If you like the contoured lines and lean stance of the BMW 3-Series, then you’ll be just as pleased with the 330e plug-in hybrid. From a curbside view or from inside its cabin, the 330e is just like other 3-Series variants. The only noticeable difference is the charging port between the driver-side front wheel and the driver’s door on the outside—and the eDrive button on the dash. Otherwise, expect BMW’s signature twin kidney grille, wraparound headlights, and the other familiar elements of its enduring popular design.
The goal of a plug-in hybrid is to offer all the performance of a gas-powered vehicle, while using a lot less fuel. That means supplanting the use of hydrocarbons with electron-based power for as many of your miles as possible. In BMW 3-Series speak, that equates to a plug-in hybrid that offers:
- a bit more horsepower than the 328i
- nearly as much torque as the V6 340i
- better fuel economy than the modest base-level 320i
Most reviewers say that BMW’s telltale driving dynamics are not penalized by the extra 350 or so pounds of extra weight from the 7.6 kilowatt-hour battery pack.
By the numbers, the 330e produces a total of 249 horsepower, from combined motivation from its the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder gas engine and 87-hp electric motor. Total torque can reach 310 pound-feet—because the electric motor rated at 74 pound-feet of torque can produce brief bursts of power yielding as much as 184 pound-feet.
The power is delivered to the rear wheels via BMW’s smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission— allowing for the great handling and near-perfect front-back weight distribution that you’d expect from a Bimmer. (All-wheel drive is not available in 330e.)
Zero-to-sixty performance is right below six seconds, but that depends on one of three driver-determined modes that changes the car’s personality. Start out on the default Auto eDrive and you’ll exclusively use electric power up to 49 miles per hour. This is probably how you’ll start your day, in Auto eDrive, so that the first miles of a commute occur without using a drop of gas or emitting an ounce of CO2 from the tailpipe. Switch to Max eDrive, and the top speed at which you can stay all-electric darts up to 75 mph.
Keep in mind that relying only on the electric motor limits output to 87 ponies—until you get going faster than those speeds or, at any time, if you mash the accelerator to wake up the gas engine. (Some reviewers say the transition from electric to gas is not as smooth as it could be). Top speed when all means of propulsion are employed is 140 miles per hour.
Select the Save Battery mode, the third option, to either maintain or charge the battery to about 50 percent of its capacity. While it might require using some gasoline to bring the state-of-charge to 50 percent, the efficiency will be paid back later in the trip when the engine is dormant and use those electrons that you socked away.
To confuse matters a bit, you’ll also find the conventional BMW driving (rather than power) modes—Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Sport-plus—which tweak steering and throttle response.
The best measure of a plug-in hybrid’s achievement is how far it can go strictly on electricity. The Chevy Volt sets the bar at 53 miles. You could deride the BMW 330e’s 14 miles of all-electric range, as determined by the EPA, as weak—but we prefer to think of the 330e as a different animal altogether. It’s not trying to be an electric car by any stretch of the imagination. Instead the idea is boosting overall efficiency, more like a traditional hybrid but with the bonus of a small amount of grid-supplied electricity. The 330e, in fact, replaces the discontinued totally conventional and low-selling BMW 3-Series ActiveHybrid.
The feds say the 330e manages 72 MPGe when there’s juice remaining in the battery pack—and then a decent 31 mpg in combined city/highway efficiency after battery depletion. That’s still beats the 320i’s 28 mpg, showing that the 330e maintains some of its hybrid-ness even when you haven’t recharged.
While total range while using gasoline is not nearly as important—especially because you will likely charge every night—packaging the battery pack required BMW to reduce the size of the gas tank by five gallons. This means total range is 350 miles, rather than the 442 miles offered in the 320i.
It’s evident from the somewhat meager 14 miles of EV range that BMW is babying its 7.6-kWh pack. For example, the Ford Fusion Energi’s 7.6-kWh pack, according to official specs, grants around 19 miles of all-electric range.
We suspect that most drivers will leave the 330e in Auto eDrive mode most of the time, which rightfully grants the car’s computer controls (and its nifty GPS-influenced transmission) to determine the most efficient power source and gearing—leaving you to simply enjoy a classic BMW driving experience (barely altered by its use of gas and battery).
