2021 BMW 330e PHEV test: the smarter 3 Series
RRP $ 42,950.00
“It’s not the most efficient PHEV on the road, but the BMW 330e stays true to its roots as a sports sedan.”
Smooth transition from gas to electric
Cheaper than the gas version with incentives
BMW luxury and comfort
Traffic jam assistant with hands-free function
Occasional jerking in hybrid mode
Only 20 miles range for electric vehicles only
Between the thundering splendor of BMW’s M2 CS and the technological miracle that is the i4 sits the BMW 330e. It is a vehicle with its tires in two worlds, combining the automaker’s decades of internal combustion engine expertise with the electrification efforts of the modern version of the company that brought us the i8 and i3.
The BMW 330e 2021 does not carry the basics of its efficient plug-in hybrid (PHEV). Aside from the tiny “e” affixed to its badge and the charging port door, from the outside it’s just a medium-sized German luxury sedan. On the road, however, the combination of powertrains makes for an extremely interesting and sometimes entertaining experience. But it also introduces strange behavior that you wouldn’t expect from the automaker.
Available in two drive variants, the 330e with rear-wheel drive from US $ 42,950 and the 330e xDrive with all-wheel drive from US $ 44,950, the electric motor and battery of the German sedan afford a tax credit of US $ 5,836. That’s a pretty good part of the change, and additional local and state incentives can push it up depending on where you live.
Even with minimal incentives, new owners with a hybrid drive could roll the door open for less than the cost of the regular 330i, which starts at $ 41,450 in rear-wheel drive.
Roberto Baldwin / Digital Trends
It comes with the 2.0-liter TwinPower turbo in-line 4-cylinder engine from BMW. When paired with the electric motor, however, the 330e produces 288 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque, a 33 horsepower and 16 pound-feet increase over the non-electrified 3 Series. So what’s the problem? Most of the time there aren’t any. Mainly.
The BMW 330e spends most of its time in hybrid mode and switches between gas and electric drive at will to achieve an MPGe of 75. At the wheel, the vehicle offers the 3-person experience: solid acceleration (zero to 60 inches), 5.6 seconds), luxurious suspension that can be tightened for those moments on the back road, and precise steering. But it’s not without its problems.
In hybrid mode, the 330e sometimes accelerated faster than expected. Instead of gradually delivering power away from a green light, the 330e would sometimes deliver a bump so violent that you hit your head against the seat. Surprise! That didn’t impress our passengers. It wasn’t an everyday occurrence and it never felt dangerous (the car straightened up immediately after it burst) but it happened about three times during our week with the vehicle.
Roberto Baldwin / Digital Trends
This quirk almost spoiled an overall pleasant driving experience for the 330e. It’s a wonderful cruiser on the freeway with plenty of room for four adults (five if the back seats don’t mind getting comfortable). As with all PHEVs, the battery level drains quickly while driving at 70 mph. At this point, the vehicle has a combined Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rating of 28 MPG.
Throw it into Sport mode, and while it’s not an M-car, it enhances that experience for some fun on the road. The tight steering in combination with the rear-wheel drive of our test model made for slightly spirited driving. A hybrid boost in sport mode gives the vehicle a little extra kick in the pants when cornering and starting, while the turbos rev up. The extra weight of the electric motor and battery is obvious and requires a somewhat stiffer suspension, but the chassis tuning and the volume only put a small damper on the celebrations of the sporty sedan.
For the everyday commuter looking to reduce its impact on the planet, EV-only mode is a great preview of what an all-electric 3 Series will look like. In a world where the Toyota Rav4 Prime has a range of 42 miles, the 330e’s 20 mile range on a 12.0 kWh battery feels disappointing. But even if one person commuted 60 kilometers, half of it could be powered by electrons in a luxury sedan. During our mixed driving tests (highway at 70 mph and roads) the 330e achieved a range of 19.8 miles. That’s with us to go from a driveway at a top speed of 87 mph in EV-only mode to highway speed.
The extended congestion aid adds an extra bit of comfort to the horrors of traffic collapse.
Though lagging behind Toyota’s more efficient powertrain, the 330e really shines in its attention to luxury and technology. The interior includes the necessary comfortable, yet comprehensive seats. It’s an appropriate mix to ensure that you feel safe on hard turns without sacrificing the driver’s need to feel pampered.
