The BMW 3 Series has long been one of the best compact executive cars on the market, something that hasn’t stopped the German company developing an interesting new variant; the 330e plug-in hybrid.
Unlike the ActiveHybrid 3 that preceded it, the 330e can be charged from the mains to provide up to 25 miles of zero-emissions motoring. Considering most of the population have a commute of less than that, many could potentially avoid filling up with petrol for weeks at a time.
There’s also the advantage of seriously low CO2 emissions; every variant of the 330e produces less than 50g/km; that puts it in the 5% BIK rate for company car drivers. The official tests also suggest up to 148.7mpg is possible, something we’d take with a pinch of salt. You’d need to spend plenty of time on battery power alone to achieve that figure, something you won’t manage on longer journeys.
What is the 2016 BMW 330e like to drive?
Despite weighing 165kg more than a 330i, the plug-in variant is quite rapid. As well as the 87bhp electric motor that sits in front of the eight-speed automatic gearbox, there’s also a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine that develops 181bhp.
Due to both power sources delivering their best at different times, the total system output is 249bhp, enough for a 0-62mph time of just 6.1 seconds and a top speed of 140mph. It feels potent enough from a standing start, but this acceleration tails off as your velocity increases. We’d be tempted to blame the additional weight for this.
More relevant is the ease with which you can keep the 330e running on volts alone. You need to give the accelerator pedal a hard prod or head towards motorway speeds before the internal combustion engine wakes up, assuming the battery is fully charged.
When the petrol motor does kick in, it blends smoothly. There is a bit of a jolt if you stamp on the throttle but even this is no worse than kick down on a traditional automatic gearbox.
Despite the extra heft, the 330e still feels agile with a good balance of ride comfort and handling prowess. Refinement is also very good, even though the quietness of the drivetrain did highlight some wind noise from around the door mirrors. Still, it feels much smoother and makes less noise than a 320d or 330d.
What is the 2016 BMW 330e like inside?
From behind the wheel, there’s very little difference between the 330e and any other 3 Series. On the instrument panel there’s subtle eDrive badging and slightly different instrumentation while the centre console houses an eDrive button to switch between electric drive modes.
This familiarity will appeal to many, on top of which the 3 Series still has one of the most attractive cabins in its class. Its iDrive infotainment system is also one of the easiest to use.
However, boot capacity is down by more than 100 litres to 370 litres, slightly less than you’d get in a Volkswagen Golf. This is because the battery pack takes up space beneath the boot floor, so it isn’t quite as deep. Still, the good news is that there's a smaller load lip and a flat loading bay when you fold down the rear seats.
Should I buy one?
Whether or not you choose a 330e over a diesel compact executive car depends entirely on your driving habits. If you’re one of the millions of people who travel less than 25 miles a day, or have the ability to charge your car at work, it makes a great deal of sense.
During the week you could avoid using the petrol engine yet still have the ability to travel long distances should you need too, while the sub-50g/km CO2 figure guarantees a BIK rate of just 5% for company car users. Given that even the cleanest diesel 3 Series is taxed at 17%, there are huge savings to be made.
If however, you have nowhere to charge the 330e or travel significant distances regularly, we’d still recommend a 320d. We suspect that once the battery power is depleted in the 330e, economy would be no better if not worse than the 320i it shares an engine with.
What Car? says...
BMW 330e Engine size 2.0-litre petrol & electric motor Price from £31,435 (after £2.5k grant) Power 249bhp Torque 310lb ft 0-62mph 6.1 seconds Top speed 140mph Fuel economy 148.7mpg CO2 44g/km