The choice for anyone looking to move their next executive saloon car purchase away from straight petrol or diesel power and into the plug-in petrol-electric hybrid fold has been somewhat slow to grow.

Now, though, we can expect it to hit another gear, with so many European governments having announced plans to legislate for a mandatory hybridised motoring future.

That may be good news for us; but it means life for this road test subject, the BMW 330e iPerformance, may be about to get quite a bit tougher.

This electrified 3 Series claimed the spoils in a group test of the early-to-market plug-in hybrid (PHEV) executive options. Now comes our chance to examine its credentials more closely.

Nestling plumb in the middle of the current 3 Series range, the 330e combines the 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine of the 320i with an 87bhp electric drive motor and a lithium ion battery.

It makes as much peak power as the more expensive 330i M Sport and considerably more torque – and it also offers fleet drivers savings on their CO2-related benefit-in-kind tax bill and environmentally aware owners the potential for limited zero-emission electric running.

On paper, that combination makes this one of the most appealing options in the 3 Series range, revered big-hitting diesels and Efficient Dynamics economy options included. But will it prove to be that way in practice?

And, frankly, what if it is? This F30 generation of the 3 Series is now five years old, after all, and it has been estranged for half of that time from the class-topping ranking that its predecessors enjoyed.

If you want the best-handling compact executive option – an honour that was the BMW’s selling point for so long – has been arguably eclipsed by the Jaguar XE and Alfa Romeo Giulia.

For those seeking luxury, quality or with other priorities, meanwhile, the Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Audi A4 offer pretty stiff competition of their own.

So what exactly can a petrol-electric late-coming addition to an ageing range do to restore BMW’s standing among the aspiring business set? 

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