If you’re buying a BMW 3 Series, fuel consumption will most likely be the least of your worries. Ask any 3 Series owner about their average fuel consumption and chances are you’re going to get a blank stare in return. Instead, they will babble about the sporty drive and the quintessential 50:50 weight distribution.
Well, most probably. But this particular 3 Series, the 330e, is somewhat unusual. It might even attract a new fanbase, especially those who do keep tabs on their monthly fuel bills, because the 330e is claimed to sip just 2.1 litres of petrol over 100km.
For comparison, the just-as-powerful but not-as-torquey 330i drinks a full four litres more to cover the same distance, so how did the 330e attained such figure? By the help of an electric motor, of course. Yes, the 330e is no ordinary 3 Series, in fact it’s the first of its kind in a long history of 3 Series that stretches back to more than four decades. While it’s not the first hybrid 3 Series (that title belongs to the ActiveHybrid3 launched in 2013), the 330e is the first 3 Series that you can charge at home like any of your battery-powered mobile devices.
|Name||BMW 330e iPerformance|
|Engine||1,998cc; twin-scroll turbocharged four-cylinder|
|Transmission||8-speed automatic with Steptronic|
|Max Power||184 hp @ 5,500 – 6,500 rpm|
|Max Torque||290 Nm @ 1,350 – 4,250 rpm|
|Hybrid Motor Output||88 hp & 250 Nm|
|Combined Max Power / Torque||248 hp / 420 Nm|
|0 – 100 km/h; Top Speed||6.1 seconds; 225 km/h|
|Fuel Consumption||2.1 litres per 100km|
|Price (OTR without insurance)||RM248,800|
Debuted at the 2015 Frankfurt Motor Show, the 330e was launched here in Malaysia almost a year later, and eventually superseded the 330i as the top dog for the Malaysian F30 range. Prior to the arrival of the 330e, you need to fork out RM298k for the 330i. Even the 320d below it costs RM269k. The 330e is brawnier than both of them, but because it’s a locally-assembled and EEV-certified car, you can get one from RM249k. Sounds like quite a bargain, but does that make the 330e the best 3 Series on sale? Let’s find out.
Not long ago, the entire F30 3 Series range has been given a Life Cycle Impulse (or LCI, which is BMW-speak for facelift). If truth be told, they don’t look that much different from the preceding version, apart from the redesigned full-LED lights front and back. The 330e is much of a muchness.
While some carmakers differentiate the hybrid variant by adding either green or blue highlights around the car, the 330e looks just like any other F30 3 Series. Even so, keen eyes will be able spot the eDrive badges on the C pillar and the charging port on the front left fender.
There are two trims offered for the 330e – Sport and M Sport. Our car is the former, which is pretty much identical the 320i Sport. It wears the Sport front bumper and kidney grille with gloss black inserts, gloss black side window surrounds, and gloss black trim on the rear bumper with twin tailpipes.However, unlike the 320i Sport, the 330e is fitted with a set of staggered 18-inch wheels.
The fronts are wrapped in 225/45 ZR18 rubbers and the rear ones use a much wider 255/40 ZR18 Pirellis. If that’s not enough to set your pulse racing, then the M Sport should be right up your alley. In exchange for another RM10k you’ll get the fabulous M Sport kit and a set of ravishing M Sport wheels.
The cabin should be a very familiar sight if you’ve sat in an F30 before, because the only hints that it’s the electrified version of the 3 Series are the eDrive-marked door sills and the eDrive mode button at the base of the gear lever. This lets you select from three different eDrive modes to complement the four existing Driving Experience modes.
It’s a fine and solid cabin but it’s starting to get long in the tooth, and the W205 C-Class and the A4 B9 have moved the goalpost to another field when it comes to flair and panache. Nevertheless, the driving position is just spot-on, and the sports seat hugs you tightly even though it lacks additional lumbar support.
Taking over the 330i as the range-topping 3 Series in Malaysia, the 330e inherits all toys from the 330i, which includes the keyless entry, head-up display (HUD), the 8.8-inch screen for the iDrive with Navigation System Professional, the iDrive controller with touch surface, and the BMW ConnectedDrive with Concierge Service. On top of that, a glass sunroof, a reverse camera, and auto park assist have been thrown into the mix too.
