The facelifted BMW 330e PHEV wouldn’t be our pick of the 3 Series range, but it’s still a top business choice
4.5 out of 5
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The plug-in hybrid version of BMW’s executive icon isn’t the best 3 Series you can buy; it’s better still with pure-petrol or even pure-diesel power, and with only two driven wheels. But as a cost-effective company-car choice, the 330e is an immense option – still brilliant to drive, with a well-judged, beautifully finished cabin, plus capable all-electric range for short commutes.
BMW is loading up its range with pure-electric variants of many models, but the brand still relies on plug-in hybrid tech for a few of its key vehicles. That’s the case with the 3 Series, because while you can, of course, pick the all-electric i4 hatchback, you’ll need to stick with the 330e PHEV if you want a saloon or Touring estate.
It’s the saloon version of the car that we’re testing here – and on UK roads, after the facelifted 3 Series impressed us on the continent. The recipe looks a solid enough one on paper; the 330e (in this case, a four-wheel-drive xDrive edition) mixes a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine with an electric motor for a total output of 288bhp and 420Nm. Those are decent numbers in a car of the 3 Series’s size, and even though there’s a little extra weight because of the system’s 10.5kWh battery, this is still an executive saloon that can sprint from 0-62mph in less than six seconds.
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Efficiency, of course, is where PHEVs score highest – on paper and your tax return, at least. Company-car choosers will be pleased to know that the 330e sits in the 12-per cent band of Benefit-in-Kind, thanks to the ability to run for up to 36 miles on electricity alone, and CO2 emissions of as little as 34g/km (our optioned-up press example manages 38g/km). By contrast, pick a regular 320i and you’ll be looking at a BiK rate of at least 34 per cent.
On the road, the good news is that you shouldn’t feel your 3 Series experience is being compromised by the extra tech. A hybrid xDrive isn’t the sweetest-driving model in the range, but it’s still enjoyable. There’s meaty, direct steering, exemplary body control and a suspension set-up that, even in M Sport trim, manages to walk a fine line between keeping the 330e tied down and feeling crashy on poorly surfaced UK roads.
Car group tests
There’s pace here too; the eight-speed automatic transmission does a good job of juggling the different power sources, and while the 330e never quite matches the almost-lazy low-down delivery of the six-cylinder M340i, it provides enough punch at sensible revs to avoid taking the four-cylinder engine places it doesn’t want to go. It’s refined at a rapid cruise, too; tyre roar is more noticeable at speed than any drone from the bonnet.
Inside, there’s little to suggest you’re in the most complex 3 Series, beyond a couple of extra buttons on the centre console that allow you to flick between the car’s drive modes – Hybrid, which is good for everyday use, then EV if you want to force zero-emissions running, or Sport if you’re in a rush and want the electric motor and petrol engine to work together for maximum performance.
In our experience, you’ll do well to reach the official 36 miles of EV running, but mid-20s should be perfectly achievable. And the system doesn’t just burn through the battery in Hybrid mode, either; it drip-feeds it out where it can make a difference to the efficiency.
The rest of the layout is the same as other facelifted 3 Series models – which is to say that you get the option of using either the iDrive controller or the touchscreen when you need to interact with the (excellent) infotainment system.
The dashboard blends a 12.3-inch instrument panel with a 14.9-inch central display, and it’s every bit as impressive now as it was when the 3 Series was updated last year. The cabin materials are nicely judged, too, with high-grade plastics in the areas you’re likely to touch, and sophisticated metallic finishes in the right places, too. The switch to a gear toggle instead of the old stick won’t be to everyone’s taste, but it does free up a bit of space between the front seats.
The PHEV set-up doesn’t affect the 330e’s cabin space, which is fine for four six-foot adults. But while it retains the 40:20:40 split-folding rear seats of the regular 3 Series saloon, the more efficient powertrain does cut the boot capacity from 480 litres to 375 litres. It’s not a deal breaker, but it does mean there’s a noticeable hit in practicality.
|BMW 330e xDrive M Sport
|2.0-litre 4cyl turbo petrol, 1x e-motor
|Eight-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
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