BMW’s announcement in 2017 that it had decided to make EV and plug-in variants of every single BMW and MINI model was met with some skepticism. It’s a challenging goal by any stretch of the imagination. But guess what? As of 2021, BMW has all its segments covered with more than 10 plug-in hybrid models to choose from. If you’re searching for a BMW PHEV, chances are you’ll find a vehicle to fit your needs.
By John Coulter, CURRENT EV CMO
BMW is in the process of building its cars on “integrated” platforms that allow all its gas, EV and PHEV models to be fabricated on the same assembly lines. This translates into reduced production costs. And it allows the automaker to more easily reach its goal of between 15 and 25% of its lineup comprising EVs and PHEVs by 2025, just 4 years from now.
Bayerische Motoren Werke AG has electrified its 7th Generation 3 Series with the 2021 330e xDrive plug-in hybrid. This year’s 330 e-version has an improved Lithium-Ion battery.
The car’s e-range estimates won’t break any records, but the EPA says its 12 kilowatt-hour Lithium-Ion battery offers drivers 22 miles of pure electric range. As anyone who reads EV studies knows, this e-range is more than enough for many drivers to get to work and back, or do their errands around town without using a drop of gasoline. Plug in at night, and you’ve got another 20 pure e-miles the next morning.
The battery takes 6 hours to charge with a regular 10-amp household plug and 3.5 hours with a Level 2 240V charger.
The iconic 3 Series has always offered drivers class-defining handling. With a low center of gravity, lightweight components and a suspension tuned to perfection on BMW’s grueling Nürburgring test track, this is a compact sedan providing unparalleled sportiness and dynamics. Adding to its top-rated performance is a sleek and wide exterior molded for aerodynamic excellence and eye-pleasing aesthetics.
First produced in 1975, the entry level 3-Series luxury car has become BMW’s best-selling model, accounting for around 30% of the brand’s global annual total sales. From 2005 through the middle of 2020, more than 1.5 million 3-Series vehicles have been sold in the USA alone.
Its luxury, strong performance credentials and consumer acceptance as an “everyday car” has won it numerous awards. From 1992 to 2014, it was on Car and Driver Magazine’s Annual Ten Best list 22 times, making it the longest running entry in the list. Motorsports Magazine named the BMW 3 Series as the second-most important performance car built during the previous 25 years.
BMW calls its 2021 model an iconic sedan with electrified enhancements; a balance of institution and innovation like never before: “The four-door 3 Series Sedan evolves BMW’s signature designs with modern takes on the iconic kidney grille and the Hofmeister kink. This plug-in hybrid uses a powerful combustion engine that works in tandem with an electric motor to achieve efficient driving and all the performance you expect from a BMW. Maximize efficiency with the all-electric range, perfect for short commutes and local trips.”
Hybrids and PHEVs improve gas mileage overall. With both the gas engine and the electric motor at work, the 2021 330e achieves an EPA-rated 67MPGe. Combined city/highway without the e-motor on is 25mpg. Tax credits are another great reason to drive a hybrid or PHEV. The 2021 330e qualifies for a $5,836 federal tax credit. (www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/taxevb.shtml)
This year’s model comes with a larger battery built with higher density cells that fit more electrons into the same volume. Also new for 2021 is XtraBoost, a feature available in Sport Mode that provides a 40hp boost for up to 10 seconds when the pedal is fully depressed. This results in a 60mph sprint of 5.6 seconds. In Hybrid Mode, the 330e can travel up to 68mph on the battery alone, an increase of 19mph over the previous model year. And in Electric Mode, it can reach a speed of 87mph, up 12mph.
BMW’s modular (B48) 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine provides 135kW of power and 300Nm of torque. and drives the rear wheels via a ZG 8-speed automatic. The transmission houses the car’s 83kW/105Nm synchronous motor. The ZG is regarded as one of the best transmissions of its type in production today. Total output of the gas engine and electric motor is 185kW/420Nm.
There are two BMW 330e models to choose from: the 330e Sedan with Rear Wheel Drive (MSRP: $44,550), and the 330e xDrive Sedan with Intelligent All-Wheel Drive (MSRP: $46,550).
Rating the 330e’s interior, Carsguide.com reviewer Byron Mathioudakis says: “For a swoopy sports sedan, the 330e’s interior is pleasingly practical and – after a little familiarization – user-friendly. As the biggest-ever 3 Series, four average-sized adults can fit in easily, while a smaller fifth person can crowd in on the rear-center cushion. For short periods, anyway. One surprise is the lightness of the doors due to them being partly aluminium, which means while they close with a reassuring thud, they’re might feel flimsy at first. No such misconceptions await once inside the cocoon-quiet cabin, thanks to solid and lush materials everywhere the eye lands and hands touch. Even the plastics seem expensive. As the 3 Series is famous for, the 330e’s dash is driver-centric, with ample adjustability of the fat-rimmed wheel and unimpeded reach for most of the important switchgear. Sat low and cosily ensconced between door and bisecting center console, the mood is definitely grand-touring sports sedan.”
“For this generation, BMW has honed the once-controversial 'iDrive' controller into an artful yet logical example of on-the-move multimedia interface and data retrieval, with a concerted effort to simplify what is a mountain of available information. To help relax (or energize), there’s even a ‘Caring Car’ feature in the sub menus with appropriately chilled ambient lighting, audio and climate control.”
Edmunds.com reviewers on the car’s interior: “As we've come to expect from the BMW 3 Series, the 330e's interior is elegantly modern. The front seats have ample padding for long-distance comfort, yet they also have enough sporty lateral support to keep you in place when cornering hard. The rear seats are spacious enough to hold average-size adults, too. The roof pillars don't impede outward visibility, so you can get a good sense of the sedan's physical boundaries.
This most recent iteration of BMW's iDrive infotainment system is packed with features, yet it remains easy to use. You can also customize some menus and placement of the on-screen buttons, much like you would on your smartphone. The inclusion of additional and more natural voice commands keeps it competitive with Mercedes' praiseworthy MBUX system.
A new dashcam-like recorder feature makes use of the 3 Series' existing cameras and has the potential for a variety of applications. It can automatically start recording in the event of a serious collision, giving you the option to use the footage in your defense. Or you can simply record your epic scenic drive to share with friends. You also have the ability to set a rolling buffer to capture moments that may have just occurred.”
The 2021 BMW 330e hasn’t been safety tested yet, but the 2019 version received a 5-star ANCAP crash-test rating. And the 2020 BMW 3-Series was an IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) Top Safety Pick. (www.iihs.org/ratings/vehicle/bmw/3-series-4-door-sedan/2020)
The car’s active and passive safety items are extensive. They include: stability and traction control, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution, cornering brake control and brake-assist, active lane-change and lane-departure warnings and intervention, front and rear cross-traffic alert with braking and blind-spot monitoring.
Additional safety features include: autonomous emergency braking (AEB), warnings and active assistance/intervention for steering, lane-change, lane departure, and front/rear cross-traffic (with braking) situations, full-auto parking with surround-view 3D cameras and sensors, adaptive cruise control with full stop/go, auto high-beam LED headlights with delay/off, rain-sensing wipers, low-speed EV-mode acoustic warnings for pedestrians and localized recharging info including range radius.
The 3 Series sets standards for performance in the luxury small car class. It offers spacious, comfortable seating for 4, with one of the largest trunk spaces in its segment. For consumers looking for a small luxury sedan with opulent styling and a touch of 22 eco-miles added, this is a car they should consider.