Opt for the M Sport and you’ll receive a different trim pattern with blue inlays, black headliner, and a chunky M Sport steering wheel.Space is not really the F30’s strongest suite, and in the 330e you get even less room to stash your belongings. For some reason the drop-down compartment below the light switch have been sealed completely to accommodate a tiny fuel flap release button, forcing you to find another place to hide your SmartTag. I find it rather odd since the charging flap doesn’t require any button pressing and can be opened directly from the outside.
Meanwhile at the back, a battery pack occupies the entire boot floor, which means you lose out the hidden under-floor cavity. The boot floor is also slightly raised, reducing the total boot volume from 480 litres to 370 litres. A standard 3-point charging cable is provided in a handy bag that slots neatly in a recess on the left hand side of the boot.
Split folding rear seats are absent like the rest of the Malaysian F30 range, therefore the 330e is not an ideal car to take to your favourite Swedish furniture store unless you only go there to satisfy your cravings for some meatballs.
The B48 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo sings the same tune as the one in the 320i. The petrol engine belts out 184 hp and 290 Nm of torque to drive the rear wheels via the excellent eight-speed auto transmission, except that in the 330e the it’s accompanied by an electric motor. Located between the petrol engine and the gearbox, the electric motor’s solo performance yields 65kW (88hp) and 250 Nm but when both power sources join forces, they match the 330i’s power output of 248 hp, whereas the torque figure swells to 420 Nm, beating the 330i by 70 Nm.
Powering the electric motor is a 5.7kWh lithium-ion battery pack underneath the boot floor, which not only robs the boot space but also shrinks the fuel tank from 60 litres down to 41 litres. According to official claims, charging the battery takes about three hours using the i wallbox charger or around five hours via a normal 3-pin wall outlet. But even if you don’t plug it in, there’s regenerative brakes to recoup the waste energy from braking and coasting back into the battery.
The hybridisation of the powertrain have added a substantial load over the non-hybrid siblings. At 1,735kg, the 330e weighs 230kg more than the 320i and 190kg heavier than the 330i. And yet, it sprints from 0 to 100 km/h in 6.1 seconds, which is just 0.3 seconds slower than the 330i but more than a second quicker than the 320i. At full whack it loses out to both the 320i and the 330i, maxing out at 225 km/h compared to the 320i’s 235 km/h and the 330i’s electronically-governed 250 km/h top speed.
On the other hand, the 330e is the new king when it comes to the average fuel consumption. Rated at 2.1L/100 km, it’s by far the most frugal 3 Series to date, beating the previous record holder, the 320d EfficientDynamics, at 4.1L/100 km.
Don’t feel embarrassed if you’re caught thumbing the starter button repeatedly thinking that the engine hasn’t been turned on yet. Other than the BMW’s default warning chime and the rev counter needle that points to “Ready”, there’s nothing much to indicate that the car is primed to go. It’s very peaceful inside until you start moving, by then the tyre hum will be the default soundtrack, and eventually wind noise will start to join in once the HUD displays three digits figures. Although to be fair, standard F30s were never regarded as one of the quietest cars around, and the lack of engine noise just amplifies this flaw even further.
In the default Auto eDrive mode, the 2.0-litre mill takes a secondary role, letting the electric motor do most the job of ferrying you around. The petrol engine will only fire up when the system thinks it’s necessary or when your right foot is constantly pinned to the throttle. The transition is not the smoothest though, resulting in some very slight shuddering moments during a bumper-to-bumper traffic crawl. While you can’t disable the stop/start function, you can stop the four-banger from interfering by choosing the Max eDrive full-electric mode.
With a fully charged battery, a 20km trip from Kelana Jaya to KLCC on a hot afternoon with the aircond on uses about 60 percent of the battery’s reserves, and according to the on-board computer the remaining 40 percent is good for a good 10km, which is not that far off the official claim of 37 km all-electric range. Sufficient punch provided by the electric motor ensures swift progress in town, and if you bury the throttle pedal into the carpet you’ll reach the 120 km/h max eDrive top speed sooner than you expected, but you’ll drain the battery much quicker too.
That’s when you take another jab at the eDrive button for the third eDrive mode, which is the Save mode. In this mode the petrol engine will be called upon not only to power the car but also to act as a generator to top up the battery, working together with the regenerative brakes. Don’t forget that the four main Driving Experience modes are still available, therefore you can pair any of the three eDrive modes with Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport, or Sport+.
Eco Pro should satisfy the most prudent drivers out there, but Comfort is saintly enough for the daily grind. Take it up a notch to Sport or Sport+ for a more spirited driving on your favourite B-roads and the 330e will show you that it’s still a proper BMW. You barely feel the extra heft of the hybrid components in the midst of quick directional changes, while the nimbleness in its handling remains intact. You can also easily kick the tail out despite the added bulk!
