First Drive

First Drive: BMW 330e

The story:
The second-generation of BMW’s very successful 3-Series plug-in hybrid is here, bringing improved power and electric range
Category:Compact Executive
Key rival:Mercedes-Benz C-class PHEV
BMW 330e M Sport
MPG:201.8 mpg
On sale:Now

BMW’s first attempt at a 3-Series plug-in hybrid was a runaway success, to the point where waiting times were a big issue for the German brand, and that popularity (without the long lead times) is expected to be amplified with the new 330e.

The plug-in version of the new 3-Series that launched earlier this year features slight increases in both range and performance versus its PHEV predecessor, as well as all the improvements already witnessed with the introduction of the latest BMW saloon.

The brand describes the new 330e as “critical” to its corporate success, and expects the model to be the second-biggest of its 3-Series range, behind the 320d that has long been the dominant corporate choice. The tax situation for plug-in hybrids, combined with the UK’s huge company car market, means this country is the world’s biggest market for 3-Series plug-in hybrids, outselling BMW’s home market 10-to-one and doing more than double the number sold in the US. First Drive-November 2019-BMW 330e-Image 19

The new car has an official electric-only range of 37 miles, although somewhere up to around 25 is realistic in real-world driving. It has a CO2 emissions figure of 39g/km, putting it into the 16% tax band for 2019/20, although it’s not yet clear whether that will shift to 12% or 14% under the WLTP changes from April 2020. But either way it’s a drop, at a time where the 320d diesel version, which is a little over £3500 cheaper, lands in the 31% tax bracket this year, rising to 32% next year. That makes for a 330e monthly tax bill for a 40% taxpayer that’s £163 cheaper this year, potentially rising to a huge gap of £229 per month in April 2020. The only major drawback, apart from the higher purchase price versus a 320d, is that the battery lessens boot space by 105 litres, taking it down to 375 litres. But for those needing luggage capacity, the good news is that there will, for the first time, be a plug-in hybrid 3-Series Touring coming in 2020. Also worthy of note is that the battery’s addition also comes at the expense of fuel tank volume, with the 330e’s 40-litre fuel tank comparing with the 320d’s 59 litres.

But the good news is that the 330e is at least as much fun as any other 3-Series. Combined power from the 2.0-litre petrol engine and electric motor is 252hp, which can also be increased by 41hp at the touch of a button using BMW’s XtraBoost system. The extra 290kg in weight over a 320d isn’t noticeable in how it rides and handles.

It’s maybe a shame that there’s not a little more on the dashboard to help the driver stay within the bounds of electric-only driving. And although it has battery regeneration under deceleration, an enhanced mode that can be engaged by the driver would have been welcome.

paul barker

The verdict

The new 330e will prove more popular than ever in the current tax regime, and rightly so when it’s as good, and as cost-effective versus a 320d, as the new car is. Just make sure that fleet policies incentivise or require the car to be charged and used on electric mode as much as possible.