BMW 330e

Compact Bavarian cops a dose of iPerformance

RYAN LEWIS

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

NOT so long ago, hybrid vehicles were the preserve of Hollywood celebs and progressive thinkers. Statements of environmental awareness.

Now theyre mainstream, and understated. In fact, the new BMW 330e plug-in hybrid is about as attention-seeking as agoraphobia. Besides a flap on its front-left mudguard and some tiny badges, it could be any 3 Series.

Its drivetrain consists of the 320is petrol engine and a 65kW/250Nm electric motor. An extra 20Nm has been squeezed from the 2.0-litre turbo four (now producing 290Nm), while total output is 185kW and 420Nm.

At $71,900, this plug-in hybrid costs $2K more than BMWs bestselling Three, the 330i, which the 330e matches for spec. The pay-off is consumption of 2.1L/100km.

Topping up an empty battery takes three hours and 15 minutes using a conventional socket, though an optional wall box ($1750) reduces that by an hour.

Using green energy, a complete recharge should cost about $2, and BMW reckons it will net a realistic electric range of 28-30km, enough to get most Aussies to work and back without using a drop of petrol.

The 330e is the third-most powerful PHEV on sale, behind BMWs own X5 40e and i8. Instant electric torque means sharp acceleration when you want it, but extracting every metre of electric range becomes engaging when you dont. Managing the drive modes for maximum efficiency adds a layer of involvement other cars miss out on.

Hybrid componentry has added 165kg, the battery accounting for 80kg of that. Positioning those cells above the rear axle shrinks boot size to 370 litres, and tips the once-perfect weight distribution to a rearward-biased 48:52, slightly upsetting the 330es otherwise imperious body control.

The location of the battery also thwarts fitment of adaptive dampers as found in other 3 Series models. BMWs engineers have reworked the suspension tune to compensate, and the resulting ride is a reasonable compromise. It favours comfort over performance, yet doesnt wallow too heavily when pressing into corners.

Comfort is the over-arching sensation conveyed through the serenely quiet cabin. Run-flat tyres are about the only thing working against its desire to cosset.

With a small price premium, the 330e is a compelling alternative to a 330i. And thanks to the expertise of the magicians of electrickery in BMWs i division, its hybrid functionality is neatly integrated.

What used to be nerdy, highbrow tech has quietly trickled down to the masses. Not all hybrids need to be blatant, flag-bearing eco crusaders, and if the suave 330e is anything to go by, thats fine by us. y

Hybrid sense

The 330e is a different exercise to the last hybrid 3 Series the performance-focused ActiveHybrid 3 from 2012.

That car carried a six-figure price tag and bridged the gap between the 335i and M3 with its 250kW/450Nm six-cylinder hybrid drivetrain. Only 33 of them sold in Australia.

Today, the 330e is almost $30,000 cheaper and drops the performance bent to err on the side of accessibility and everyday useability.

PLUS & MINUS

Added weight; smaller boot; no adaptive dampers Economy; seamless technology integration; instant torque Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale BMW iPerformance 330e 1998cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo + electric 185kW @ 5000-6500rpm 420Nm @ 1350-4250rpm 8-speed automatic 1660kg 6.1sec (claimed) 2.1L/100km $71,900 Now