The 330e uses a 181bhp 2.0-litre petrol engine familiar from elsewhere in the 3 Series range. Mounted within its eight-speed automatic gearbox is a 67bhp electric motor (its output increases to 111bhp with an ‘Xtraboost’ function in Sport mode) that powers a 12kWh lithium ion battery. That battery lives under the rear seats, with the fuel tank moving to the boot. The 40-litre fuel tank is 20 litres smaller than that of the non-hybrid 3 Series but results in the 330e’s one key compromise: a 105-litre cut in boot capacity.
The 330e is rear-wheel drive for now; xDrive four-wheel drive comes later this year, when a Touring version will also be introduced. Being rear-wheel drive with a fully integrated electric drive unit means the BMW system is claimed to be seamless in its operation in shifting between electric and petrol power, or a combination of both, as the electric motor sits on the flywheel and isn’t powering an entirely different axle, as is the case with some hybrid systems.
While driving this plug-in BMW is a straightforward process – it can be left in a simple Hybrid setting to leave the car to best decide from which source it should draw power – there are several other driving modes and many more functions to explore, all of which we’ll look at in the months ahead.
While the powertrain may not be as familiar, the specification of our 330e is. M Sport remains a popular trim level for the 3 Series, and it is offered on the 330e alongside entry-level SE and Sport. On top of the M Sport trim, which brings with it the usual array of visual and dynamic sporting upgrades, we have an optional M Sport Plus package that brings bigger 19in alloys, beefier brakes, variable sport steering and, intriguingly, adaptive dampers. This is the first time adaptive dampers have been included in a package – despite typically receiving rave reviews in the media, uptake from buyers had been less than 10%.
It’s rare for long-term reports like this to offer conclusions so early on, but it’s worth pointing out now that the 330e will not be suitable for all 3 Series buyers, specifically private buyers who won’t enjoy the tax benefits of company car buyers.
For them, offsetting the 330e’s list price against the potential money saved in fuel will be negligible, unless nearly all journeys are within the 35-mile electric-only range, at which point you may as well just buy a Tesla Model 3 for very similar money – or a BMW M340i, as Thompson says many private buyers are doing.
Not only is this our first long-term test of a hybrid 3 Series but it is also our first extended taste of a 3 Series in this G20 generation, which has already earned a five-star road test rating in 320d form. Finding out how much of that magic remains in this 330e will make for a fascinating few months to come.
The 330e has been a favourite of mine since I drove a skinny-tyred Sporttrim version of the last generation. The G20 is quicker and does 20 urban miles on its battery without trying too hard. But, as with so many more modestly powered cars, smaller wheels and less grip makes for more driver appeal.