► Up to 41 miles of battery-only range
► Up to 289bhp, 0-62mph in 5.9 seconds
► We’re not sure you’ll get 148mpg
BMW really struck a chord with its buyers when it introduced the 330e plug-in hybrid. The firm reckons a quarter of all 3-series buyers are plumping for this model – no wonder, since this is the editor’s pick in our best hybrid cars guide 2023.
While the company car tax advantages are particularly attractive, it’s pleasing that the 330e isn’t just an exercise in making HMRC happy – it’s also the state of the art in best plug-in hybrids despite being around a while now, and a car we rate seriously highly.
For one, it’s very good to drive. Not perfect, but class-leading – battery and motors notwithstanding. For another, the claimed 41-mile electric-only driving range is usable to the point that it will cover many owners’ commutes. And finally, there’s the XtraBoost feature that cranks the combined petrol-electric power output up to 289bhp – if only for short bursts at a time.
You also get all the features we love about the standard BMW 3-series – its supportive seats, excellent driving position, smartly understated styling and selection of technology that’s sophisticated but easy to use. You can also get a BMW 330e Touring, based on one of our hybrid favourite estate cars.
Key rivals include the Mercedes-Benz C 300e. Stuttgart’s rival offering may be a newer car, but the BMW’s been successfully facelifted in order to keep it right at the sharp end of the grid.
Keep reading for our full BMW 3-series hybrid review.
All the power, some of the time…
The BMW 330e combines the same 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo petrol engine that you’ll find in the regular 320i with an electric motor, which is neatly integrated into the eight-speed Steptronic automatic gearbox.
The packaging is so good that the casing is just 15mm longer than the standard eight-speed auto fitted elsewhere in the 3-series range. Having the motor in this position is great for efficiency, too – particularly when it comes to brake-energy regeneration.
The petrol engine provides 181bhp and 221lb ft, while the electric motor gives up to 111bhp and an instant 195lb ft – although as is usually the case with hybrid systems, you can’t just add those two figures together to get the car’s total power output.
Rather, the 330e’s official max figure is 249bhp without resorting to the cringingly named XtraBoost function. Combined system torque is 310lb ft.
How does XtraBoost work on the BMW 330e?
We were hoping for a nitrous-style button – similar to Porsche’s Sport Response. But in fact it’s just an additional element of the BMW’s Sport driving mode settings, and it’s activated by selecting this and then stamping on the accelerator. Thus it’s also fired up by kickdown in the S or M transmission settings.
However, because the jump to 289bhp is delivered entirely by jolting an extra 40bhp out of the electric motor, the response is quite impressive. So much so, BMW reckons that from 12mph it’ll give you twice the ‘vigour’ of a similarly powerful conventional car within a second – and after three seconds you’ll be a full car length ahead.
Exactly the sort of performance environmentally conscious BMW buyers are probably looking for.
Does it work on the road?
In accelerative terms, absolutely. Allow it to wake up by stoking the right pedal with all your might, or leave it hanging in Sport mode, and the 330e lurches forward with real purpose – it squirts off with real determination to get to the next turn before everything behind it. Being a BMW, it also has the chassis composure to carry that initial acceleration into the corners without sailing into the scenery.
On paper, 0-62mph takes 5.8sec, but that doesn’t quite do the in-motion effort justice. Out on the motorway it builds speed quicker than the 330d. Still, though the XtraBoost effect only lasts for 10 seconds a time, it is available even if you’ve already rinsed the main hybrid batteries of all their electric driving range. Besides, how often do you accelerate for longer?
Is the BMW 330e a good hybrid car?
In a word, yes – it’s still the best for your money. The 330e has a claimed 41-mile range on electric power alone, and there are an increased number of features to make the most of this e-efficiency. In reality, we managed 35 miles in temperate spring weather, which puts it ahead of many rivals with on-paper similar ranges, C 300e aside.
For instance, you can set a guide percentage of battery life you’d like to retain – perhaps saving it for when you’re in a low emissions zone or trying to creep up the drive without waking the neighbours – and the car will do its best to manage this on your behalf.
Our initial results with this were mixed (basically, booting it all the time will inevitably still drain the batteries – shock, horror), but there is also an automatic setting, which works with the sat-nav guidance to choose the most appropriate points on your route to deploy the electricity.
