Test Drives

BMW 330e review: Two cars in one

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The BMW 330e is essentially an electric car bundled with a petrol one. Whether it makes sense for you will depend on which one you use regularly…

SINGAPORE — Think of the BMW 330e as two cars in one, which might help to mitigate some of the pain from the fact that we generally pay three times as much for our cars as most other people in the world do.

The first car-within-a-car is a BMW 320i (complete with its 2.0-litre turbo engine, although tuned slightly differently), and its companion is an electric car with a 63kW motor. Together, the two can combine their outputs to send 252hp to the rear wheels through an eight-speed auto. That’s the same amount of power as you get from a 330i, which explains the 330e badge.

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The badge itself is just one of the subtle ways in which you can tell that this 3 Series is a bit different. There are flashes of blue on the grille and the wheelcaps, “eDrive” badges on the C-pillar and “i” badges on the front fenders to distinguish this car from the run-of-the-mill. Some people are bound to notice the flap in front that conceals the charging port, too.

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But getting back to the tech, why pair an engine with a motor to achieve the same amount of power as a 330i? The answer, if the petrol-electric setup didn’t make it obvious, is that it’s for the sake of efficiency.

Since you have two cars in one, the more you use the electric one, the less petrol you burn.

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Electric Vehicles (EVs) are inherently efficient. Only around a third of the energy in petrol is turned into forward motion, but around 90 percent of what you put into the 330e’s battery is converted to useful power.

Charging the car from flat takes 132 minutes with a wall-mounted box of transformers, capacitors and whatnots from BMW, and at current electricity prices it costs $1.18 by our calculations. You’re looking at a monthly electricity bill of $36 to keep your 330e juiced up, in other words.

You’ll want to keep feeding the EV half of the 330e, mind you. With electrons doing the work, the BMW is a lovely car in town, with the instant response and silky smoothness typical of the breed. There’s the pleasing silence, too, that makes the car such a nice machine to start (or end) your day in.

bmw 330e 2017 singaporeHello darkness, my old friend

BMW’s research shows that 96 percent of people who own an EV find the experience so nice that their next car will also be battery powered.

Of course, if you’re in a hurry the 330e is a decently brisk car, too. 0 to 100km/h takes 6.1 seconds, and there’s enough ready torque on tap for you to blitz past slower cars without effort.

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The catch, such as it is, is that the 330e has a range of around 30km on battery power. That’s not quite enough for most users — Land Transport Authority figures suggest that the average driver here covers 48km per day — and you’ll end up dipping into the 330e’s petrol reserves each day if you’re like most drivers.

So think of 30km as your limit — if that’s the extent of your daily useage you’ll plausibly get by without needing to burn a drop of fossil fuel, perhaps for months.

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But if you’re a heavy car user, say, because you’re in sales or property and you have to get from one appointment to another to another, you would be better off with a diesel car or a hybrid that doesn’t need to be charged from a wall outlet, like a Toyota Prius.

What about for people in between? On our first day with the BMW, we started with a full battery and drove 50.7km in mixed traffic. The trip computer said we consumed petrol at an overall rate of 4.1 litres per 100km.

And the day we returned the car, we started out with the battery at 89 percent day and, after driving 41.8km, used petrol at 2.6L/100km. That’s less than two-thirds the rate, and would have been enough for the car’s titchy 41-litre petrol tank to last 1,576km.

bmw 330e iPerformance review singapore priceThis button isn’t something you find on just any BMW

On days in which we didn’t charge the car at all, fuel consumption was much heavier, and not much better than what a normal, non-hybrid car would have delivered.

One 104.6km day without the benefit of charging saw us use petrol at the rate of 8.5L/100km — not disastrous, but not dazzling by any means.

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All of this suggests that if you don’t have a private property in which to set-up a BMW Wallbox for charging, you won’t get the most out of your 330e.

The car has a ‘Save Battery’ driving mode that allows you to divert some of the engine’s power to top up the lithium-ion battery pack when you’re on the go, but using it is costly — by our guesstimates it adds around 4L/100km to your fuel consumption to charge the battery that way.

There’s a compromise in terms of luggage space, too. The boot gives up 110 litres to the battery pack, which lives under a neat cover on the boot floor. That leaves you with 370 litres, which is something the pram-pushing crowd might want to think about, although the rear seatbacks do fold to expand the car’s hauling abilities.

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In any case, the takeaway here is that even though the 330e doesn’t look radically different from a regular 3 Series, it’s not as straightforward a buying decision as one.

How much you benefit from the plug-in hybrid technology really depends on how far you drive every day, and of course, whether you have somewhere to charge it. A house with your own porch is no problem, obviously, and if you live in a condo, reps from BMW will help you to liaise with the management about having a Wallbox installed.

You could conceivably drive a 330e and just never charge the battery pack, but doing so would really defeat the purpose of having a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle. Why buy two cars in one if you’re not going to use one of them?

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NEED TO KNOW BMW 330e iPerformance
Engine 1998cc, four-cylinder turbo with 65kW electric motor
Power 252hp at 5,000rpm
Torque 420Nm at 1,450-3,700rpm
Gearbox 8-speed automatic
Top Speed 250km/h
0-100km/h 6.1 seconds
Fuel efficiency 5.2L/100km
CO2 121g/km
Price S$219,800 with COE
Agent Performance Motors Limited
Available Now

about the author

Leow Ju-Len
Leow Ju-Len is a lot older than he behaves. He's been writing about cars for 23 years. Someday he might do it coherently. Ju-Len believes in world peace and V8s, but not necessarily in that order.