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Plug-in hybrid version of the latest 3 Series makes a mighty strong case for itself

Our Verdict

BMW 3 Series 320d 2019 Road Test review - hero front

In compelling 320d guise, Munich’s seventh-generation 3 Series successfully reclaims compact executive class honours

5 March 2019
BMW 330e 2019

What is it?

Of the previous-generation BMW 3 Series, how many do you think were sold with a plug-in hybrid powertrain? One in 10?

The answer is actually one in three – testament to the car’s low benefit-in-kind rate and an ability to capture the appealing dynamics of a ‘normal’ 3 Series but with a genuine environmental edge (if, that is, you could meaningfully deploy its modest 25 miles of electric range).

BMW expects this second attempt, based on the new G20-generation 3 Series, to repeat the trick, if not prove even more popular.

To that end, the recipe is largely the same, so where revised plug-in hybrid versions of the 7 Series and X5 have graduated to six-cylinder petrols, the 330e retains a detuned version of the 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo unit found in the new 330i. As before, it makes 181bhp – a figure supplemented by an electric motor economically packaged within the car’s eight-speed automatic transmission, for a total of 248bhp.

However, there is now an XtraBoost feature available in Sport mode. It undams an extra 40bhp on kickdown and helps to take the rear-driven 330e to 62mph in six seconds flat.

That power fights against 200kg of hybrid hardware, which is a lot in the context of a junior saloon.

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What's it like?

Not that you immediately sense its effects. A brief drive around one of BMW’s test tracks in a late 330e prototype highlights how well that mass is disguised, the only betrayal being a slight stiffness in the springs, which can make direction changes feel a little abrupt.

Drive the car hard and the weight of battery – a 12kWh unit positioned under the rear seats – becomes more noticeable, but it only exaggerates the right kinds of moments. The old 330e handled better than any rival and this new model is not only more rigid but also lighter than that car, with wider tracks and greater camber for the front tyres.

The engine itself is more present than a six-cylinder alternative and coarser, although it’s far from uncouth and spins sweetly enough. Even more impressive is the way it flitters in and out of action, the electric motor sporadically taking on propulsive duties. Drive the 330e in Electric mode and, with 67bhp on offer, maintaining speeds of up to 68mph (previously 50mph) is effortless enough, but you won’t always fire yourself out of a junction as quickly as you’d like.

Equally, when you run out of charge, this engine is at least an economical one and, unaided by electrical assistance, can achieve nearly 50mpg on long motorway runs. New Adaptive Recuperation software also dictates whether the car coasts off throttle or decelerates, based on navigation data and the car’s own sensors.

The only real chink in the 330e’s armour becomes apparent when you need to shed speed. The uninspiring regenerative brakes will matter less where rivals from Mercedes and Audi are concerned, but the imprecision at the top of the pedal’s travel is jarring in relation to the BMW’s precise steering and body control.

Should I buy one?

This car is likely to cost around £38,000, making it almost an exact match for the 330i, to which it gives so little away in outright performance and handling. And what a 330i – or any other 3 Series – won’t do is travel commutable distances on electricity alone.

If the numbers fit your routine even vaguely, and you’ve the ability to charge the car, the question that needs asking is not whether this upcoming plug-in hybrid saloon should be on your shortlist but why it isn’t sitting at the top.

BMW 3 Series hybrid specification

Where Germany Price £38,000 (est) On sale July Engine 4 cyls, 1998cc, turbocharged, petrol, plus electric motor Power 249bhp at 5500rpm Torque 310lb ft at 1350-2500rpm Gearbox 8-spd automatic Kerb weight 1680kg (est) Top speed 143mph 0-62mph 6.0sec Fuel economy 138mpg CO2 39g/km Rivals Mercedes-Benz C300de, Volkswagen Passat GTE

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Comments
23

5 March 2019

That's the same as having two modestly built adults in the car with you.   Definitely going to blunt the performance, and it does.   My previous 330i would have out performed the 0-62 on this, even with the extra boost function this one has.

 

Alas, as impressed as I am with this, and I'm exactly the person who BMW would like to sell to I'm sure, never again will I buy after the trouble I had!   I expected more from a premium brand like BMW only to find it was the most unreliable car I've ever owned with more problems in it than all previous put together (and one of those was a Talbot!).

