From £24,8009
Plug-in-hybrid 3 Series shows the benefit of BMW's experience with the i3 and i8. Sophisticated, swift and broadly talented to drive – and sweet-handing, too

What is it?

The BMW 330e is currently one of the smartest ways for the company car driver to make his monthly car allowance go that bit further. It’s a car that feels at once like a really authentic BMW sports saloon as well as a visionary chunk of the electrified motoring future: two concepts you probably weren’t expecting to find executed on the same set of four wheels.

The car is a ‘plug-in hybrid’ petrol-electric saloon of a familiar type, driven primarily by BMW’s 182bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine, which sends its power to the car’s rear wheels via an eight-speed automatic gearbox. But in place of a conventional automatic saloon’s torque converter is an 87bhp electric motor and an additional clutch, the former drawing power from a 7.6kWh lithium ion battery located under the boot floor.

When both power sources team up, the 330e can summon 249bhp and 310lb ft and hit 62mph from rest in a whisker over six seconds. And yet it can also cover up to 25 miles on battery power alone, according to BMW, and emit only 44g/km of CO2 on the EU emissions test, which means it qualifies for benefit in kind tax at just 7% of its showroom price. This, therefore, is a 250bhp, £35k BMW 3 Series that costs less on company car tax than an £18k Fiat Tipo diesel, and even bought privately, with the government’s £2500 grant in the mix, it can be snapped up for considerably less than the list price of either a 330i or 330d.

Above and beyond that, the 330e’s selling point is very much typical BMW-brand performance and dynamism. And so those familiar with the handful of plug-in hybrid saloons, hatchbacks and estates already on the market will note that the car offers markedly better peak power and accelerative pace than the likes of the Volkswagen Passat GTE, Audi A3 eTron and Volvo’s V60 D5 Twin Engine, while being trumped on paper only by the Mercedes C 350e.

What's it like?

Having already had a taste of the 330e abroad, we knew to expect both sporting verve and outstanding refinement from this powertrain. And on UK roads, it doesn’t disappoint. The petrol portion of the car’s propulsion system is very well isolated, so you barely hear it when operating at low crank speeds, but it’s also nicely gruff and spirited when working hard.

There are three powertrain modes to choose between - Auto eDrive, Max eDrive and Save Battery – as well as the usual Sport, Comfort and Eco Pro modes selected via the Driving Experience Control toggle switch adjacent to the gear lever. All that may sound like the sort of complication likely to put many off a car like this but, in fact, it’s easily negotiated. You’ll leave the powertrain in Auto eDrive mode 99% of the time, allowing the car to manage its own battery condition and run in range-extended mode when it needs to.

BMW’s claim for a 25-mile electric-only range was made to look optimistic during our testing, when, on a chilly November morning on mixed roads and in mixed traffic conditions, we only managed 14 miles on a full charge. That’s not great. Still, that’d be enough to transform your real-world economy return on a fairly short-range commute. If you live about 30 miles from where you work, you can expect to better 80mpg after a full at-home charge. When touring, once its electrical resources are idling, the 330e will return around 45mpg at typical motorway pace – and that’s a return that, predictably enough, doesn’t deteriorate much in heavy traffic or on urban roads.

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There’s a hint of a delay in accelerator pedal response when the car is pulling away from stationary, which is something you don’t find in electric cars with direct-drive transmissions. But the pay-off is that BMW’s technical solution for the 330e allows the car’s electric motor, driving through its eight-speed gearbox, to operate more efficiently at higher speeds than it might otherwise.

And once the car is rolling, electric and combustive power is blended with real skill. The electric motor is managed so that it’s always ready with an instant 74lb ft of ‘torque-fill’, which gives the top couple of inches of accelerator pedal close and precise initial control over the car’s rate of progress. The motor can also deliver short bursts of up to 184lb ft, timed to coincide with downshifts and with bigger dips into the pedal. Overall, the car’s powertrain feels not only nicely lavish and bountiful – you’d put BMW’s homologated peak power and torque claims down as conservative, if anything – but also cohesive and very highly developed. It never feels rushed and strained and takes as naturally to being driven with gusto as it does to the urban grind.

