Plugging into green(er) driving with few sacrifices.
– Detroit, Michigan
A few years ago, I spent a weekend driving a BMW 328d. I thought its turbodiesel engine was the ultimate blend of performance and efficiency: over 40 mpg in real-world driving and a 0-to-60 time in the low seven-second range. Unfortunately, diesel’s reputation has since been tarnished by a certain cheating scandal and these engines are likely to face a tough future, especially in the U.S. market. Plug-in hybrids, it seems, are today’s method for saving fuel without sacrificing.
As in the X5 plug-in hybrid we recently reviewed, the 2016 BMW 330e marries a lithium-ion battery pack and an electric motor to a 2.0-liter turbocharged gasoline engine. The 330e’s battery and motor are weaker than in the X5, but the basic idea is the same: up to 14 miles of all-electric driving per charge without any notable downsides in everyday driving. The BMW 330e isn’t the most energy-efficient plug-in hybrid you can buy, nor the most fuel-efficient luxury hybrid in general. But we appreciate that it provides a little bit of gas-free mobility for someone who wants to drive a 3 Series regardless of powertrain.
- With the battery charged, the BMW glides around town and onto the highway without the gas engine kicking on at all. Owners with a short commute could easily go days without burning a drop of premium unleaded, especially if they can recharge at the office. The engine wakes up if you hit the kickdown switch or exceed 75 miles per hour, but for the most part a fully charged 330e is as stealthy as BMW’s i3 EV. Unlike many hybrids and electrics that have single-speed arrangements, the BMW’s motor drives through the car’s automatic transmission, so there are subtle steps as the gearbox upshifts in electric mode.
- Acceleration is fine when driving in all-electric mode, but it’s extra gutsy when the two power sources work together. The electric motor can donate up to 184 lb-ft of extra torque when needed, and the gas engine is no slouch on its own. The sprint to 60 mph clocks in at 5.9 seconds – a few tenths slower than regular BMW 328i models but plenty impressive for such an efficient plug-in hybrid.
- BMW 3 Series driving feel may have fallen from its zenith, but this is still a satisfying car (even with the hybrid version’s added weight). Strong brakes, a taut sport suspension, grippy summer-performance tires, and near-instant thrust from the powertrain make cutting through traffic a joy. In every situation, though, I wish for more feedback: BMW engineers can still do great braking and handling, they just don’t let the car share any information with its driver.
- The gasoline engine is really gruff, grumbling and thrumming as revs build. It ticks and rattles at low speeds, too, though fortunately it’s rarely idling thanks to the aggressive stop-start feature. But driving around with a depleted battery is a noisier affair than I want in my $62,345 luxury sedan.
- Fourteen miles seems like a long distance when you’re imagining your plug-in hybrid lifestyle. In real life, with the air conditioning running and when accelerating at a somewhat reasonable pace, I rarely got anywhere close to 14 miles before the battery charge meter dipped from 0 miles to simply “---.” On the other hand, the 330e is still an efficient hybrid when you can’t use the Max eDrive option. I averaged just over 30 miles per gallon combined driving the BMW 330e in everything from stop-and-go traffic to wide-open highways. That’s only 1 mpg below the EPA’s gas-only rating and still better than the combined rating of any other gas-powered 3 Series.
- Batteries and motors are heavy, so the 330e is, unsurprisingly, a portly sedan. It tips the scales at 3,915 pounds, according to BMW, which is a whole 545 pounds heftier than a 328i automatic. That added mass goes a long way to explaining why the 330e is marginally slower to 60 mph than the 328i, despite having more power and torque on tap.
Photos: Jake Holmes / Motor1.com