2021 BMW 330e Review

The case for the PHEV sports sedan


Amos Kwon, Editor-In-Chief



Positives: Impressive driving dynamics, extra grunt off the line, comfortable ride, styling is the same as the gas 3-Series, great Live Cockpit instrument panel, excellent sport seats.
Negatives: Hybrid setup adds weight that affects handling, center stack controls are a bit convoluted in their layout, short on all-electric range.
Bottom Line: The BMW 330e is an interesting approach for BMW since the PHEV route seem to be less popular than gas-electric hybrids and EVs. That said, the 330e is fun to drive and attractive.
The BMW 330e PHEV is a brand new iteration of the venerable 3-Series sports sedan. Other automakers are focusing on EVs, but BMW is making PHEVs of all of its vehicles and leaving electrification on the backburner with only the i3 holding court. This new 3 has a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine and electric motor, and it has up to 23 miles of all-electric range. We drove the rear-wheel drive 330e for a week to see if there's additional appeal for the extra cost. Read on for our full review.
 

Driving Experience

8.2

 

There's a lot to love about the way the 330e drives, but there are also some sacrifices. We think the added electric motor adds some verve, but the added weight (457 pounds) will make you consider gas if you like to capitalize on handling fun.

Ride Quality: Even with the optional firmer M Sport Package, the 330e strikes a great balance between sporty and comfy. It never felt upset by bumps and gaps.

Acceleration: The 330e is quick, hitting 60 mph in the mid-five second range. The standard gas 330i will do it in the same time. The 330e has more power and torque, but it's heavier. The 8-speed automatic transmission makes quick work of shifting duties.

Braking: The 330e's regenerative brakes work well but not for one-pedal driving. The setup isn't adjustable, but the brakes also don't have that spongy feeling like most regen brakes. They're pretty easy to modulate, which is what we really care about.

Steering: The steering might lack feedback, but it's accurate and on center. The effort is also good, making for a bit of fun behind the wheel.

Handling: The added weight of the hybrid setup means you have to manage a few hundred extra pounds going into corners, so it doesn't feel as nimble as the 330i. You feel the weight, but the 330e is still taut and body roll is manageable.

Technology

7.9

 

BMW's iDrive system has come a long way over the past decade. It looks beautiful, premium, and has better controls than ever before, but it's still a complex system to navigate quickly and without error. The learning curve is mid-to-high, we'd say. The wireless charger is great and works well, while we despise the totally pointless Gesture Control, which is finicky (use the easy knobs and buttons intead).

Infotainment System: iDrive 7.0 is great to look at, but going through the menus is not intuitive. There's a lot to deal with, and media operation could be easier. We oftentimes had trouble using the system to advance music tracks. You're better off using Apple CarPlay if you have an iPhone, which is exactly what we did.

Controls: For the most part, the control are pretty good. We like the fact that there's a traditional shift knob instead of a rotary or pushbutton shifter. The climate control buttons are a bit small for our liking.

Styling

8.3

 

Aside from the 330e badging and the charging port door, the 330e looks a hell of a lot like a conventional gas 3-Series, which is a good thing. The styling is clean and sporty, and we're glad the 3-Series doesn't have the buck-toothed grilles from the 4-Series.

Front: The grilles are, thankfully, still horizontally situated. They look great with the interestingly shaped headlights. It looks a lot like the 5-Series front fascia, which is a good thing.

Rear: We like the taillights with their hockey-stick signature that matches the fender/door crease. The round tailpipes are fantastic, as well, steering away from the overdone non-conventional shapes we've seen.

Profile: The good proportions, body sculpting, and absence of chrome give the 330e a great side view. The thin spoked wheels are a nice touch, as well.

Cabin: We love the caramel-colored Vernasca leather sport seats, as well as the overall laout of the interior. The center console's cheap-looking plastic isn't our favorite aspect however.

Comfort

8.5

 

There aren't many front seats in the industry as comfy as BMW's Sport Seats, and these do not disappoint. Overall, the interior is comfortable, but the 3-Series has never been big on back seat space. The materials quality is excellent, for the most part, and the cabin doesn't feel too cosseting.

Front Seats: The bolstering and support are superb, and the leather is thick and soft. Those thigh bolsters are sublime and help on longer trips. Finding the right seating position is easy, too.

Rear Seats: It's tight back here with only 35.2 inches of legroom, making it tough for six-footers. It only has about half an inch more than the rather snug rear seats on the Genesis G70 sedan.

NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): Build quality is very good, and wind noise is negligible. You can only hear the sound of the four-cylinder mill when you push it hard.

Visibility: Visibility is pretty good all around with no challenging sightlines.

Climate: The climate system works really well, and we do like the large vents in the dash that move plenty of air. The heated seats also work very well.

Safety

8.9

 

The 3-Series tests very well by both automotive safety organizations. It also comes with a strong set of standard and optional safety features. The 3-Series scores well as a model, but we're not sure if the added weight of the hybrid system specifically affects the 330e.

IIHS Rating: It earns the Top Safety Pick rating, just below the top award. It suffers due to marginal and poor headlights in some trims.

NHTSA Rating: The 3-Series earns five stars from the federal government.

Standard Tech: Standard equipment includes Dynamic Cruise Control, rain-sensing windshield wipers, front and rear Head Protection System, Active Guard with Frontal Collision Warning, Automatic City Collision Mitigation, and Lane Departure Warning.

Optional Tech: Our tester came with the Driver's Assistance Package, Extended Traffic Jam Assistant, Parking Assistance Package, and Surround View w/ 3D View.

Storage/Cargo

7

 

Due the battery, the trunk space shrinks, but it's still not bad for the segment. In terms of interior storage space, there are some convenient cubbies, but they're only medium sized.

Storage Space: There's a front tray at the bottom of the center stack, cupholders within easy reach, and an armrest compartment. The door pockets aren't huge, but they're good enough for smaller items.

Cargo Room: Trunk space drops to 13.2 cubes from 17, but it's still a usable flat surface. At least the trunk opening is large.

Fuel Economy

8

 

We didn't see great mileage from the 330e, probably because we drove it in Sport mode most of the time. We didn't use electric only miles, as a result. We're not too keen on the 23 miles of all-electric range, but it could work wonderfully for short commuters, and the gas engine provides peace of mind.

Observed: 26.4 mpg.

Distance Driven: 144 miles.

Audio

8.2

 

The 330's stock audio system is actually quite good. It's not as good as the premium systems, but there's not as much of a quality delta as other car brands. We experienced clear sound with good bass and no distortion.



Final Thoughts

The $3,100 difference between the gas 330i and the plug-in hybrid 330e might not seem like much in order to gain electric-only capability, but we don't think it's worth the money. It would be better for BMW to go gas-hybrid or full EV with a 3-Series. You gain a lot of curb weight and compromise trunk space, and the look isn't distinct enough for those who want that efficiency ethos. That said, it's still fun to drive, as well as look at.
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