There’s barely any lag from the powertrain mainly due to the instant torque from the electric motor, and the ZF eight-speeder is still the best in the business, rendering those paddle shifters to almost useless. The steering is sharp, although it feels rather lifeless just off-centre, while the ride is calm enough to tackle any patchy tarmac. The regenerative brakes bite progressively natural too, there’s none of that “dead pedal feel” like we’ve come across on some hybrid cars. The downside perhaps is the engine noise. We reckon the BMW engineers could learn a thing or two from other German makes when it comes to delivering a fruity four-cylinder note.
My stint in the 330e over a weekend saw 7.2L/100 km on the display, which I find pretty good on account of the car was in Sport mode most of the time. In all likelihood you should be able to do much less than that if you drive it in the default Auto eDrive and Comfort mode. But where’s the fun in that?
SO, IS THIS CAR FOR YOU?
If you’ve been waiting so long to get an F30, the 330e presents itself as a very enticing prospect mainly due to its solid power-to-price ratio compared to the previous F30 models. On the contrary, current F30 owners may want to skip this one out. Yes it drives just as good as any non-hybrid 3 Series with extra punch and a better fuel consumption, it’s essentially the same car unless you’re planning to upgrade from a 316i. And don’t forget that it’s only a couple of more years before the next-gen G20 3 Series arrives. Until then, you’re better off with your existing F30.
Hot on the heels of the 330e is none other than the Mercedes-Benz C 350 e. Both cars use a similar layout – a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder mated to an automatic gearbox with an electric motor sandwiched in between, and both match the fuel consumption claim of 2.1L/100 km. On paper, that’s where the similarities end because the Benz appears to have a clear advantage over the Bimmer when it comes to power.
Despite that, the 330e is just as quick as the C 350 e to get to 100 km/h. We took both cars for a brief spin back to back and our initial impression is that the 330e feels more energetic of the two, with a much better agility when the roads get twisty. The C 350 e has the upper hand in ride comfort and cabin refinement, owing to the fact that it’s equipped with air suspension. We saw contrasting personalities between the two, but we’re going to spend more time in the C 350 e to get to know it better. Watch this space for a full review of the C 350 e coming soon.
|BMW 330e Sport||Mercedes-Benz C 350 e Avantgarde|
|Type||inline-4, DOHC, turbocharged with electric motor||inline-4, DOHC, turbocharged with electric motor|
|Type||Electronic Power Steering||Electronic Power Steering|
|Transmission||8-speed automatic||7-speed automatic|
|Front||Ventilated Disc||Ventilated & Perforated Disc|
|Rear||Ventilated Disc||Ventilated Disc|
|TYRE & WHEELS|
|Tyre||225/45 R18 (front), 255/40 R18 (rear)||225/40 R19 (front), 245/35 R19 (rear)|
|Wheels||18-inch Alloy||19-inch Alloy|
|DIMENSIONS & WEIGHT|
|Max Kerb Weight||kg||1,735 kg||1,780 kg|
|Luggage Capacity (VDA)||Litres||370 litres||335 litres|
|Tank Capacity||Litres||41 litres||50 litres|
|Consumption||litres per 100km||2.1 litres||3.3 litres|
|0 to 100 km/h||sec||6.1||5.9|
WOULD I BUY IT?
Among the selection of compact executive sedans, the 3 Series has always been the one to go with if you’re looking for an engaging drive, and the fact that BMW introduced a plug-in hybrid variant in the name of better efficiency didn’t mean the 330e is any less entertaining to drive. Remember when Toblerone slimmed down their iconic chocolate triangles while retaining the price?
The 330e is the opposite of that. They’ve bulked up the 3 Series with more kit, torque, (and unfortunately, weight) and at the same time drinks less fuel. Malaysians are even luckier because in some countries the 330e commands quite a premium over the non-hybrid 330i. Suffice to say that I would consider one if I’m in the market for a premium compact exec.
Matthew’s take: Among the many things I like about the 330e, one particular trait I love best about this Bavarian is the execution of its hybrid system as a whole. Transitions between both power sources are smooth and seamless, whereas braking feel has never felt more natural in any other electrified cars. I can, with near surety say that the 330e is the car to get for many aspiring owners. Because how often does a bargain such as this come along, let alone drive so damn well?