Smaller batteries, like the relatively modest 7.6-kWh pack in the 330e, provides less EV driving range—but on the flip side, it fully charges in less time. That’s a somewhat meaningful consolation, especially considering that you might forgo a 240-volt home charging station, which can replenish the battery in about 2.5 hours, and live with a standard 120-volt source that can get the job done in about six hours.
Regardless, the size of the 330e’s pack and the charging speed are essentially no better or worse than what’s used in competing models from Audi, Ford, Hyundai, Mercedes and Toyota.
The placement of the 330e’s batter pack under the trunk floor maintains the same capacity of 13 cubic feet of storage as found in conventional 3-Series models. That’s better than most vehicles in the class, beating the small luxury Mercedes C350e plug-in hybrid—although the Audi A3 Sportback plug-in has more capacity in its hatch.
All 3-Series models, including the 330e, have a well-designed and upscale interior with very comfortable seating. Some reviewers complain that BMW has slipped behind Audi and Mercedes in the luxury race, but that’s a matter of taste. Nonetheless, BMW provides adequate Bluetooth and USB ports for easy connecting, and a dual-zone automatic climate control system. The 6.5-inch center display is crisp and intuitive.
Optional features include adaptive cruise control, navigation, satellite radio, moonroof, rearview camera, side- and top-view cameras, front and rear parking sensors, a 16-speaker Harman Kardon audio system, blind spot monitoring, head-up display, and lane departure warning.
The 330e earned the top safety rating of five stars for nearly every test conducted by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. It got the next highest ranking of four stars on two of those 12 tests—for driver’s front and overall front. Yet, the overall score for 330e testing was five stars.
The 330e scores from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety were similarly excellent with top ratings (“Good”) for almost every test. There were two “Marginal” ratings—one for lower leg and one for overall front, as well as Poor ratings for “structure and safety cage” and “ease of use for child seat anchors.” Still, the predominant rating from the IIHS was “Good.”
The BMW 330e’s $43,700 includes the $995 destination and handling fee. With the federal tax credit of $4,001, the effective price is reduced below $40,000 (not including local or state incentives). Compared with its siblings—and including the tax credit in our calculations—the 330e is about $6,000 more than the base 320i, which is not really comparable in terms of performance. The better comparison is with the 328i, which is about $1,000 less than the 330e—but that premium is likely to be recouped based on much better fuel efficiency. The cost of the higher-horsepower 340i is several thousand more than the 330e.
Comparisons of Similar Cars
The plug-in hybrid market has expanded enough in recent years to be sliced and diced in several ways. At this stage, we count about a dozen legitimate plug-in hybrids—although only three are moderately priced relatively small Germany luxury vehicles. That’s the BMW 330e, Audi A3 E-Tron and the Mercedes-Benz C350e. They are respectively rated for all-electric range with 14 miles, 16 miles, and 20 miles. However, given very similar battery sizes, we suspect real-world EV range will be quite similar.
In the most basic terms, the Audi hatchback is the least expensive and the least powerful. You would essentially save around $5,000—depending on added amenities—and benefit from the space advantages of a hatchback design. That alone is worth the difference for Euro-oriented hatch fans. On the other hand, the driving manners, creature comforts and interior space might make E-Tron drivers feel slightly less spoiled.
That essentially pits the similarly priced small plug-in models from BMW and Mercedes against one another. Which brand do you like better? Is it the sportier BMW ultimate driving machine or the comfy cruising manners of a Mercedes? Like BMW, the engineers and execs from Mercedes are also promising plug-in hybrids across its product lineup. We suspect that both companies—well-respected for solid German engineering—will put out the best that plug-in hybrid technology has to offer (in the context of their brands). So again, the choice between similar models in the plug-in space will come down to personal taste—unless you want to forgo luxury and choose a vehicle like the Chevy Volt that offers much more electric-ness while still providing a gas engine to extend overall driving range.
The first sales of the BMW 330e were recorded in March 2016, although at the low volume of a few dozen per month suggesting that the car is not yet widely available. Start the shopping process by visiting a local BMW dealership or submitting your interest via with the official BMW website.
Given the early rollout, you might encounter local inventories that skew toward the most expensive $50,000-plus trim and option packages with only one or two units available on the lot—rather than a wide selection of options especially at the lower end of the price range. Plan weeks or months ahead if you’re looking for a certain package or price, or a specific color.