|Positives: Great handling and strong acceleration, brilliant plug-in hybrid system that adapts to your individual trips with aplomb, handsome exterior, good blend of sporty and luxury ride quality.|
|Negatives: A bit low rent inside for a BMW 3-Series, hybrid system can get a bit noisy at times, no manual transmission offering.|
|Bottom Line: Pricey when fully-outfitted, but its base price is warranted for the combination of great efficiency on a daily basis and sporty driving chops. It's an unconventional plug-in hybrid that gets the pulses racing and puts a smile on your face.|
|View Our 2017 BMW 3 Series Overview|
BMW set the bar high with a 25-mile electric only range that just happens to be coupled with a fun-to-drive factor that no other plug-in hybrid can come close to. But it's more than just efficient. When maated to the car's navigation system, the efficiency factor is upped by managing everything on your journey and planning engine usage in response. It's a brilliant move and enough to create an iPerformance line of BMW cars and crossovers. We drove the 330e to see if it was worthy of the description as BMW's best plug-in hybrid.
When you enter the cabin of a plug-in hybrid, let's just say you don't expect much in terms of driving fun. The mindset is a bit different when it's a BMW since their reputation rests on both sporty driving and luxury. The former is one of the 330e's strong suits. Having been a BMW 3-Series owner in the past, I can say the 330e is marvelous to drive. It accelerates with authority and handles remarkably well, consistent with the BMW ethos and inconsistent with the perception of plug-in hybrids.
What's more, there's no start transitions between electric only mode and gas. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to notice at all. Enter Max eDrive mode, and you go pure electric, mode two, called Auto eDrive, is the default setting for the 330. As opposed to Max, the Auo setting kicks over to gas power at 50 mph. The third mode is called Save Battery mode in order to conserve battery power when it isn't needed. The car then charges the battery to 50 percent to provide efficiency when the situation calls for it. The 330e can run in electric-only mode up to 75 miles per hour, but this will rarely occur since even mild inclines cause the gas engine to kick in (albeit seamlessly).
Ride Quality: A good balance of sport and luxury. Bump absorption is very good, but the car isn't so cushy that you lose connection with the road.
Acceleration: Though it lacks the sound and the fury of a proper inline-six cylinder BMW engine, the 330e moves very quickly with good throttle response. There's a bit of driveline shudder, but everything spools up nicely when you need to get going.
Braking: progressive and smooth, even when the brakes transition from regeneration to normal braking. Very impressive in this regard and unlike most regenerative braking systems.
Steering: Light and lacking feedback, but it's precise, and turn-in is sharp.
Handling: Near-flawless BMW-like handling that exhibits very little body roll and excellent balance.
BMW isn't our favorite when it comes to infotainment, but they've come a long way since the first years of the awful but pioneering iDrive system. It's evolved so much that it's hard to tell that they were ever associated. It's not the most intuitive system, nor is it the most responsive (you have to go to the Koreans to experience that), but the system works just fine most of the time. At least it's pretty with great graphics, good controller feel and plenty of physical knobs and buttons for most controls.
Infotainment System:The wide 6.5-inch screen is vivid and very easy to read. Transitions are clean and the resolution is excellent.
Controls: The knob on the center console is big and actuates easily. Plenty of buttons for audio and climate, as well as menu options are much appreciated. We just wish the whole infotainment system was more intuitive.
Bluetooth Pairing: Easy Bluetooth pairing, but we did have to re-pair by finding our phone in the menu way too often when starting the car. Responsiveness to streaming music from our iPhone 6s Plus wasn't the greatest and oftentimes got hung up without responding. Frustrating.
Voice Call Quality: Very good voice call quality. Loud and clear at all times, and the cabin quietness helped in this department.
Aside from the "eDrive" badges, the "330e" on the back and the charging port door on the front quarter panel, you'd never know this was a plug-in hybrid 3-Series. No weird wheels, no crazy blue accents all over the place and no body details that make it scream "environmentalism", something we appreciated. The current 3-Series styling is one of the best since the classic E46 body style.