 

6 March 2019
Symanski wrote:

That's the same as having two modestly built adults in the car with you.   Definitely going to blunt the performance, and it does.   My previous 330i would have out performed the 0-62 on this, even with the extra boost function this one has.

 

Alas, as impressed as I am with this, and I'm exactly the person who BMW would like to sell to I'm sure, never again will I buy after the trouble I had!   I expected more from a premium brand like BMW only to find it was the most unreliable car I've ever owned with more problems in it than all previous put together (and one of those was a Talbot!).

 

Why are you exactly the sort of person BMW would like to sell a car too? I'd say the opposite.

Maybe stick with cars you can afford, like your Talbots and stop whinging on here.

I've had plenty of BMW's, no issues what so ever.

6 March 2019
rsmith wrote:
Symanski wrote:

That's the same as having two modestly built adults in the car with you.   Definitely going to blunt the performance, and it does.   My previous 330i would have out performed the 0-62 on this, even with the extra boost function this one has.

 

Alas, as impressed as I am with this, and I'm exactly the person who BMW would like to sell to I'm sure, never again will I buy after the trouble I had!   I expected more from a premium brand like BMW only to find it was the most unreliable car I've ever owned with more problems in it than all previous put together (and one of those was a Talbot!).

 

Why are you exactly the sort of person BMW would like to sell a car too? I'd say the opposite. Maybe stick with cars you can afford, like your Talbots and stop whinging on here. I've had plenty of BMW's, no issues what so ever.

 

I work for a multifranchise car dealer and the BMWs are by far the most unreliable. 

6 March 2019

[quote=Symanski]

That's the same as having two modestly built adults in the car with you.   Definitely going to blunt the performance, and it does.   My previous 330i would have out performed the 0-62 on this, even with the extra boost function this one has.

 

Alas, as impressed as I am with this, and I'm exactly the person who BMW would like to sell to I'm sure, never again will I buy after the trouble I had!   I expected more from a premium brand like BMW only to find it was the most unreliable car I've ever owned with more problems in it than all previous put together (and one of those was a Talbot!).

 

[/quot

Oy, I had excellent service from a 1981 Talbot Alpine!

6 March 2019

In a recent article, Autocar proposes the 3 series as an all-time great motoring icon. I agree in so far as the first generation was truly a breath of fresh air, so much so that Mercedes took note and produced the (to my mind) even greater achievement of the 190E

Many generations later, the icon looks less and less appealing. The decline began with the Bangle generation which looked awkwardly tall, narrow, squashed and ugly. Subsequent generations try to adjust the design to give it more visual width and length. This is successful by breaking up surfaces with multiple crease lines and panel bending, but which amounts to excessive 'visual noise' 

This excess of visual noise continues in this new 3 series. It looks like it's having been punched in various places (cant car designers leave body panels alone?) The headlights resemble a facelift gone wrong. The Hofmeister kink is now adorned with an extra and uttely superfluous black strip affixed to the C-pillar. It's this accumulation of pointless details that spoils the looks of a car. The 3 utterly lacks the relaxed elegance of the 5. In the school of Russian doll design, certainly one dolls looks better than another.

6 March 2019
I agree that the styling is far too fussy, it looks a lot like a lexus which is never a good thing.

Still, the phev drive train would suite a city dweller with a long motorway commute like myself. Electric propulsion for running around at weekends and the first few miles of the commute but no range issues. Shame about the extra 200kgs.

6 March 2019

If this has the same 2.0 engine as a 330i (all be it in a lower state of tune) how can it be the same price as a 330i when you have to add batteries, the electric motor & all the clutches to allow the engines to integrate?

Unless BMW are selling them at a loss to reduce average CO2, bit costly if they are 1 in 3 sales??

6 March 2019

OK scratch that, BMW are just fleesing you for a 330i as it is £3820 more than a 320i

6 March 2019

That's a fine observation Mondeal. Be interesting how the removal of the Gov. grant affects sales but at the end of the day BMW have a price structure based on what they can sell cars for not what they cost to build. Nothing particularly wrong with that, it's a business after all.

6 March 2019

That may have been acceptable when you got a 6 cyl engine, but when it is still a 2.0 4 cyl that is a bit steep.

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