10 May 2017

Review: BMW 3 Series 330e

Since hybrid powertrains have become almost mainstream, thanks largely to Toyota who pioneered the technology with a dedicated hybrid car and then put the systems as options into many of its standard models, we're seeing more of them, writes Brian Byrne. Increasingly with a plug-in variant that offers more possibilities for economic driving.

But maybe those of us who get to drive hybrids don't always give as much thought as we might to making the most of the systems. And depending on the owner's lifestyle and transport patterns, that thinking may be different for each.

That thought occurred to me, not for the first time, when I picked up a BMW 3 Series 330e eDrive hybrid last week. And over the course of the next six or seven days, I had the chance to try it in quite different scenarios.

I didn't use the charging cable at home at all, because I don't have an external socket close to where I park my review cars, and I don't really like leaving extension leads trailing around the place, for obvious health and safety reasons. If I had used it, the underboot battery could be charged from empty in around three hours. In that case, I'd have 40km of electric-only driving available. When you think about that, a lot of local driving can be done without ever the petrol engine cutting in at all.

In the BMW iteration of plug-in hybrid, there are three modes. In eDrive Auto, the system decides which element of the powertrain will be operating at any given time, and that depends on acceleration, speed, and the charged state of the battery. Indeed, just the way pretty well any hybrid system from the early days of the Prius handle needs.

There's also an extreme eDrive, which holds the system in electric only drive with a view to gaining the most possible distance under electric power. In this mode, there will be less power available and some other system tweaks to extend the available range.

And then there is the Save mode, in which the only power in use is from the petrol engine. In this position, the engine is also charging the battery until it is full.

In addition, the powertrain can pull in a boost of electric power under heavy acceleration, which in this case offers a sprint to 100km/h capability of 6.1s, but is actually most useful when a fast overtaking is needed. In practice, the 2.0 four-cylinder feels more like a 3.0 V6 when this come into play.

Anyhow, while I had the car, here are some of the ways I used it. On a number of work and return social trips in my own home area, to destinations in a radius of 15km from home, I was able to use the car without burning any petrol at all. If I owned the car and had a charging regime in place, there's a likelihood that I wouldn't visit a filling station except maybe once a month.

On another return trip to Dublin, which had me on motorway and dual carriageway for most of the 50km each way, I deliberately used the Save mode so that by the time I reached the outskirts of the city, I had a fully changed battery. From there I went right into the city centre, did my business, and drove back out, all on electric power only. That's where I was really saving fuel and doing a bit for the environment, because it is in that city driving that an ordinary internal combustion engine is at its most inefficient.

In general, using the car in Auto eDrive, as long as there was charge the car operated in electric mode, unless I accelerated hard, or the speed rose above 75km/h, when the petrol engine kicked in.

Throughout the review tour, I never felt that driving in electric mode negated the sporty ethos of BMW. The car was fun to drive, regardless of what power source was in use. And the overall available performance is impressive, comparing quite well to the 4.1s sprint capability of the legendary M3 saloon, for instance. But with a notional 134mpg equivalent possible, depending on how it's calculated.

Apart from all that, the review car was a typical 3 Series, very familiar and hardly needing any other description from me for now.

Prices of the 330e start at €51,710. There's €7,500 which can be deducted from that related to VRT relief and an SEAI Grant in relation to it being a hybrid.