In addition, you can manually activate full-electric mode, and this will happily carry the car right up to 87mph and cruise there until the remaining range runs out. Don’t expect to drive 40 miles on electricity at that speed, though. And if all-electric range is your bag, the 330e is beaten by the Mercedes C 300e’s frankly epic 62-mile figure.
So, what’s the catch?
Ah. The catch is that the exhilarating performance doesn’t necessarily translate into fun. Sure, the 330e is quick. But the four-cylinder engine sounds dull – with or without the extra-dynamic acoustics activated in the Sport settings – and the weight of the hybrid’s big drive battery hampers the athleticism of the chassis. Drive the 330e back-to-back with the 330i, and you’ll understand what we mean.
Don’t get us wrong, this is still a car that will swallow a series of bends without blinking, and comes back hungry for more. It’s just that a little of the joy has gone missing from the process, as exhibited by the slightly light and artificial feel to the steering (again, even in the heaviest Sport setting), and a stuttering chop when laterally loading the suspension.
In addition, the added agility and steering weight gained by selecting Sport mode really does ruin the ride quality. You might not think that’s a priority when attacking your favourite bends, but introduce road imperfections into the equation and that balanced handling can be seriously hampered by a misplaced mid-corner pothole or bump.
Our 330e M Sport test car was fitted with the most sophisticated M Adaptive set-up available in the latest 3er, and whatever drive mode you choose, it feels like a slight compromise. As a result, it’s fast but it’s not especially satisfying – at least not in the way one of the big ICE models can be.
Any other issues?
The boot space has suffered – and noticeably so, as you’ll find the floor is humped when you go to throw in your luggage. The hump is actually the fuel tank, which has been moved from its usual position under the seats to make room for the battery; the battery takes this prime position as it’s heavier…
Putting a number on the impact of this, a standard 3-series saloon has 480 litres of boot space, while the 330e has just 375 litres. In the 330e Touring you get 410 litres with the seats up, 1420 litres with them folder – that’s also a big chunk less than the 500 / 1500 litres you get in any other 3-series estate car.
The infotainment systems and digital displays were updated in the facelift, and the enlarged displays are a joy to use – thanks to simple controls and a crisp and clear display. The 330e’s dials gain hybrid-related display options, but aside from rearranging a few of the buttons on the centre console, this is the only difference in the passenger compartment.
As with the standard car, quality is right up there, but the interior design has arguably become a little too generic, and despite the size of the screens available, remains rather cluttered. The 330e is available in SE, Sport and M Sport specification, just like the rest of the UK range.
BMW 330e charging time and fuel economy
Typical PHEV eyebrows-into-orbit stuff here – the official fuel economy for the 330e is a claimed 148mpg, with CO2 emissions of 39g/km (that’s 10% less CO2 than the last version). You’ll need to be using the electric power a lot and mostly doing short journeys to get close to those figures.
Leave it to shuffle its fuel and electricity itself on longer journeys, it will look after you with diesel-rivalling fuel consumption. In our most recent 800-mile motorway and A-road jaunt in a 330e, where we managed a couple of charging sessions, we averaged 50mpg. Once it’s flat, that dropped to 40mpg – still very good considering the performance potential.
To get the best out of it, though, you’ll also need to plug the hybrid part into the mains as many times as possible in between journeys. Complete charging time is 3h 25m using a BMW i Wallbox, or 5h 40m using a plain old three-pin plug.
BMW 330e hybrid: verdict
The word that springs most readily to mind here is ‘impressive’ – BMW’s big-selling plug-in hybrid certainly doesn’t fall down as a box-ticking exercise, with plentiful performance, extended electric range and some clever tricks. No wonder it’s so popular.
If you’re buying one to save on your tax, then you can rest assured that it’s a BMW through-and-through and drives as it should. But – do bear in mind that if you’re stepping out of a 330d or 330i, it’ll feel marginally less agile.
And while the 330e does the whole PHEV thing perfectly well, it still isn’t the kind of car that gets under your skin. This is a well thought-out and enjoyable tool, rather than the kind of genuinely emotional experience a really outstanding BMW can be. And as such, it’s the best of a competitive plug-in hybrid bunch.
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