Being quite light for a plug-in hybrid of its size and with its battery location preserving a favourable weight distribution, the 330e handles with a sense of balance and keenness that would do any 3 Series credit. Our test car ran on the standard 17in alloy wheels and run-flat tyres that come with Sport trim, with standard Servotronic power steering and BMW’s optional M Sport suspension fitted (which not only firms up the suspension but also takes 10mm out of the car’s ride height). The adaptively damped M Sport suspension offered on other 3 Series saloons isn’t available.

Still, the 330e proves that if you choose your options carefully you can end up with a car with an ideal combination of lateral grip, handling response, control feedback and body control here – and one from which it is possible to take a great deal of pleasure driving. The car’s body feels flat through bends and tautly controlled at all times, allowing for instant bite from the steering – which itself is weighty, positive, informative and beautifully uncorrupted. There’s enough compliance in the suspension to deal fluently with uneven B-roads, and but not so much as to allow the body to get excited. Just enough adhesion, too, to make the car feel secure when leant on, but not so much as to make for a cumbersome ‘over-tyred’ feel to the steering, ride or handling.

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More mature tastes might prefer the even greater compliance of the car’s standard springs, because there's a slight edge of firmness to the M Sport-sprung car’s ride over sharper edges. But that apart, you couldn’t really ask for a more sweet-handling saloon.

Should I buy one?

If you can secure one at a competitive real-world price, absolutely. That’s a fairly big ‘if’ – because the 330e will be in relatively short supply compared even with 330i and 330d models, and so is less likely to be available with much of a financial incentive from your BMW dealer.

But all other things being equal, I’d happily take a 330e over a 330d or 330i. There’s a beguiling mix of refinement, economy, instant torque and operational range to the car’s performance that you won’t quite find in either of its rangemates. Somehow, the 330e leaves you with an impression eerily redolent of a mid-1990s E36 328i, that is of a smooth, torquey, fast, free-revving 3 Series that can be equally gutsy when needed but that knows new dimensions in economy and drivability.

Moreover, BMW doesn’t appear to have got so carried away with the electrified portion of the car’s powertrain as to allow it to adversely affect the car dynamically. The 330e feels like it adopts as much high-voltage technology as makes it a better 3 Series – and not a kilogram or kilowatt-hour more.

BMW 330e iPerformance Sport  Location Feltham, Middlesex; On sale now; Price £34,475; Engine 4 cyls, 1998cc, turbocharged, petrol, plus 87bhp electric motor Power 249bhp; Torque 310lb ft; Gearbox 8-spd automatic; Kerb weight 1660kg; 0-62mph 6.1sec; Top speed 140mph; Economy 148.7mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 44g/km, 7%  Rivals: Mercedes C350e, Volkswagen Passat GTE

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oaffie 11 December 2016

"the 330e will return around

"the 330e will return around 45mpg at typical motorway pace". Seriously? That is diabolical in this day and age even for a car with this sort of performance. So basically this car is only any good if your commute is less than 15 miles, or regularly drive into the centre of London and want to save some moolah on the congestion charge. For everything else buy the 330d.

With the price you see pre-registered 330d's at I doubt you this would actually be cheaper to buy either.

xxxx 12 December 2016

apples with apples please

[quote=oaffie...With the price you see pre-registered 330d's at I doubt you this would actually be cheaper to buy either.[/quote]
But it will be new and not definetly not involved in an accident
Marc 12 December 2016

oaffie wrote:

oaffie wrote:

"the 330e will return around 45mpg at typical motorway pace". Seriously? That is diabolical in this day and age even for a car with this sort of performance. So basically this car is only any good if your commute is less than 15 miles, or regularly drive into the centre of London and want to save some moolah on the congestion charge. For everything else buy the 330d.

With the price you see pre-registered 330d's at I doubt you this would actually be cheaper to buy either.

What if you don't want diesel? This car is perfect for my situation, 12 round trip commute with one or two few mile journey's during the working day.

vinylnutter 28 July 2017

Diabolical!

I think you are a little too outraged. Lots of people dont want a diesel for a variety of reasons. This will not be changing anytime soon.

Also the 330D which you praise achieves about 44mpg on the Honest John Real MPG website, hardly a major difference. There are as yet no figures for the 330e on the site but the differences relative to Autocars experience hardly suggest a diabolical performance to any reasonable observer.

Suboji 11 December 2016

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fadyady 11 December 2016

Sporty hybrid

BMW has taken hybrid technology to an all new level.

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