to the non-hybrid 3-series. But as a comfortable and efficient daily commuter, this BMW 330e works brilliantly.
Thank you to BMW Canada for providing the vehicle. www.BMW.ca