Front: The wide kidney grilles and feline headlights look great. It's a handsome facscia that looks both sophisticated and properly aggressive.
Rear: It mimics the 5-Series rear but does it better. We like the large red taillights, the simplicity of the styling and the tasteful use of chrome.
Profile: BMW does sporty profiles well, and the 3-Series is always a looker from pretty much every angle. The long body crease is well done, and the wheels also make the car look like a normal 3-Series.
Cabin: The layout and the styling is on par with other 3-Series cars, but the cheaper level of materials quality is apparent. Also, our black and grey interior was just way too drab for our liking.
We've always loved BMW sport seats, and the ones in the 330e are excellent. Great bolstering and that fantastic thigh bolster support is something we wish other automakers would so since it alleviates pressure on long trips. The leather isn't as refined as Mercedes, but the heated front and rear seats are very welcomed in our Chicago climate. Overall, the 3-Series is quite comfortable but rear seat passengers are a bit cramped for legroom.
Front Seats: Meets the standard for BMW sport seats with great support and bolstering.
Rear Seats: Rear seats are comfortable on the bakcside, but with taller occupants in front, the legroom suffers a bit too much for our liking.
NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): The 330e is quiet, and the build quality is very good. No rattles to speak of, and high-speed road noise is kept to a minimum.
Visibility: Very good visibility at all angles. No issues here.
Climate: BMW's climate control system is very good, and we still love the micro-adjustment dials on the center vents. They might look gimmicky, but they work wonders.
The 2016 3-Series (all models) score decently but fail to attain the Top Safety Pick and Top Safety Pick+ due to the marginal performance of the small front overlap crash test. The 330e has good safety technology but also doesn't have robust accident avoidance technology.
IIHS Rating: Rates good in all crash tests except for the aforementioned small front overlap crash.
Standard Tech: The 330e has a solid set of standard safety features like all BMWs do, including Dynamic Stability Control with Brake Fade Compensation, Brake Drying, Dynamic Traction Control, 4-wheel ABS, Dynamic Brake Control and Cornering Brake Control.
Optional Tech: Though we'd like to see emergency braking added, the 330e when properly outfitted with the Driver Assistance Plus gets Active Blind Spot Detection, Active Driving Assistant, side and top view cameras. Addint the Tech Package provides smart cruise control.
The 330e isn't big on storage, but it makes up for the lack of big compartments with good storage placement. Overall cargo room isn't exactly capacious, especially with the battery elevating the trunk floor.
Storage Space: Good center stack compartment and split top armrest compartment. The door pockets are decently sized but not huge.
Cargo Room: Trunk space suffers due to the location of the battery. 13 cubic feet isn't huge, but it's also not a deal-breaker (unless you regularly transport more than an average sized stroller or more than two golf bags).
This is where the 330e shines and extols its own virtues. We averaged 30 mpg even under pretty hard driving. We rarely operated in pure electric mode for more than brief periods, since our heavy foot called upon the gas engine most of the time. That being said, in urban driving conditions where moderation is exercised, the efficiency numbers will surely climb and make the 330e's value that much more apparent.
Observed: 30 mpg combined.
Driving Factors: A combination of urban and highway driving over the course of a week. We drove the with nearly equal amounts of strong acceleration and relaxed driving habits to exploit the Max eDrive mode.
Even though we had the upgraded Harman Kardon surround sound system, we just weren't that impressed. It wasn't bad but seemed to lack richness at higher volumes, sounding a bit empty at times. We'd love to compare it to the stock system to see if the upgrade was even worth it. We're guessing not.
We love the 330e for what it accomplishes, eschewing the conventional and tepid driving experience of pretty much every other plug-in hybrid vehicle. It's not only efficient when it needs to be, it's smart and seamlessly adaptive -- but most of all, it's a hoot to drive. BMW's aren't cheap, but what you get for the money in terms of plug-in hybrid technology and driving dynamics just might make you pony up a little more for this system.