The rear seats should keep passengers happy on long road trips, although legroom can be tight for those taller than six feet. Behind the seats, the trunk offers 13.2 cubic meters of space, enough for a couple of large suitcases, a small cool box and a travel bag. In other words, you won’t be looking for space on a weekend getaway. The space is slightly larger than that of the Audi A4 and Mercedes C-Class, which have 13 cubic meters and 12.6 cubic meters respectively.
The materials in the interior are of high quality overall, both controls and the 10.25-inch touchscreen are inclined slightly towards the driver. The iDrive 7 infotainment system from BMW can be controlled either via the touchscreen or the rotary control in the center console. The system has been around for a few years, but still offers an easy-to-navigate framework that includes several customizable home screens that allow the driver to control the vehicle to their liking.
The system showed very little or no latency when operated with the fingers or using the rotary knob. Most of the more important functions were available with two taps, and even Apple CarPlay was just a tap away from the home screens thanks to a special (but tiny) tapable icon at the top of the screen. Unfortunately, Android Auto support is not available in the vehicle.
Roberto Baldwin / Digital Trends
For fans of tangible buttons, climate controls are still real physical buttons located under the touchscreen. BMW also offers a range of hotkeys that can be programmed by the driver. In addition, there is a real volume control, one of the few that still exist in the luxury automobile sector. Like an animal on the endangered species list, we should do everything in our power to ensure that it returns to its natural habitat in greater numbers before all of them are replaced with sliders, buttons, and touchscreen controls.
While the tendency is to just check a vehicle’s most exciting characteristics on the open road with no other drivers and traffic, in reality most cars spend more time motionless on the freeway than cruising on pristine asphalt in the middle of the city in the desert.
BMW understands this, as its impressive, hands-free driver assistance system at low speeds, the so-called Extended Traffic Jam Assistance, proves. The system works like GM’s Super Cruise, but at low speeds on the freeway. On a motorway with clear lane markings and while driving at less than 40 miles per hour, the system allows the driver to take their hands off the steering wheel. The driver still has to be careful of the road and is monitored by a sensor in the dashboard, but it adds an extra bit of comfort to the horrors of traffic collapse.
The $ 1,700 option might be worthwhile for those who spend a lot of time behind the wheel and cruise the freeway at very low speeds. During our testing, the system did a commendable job of tracking vehicles, adjusting acceleration and braking when entering and exiting the lane. There weren’t any moments when the 330e accelerated too fast for comfort as the road opened for us. There was also controlled braking, which was never a cause for concern.
Roberto Baldwin / Digital Trends
Standard safety functions include front collision warning, lane departure warning, and city collision mitigation and braking. The BMW 3 Series 2021 is a top safety pick from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The 3 Series is also a five-star safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), but the 330e variant has not been tested at the time of writing this review. While we don’t expect the PHEV version of the vehicle to deviate too far from the overall rating of the 3 Series, the added weight of the battery and electric motor could be a sufficient variable to affect ratings of the vehicle.
On the warranty front, the automaker offers a four-year limited 50,000 mile warranty, a 12-year limited, no-mileage, rust breakout warranty, and an 8-year / 80,000-mile warranty on the battery.
While the test vehicle had rear-wheel drive, we’d opt for the all-wheel drive Xdrive version of the 330e for added safety in harsh climates. We’d also add the $ 1,700 Driver Assistance Pro package for the hands-free stowage system and the $ 1,400 Dynamic Handling Package, which includes an adaptive M chassis, sport steering, and blue caliper sport brakes.
Aside from a few jerky accelerations from a standstill, the 330e proves to be a vehicle worthy of the 3 Series legacy. If you are not looking for the more powerful M models, the 3 Series belongs in your garage. Its combination of efficiency and the sporty driving behavior of the mid-range sedan make it not so much a compromise, but a great transition vehicle for anyone looking for an electrified BMW experience but not quite ready to operate the fully electric BMW i4.
The comfortable interior offers all the luxurious details you would expect from a German car manufacturer. The infotainment system isn’t the latest from BMW, but it offers an easy-to-use touchscreen that displays key information on multiple customizable home screens, so the driver is just a few taps away from what they’re looking for. Apple’s CarPlay support is standard, but Android Auto users are left out.
Efficiency may not be on par with offerings from Toyota or other automakers, but the 20-mile EV-only range is part of a larger luxury package that makes the 2021 BMW 330e more than the sum of its parts.
Yes sir. The BMW 330e is a fusion of what people love about BMW: German sports luxury combined with a plug-in hybrid drive train that ensures greater efficiency in almost all driving environments.