New BMW 330e vs new Volvo S60
By paying extra to get yourself a plug-in hybrid executive saloon, you stand to receive incredible fuel economy and cheaper BIK tax. Surely there’s a catch?...
BMW 3 Series 330e M Sport (M Sport Plus Pack)
- List price - £42,190
- Target Price - £39,714
Plug-in hybrid version of our Executive Car of the Year looks extremely compelling on paper.
Volvo S60 T8 Twin Engine AWD R-Design Plus
- List price - £49,805
- Target Price - £44,409
More expensive to buy but promises blistering performance and a less compromised boot.
Electric cars make sense for more buyers than ever before, but they still aren’t the right choice for everyone. What if you don’t have a driveway for charging at home? Or if you need to make fairly frequent long trips and don’t want to put your faith in the UK’s unreliable motorway charging network?
Yes, you could just do what you’ve always done and buy another petrol or diesel car, but there’s a potential third option: a plug-in hybrid. Like electric cars, and unlike so-called ‘self-charging’ hybrids, these can manage average-length commutes on battery power alone. But if you need to make a longer journey or simply didn’t have a chance to charge the battery, there’s a good old petrol engine to help out.
And, as luck would have it, two new plug-in hybrid saloons have just gone on sale. The first is the BMW 330e, a variant of our 2019 Executive Car of the Year and one that can officially manage up to 35 miles of driving on battery power. Thanks to a combined 288bhp when its engine and rear-mounted electric motor team up, it should offer surprisingly punchy performance, too.
But it’s unlikely to be nearly as rapid as the Volvo S60 T8. This understated Swede pumps out a mighty 386bhp and yet still promises 33 miles from a full charge. But which is the better all-round plug-in hybrid?
Performance, ride, handling, refinement
Let’s deal with those electric-only ranges first because, just like official fuel economy figures for petrol and diesel cars, these are often hard to achieve in real-world driving. And so it proved in our tests. The 330e managed 26.5 miles and the S60 24.8 miles – both some way behind the official distances, although still enough to handle many commutes.
To make sure the petrol engine stays switched off, you need to put these cars in their pure electric driving modes – although to keep fuel consumption as low as possible, both are intelligent enough to power themselves using mostly their electric motors anyway, as long as you’re driving gently and there’s a reasonable level of charge in the battery.
Once the battery is out of juice, the petrol engine is forced into getting its hands dirty. Don’t expect spectacular fuel economy at this point, because both cars are quite a bit heavier than their conventional counterparts (blame the batteries and electric motors), but the 330e managed a respectable 37.2mpg in our tests, compared with the S60’s 36.0mpg.
The S60’s economy seems all the more remarkable when you consider the acceleration it can muster when its petrol engine and electric motor are working together. Floor its accelerator pedal and, after a short delay while the automatic gearbox readies itself for what’s about to ensue, it sprints off down the road like a true performance car. On a mildly damp road surface, it managed 0-60mph in just 5.3sec.
Not that the 330e is exactly sluggish; it still managed to hit 60mph from a standstill in 6.2sec, and its two power sources work together more adroitly than the S60’s, with a smoother transition between battery and petrol power and to both working in tandem.
If you enjoy your driving, the 330e is the better choice, too. Granted, it isn’t quite as agile as regular petrol or diesel versions of the 3 Series, but it still tucks its nose into corners eagerly and feels neatly balanced through bends and out the other side. The S60 grips the road almost as hard, but it responds more ponderously when you ask for a quick change of direction and there’s more body lean when that happens. Its steering isn’t as accurate or feelsome as its German rival’s, either.
Then again, you’ll appreciate the S60’s generally softer, waftier ride. On gently undulating roads and motorways, it’s considerably comfier than the firmer-edged 330e. That said, the S60 tends to shudder and crash more over broken asphalt and potholes, while the 330e always maintains its composure and deals with such obstacles quicker and more effectively. It’s worth noting that the M Sport Plus Pack version we’re testing here has adaptive suspension and 19in alloy wheels; regular M Sport cars get an even firmer suspension setup, albeit with slightly smaller (18in) rims.
The S60 is the slightly more peaceful cruiser, subjecting you to considerably less tyre roar than the 330e at a steady 70mph and only slightly more wind noise. Its petrol engine sounds coarser when you’re accelerating hard, though.
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