BMW wants a 10 per cent share of the electric car market worldwide by 2020. The success of models like this 330e will be key, and with plug-in versions of the 2 Series, 7 Series and X5 all on their way – it doesn’t look an impractical goal.
While the company is a long way from ditching its fast but frugal diesels, it is looking to the future with its expanding range of plug-in cars. The 330e gets an all-electric range of around 25 miles, which BMW says offers “the right solution” for its customers.
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From the outside, it looks much like any other 3 Series. There is a pair of badges on the rear wings, as well as the tell-tale 330e moniker on the back – but save the additional charge port ahead of the front-left wheel, there’s no distinguishing this from the already fleet-friendly 320d.
Inside, it’s much the same story. So much so, in fact, you’d be hard pushed to tell this example is capable of as much as 148mpg. There is a small ‘eDrive’ button by the gear lever, but aside from that it’s business as usual.
Practicality takes a slight hit, but the trade off isn’t as huge as you might expect. Bootspace is down by 110 litres to 370 litres due to the bulky batteries under the floor, but the load lip is completely flat and the rear seats fold three ways for added versatility. Head and legroom inside the cabin is unaffected, so it’s on a par with class leaders for passenger space. What’s more, due to the fact the electric motor is backed up by a four-cylinder petrol engine, you never suffer that ever-nagging range anxiety associated with pure electric cars.
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Push the starter button and you’re greeted by the eerie sound of silence. Providing there’s enough charge, the car will always start on electric power, allowing you to pull away without making a sound. It’s perfectly hushed around town and continues its inaudible creep all the way up to motorway speeds. As you’d expect, things like wind and tyre roar are more evident due to the lack of engine drone, but it’s far from intrusive – making the 330e a pleasant long distance cruiser.
Like many hybrids on the market, there are a variety of modes to spend or save power from the battery while driving. Auto eDrive prioritises battery power, but uses the petrol engine for a boost when necessary, while Max eDrive makes sole use of the 87bhp electric motor. It has a top speed of around 80mph in EV mode – or 140mph when utilising the four-cylinder turbo.
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The third and final setup is titled Save Battery, and – as well as doing what it says on the tin – can charge the batteries to 50 per cent full for subsequent emission-free driving. As you’d expect, this eats in to average fuel economy and will see you fall far shy of the combined claims.
As in more conventional 3 Series models, you can also flick through Sport+, Sport, Comfort and EcoPro modes to suit your driving style. Sport tightens things up and allows the 330e to perform much like a 330i – albeit with slightly more weight to lug through the corners. It’s around 165kg heavier than the standard car and ever so slightly less nimble as a result.
There’s little to distinguish the two in normal driving, though. The ride is good and throttle response is impressive thanks to the electric motor’s instant torque. It’s only two-tenths slower to 62mph than a 330i (6.1 vs 5.9) and feels every bit as fast when you floor the throttle.
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BMW reckons you can get as much as 148.7mpg out of the 330e – no matter which model you go for. The racier M Sport sees emissions jump from 44g/km in the standard car, to a still impressive 49g/km. Luckily, that’s still under the all-important sub-50g/km threshold for rock-bottom company car tax – ensuring every plug-in 3 Series will cost mere pennies to run. Of course, you’ll need regular access to a charge point to realise these numbers in day-to-day driving, but that’s not to say they’re unachievable for your average motorist.
It’s not even that expensive to buy. You’ll get £2,500 off the list price thanks to the new tiered government grants – and after that deduction, it’s only £745 more than the equivalent petrol-powered 330i. What’s more, if you drive into London five days a week you’ll save nearly £3,000 per year on the Congestion Charge alone. That’s not to mention the money you’ll save on fuel, VED or BiK company car tax.