The BMW 3-series sedan is a quick reminder of what these sports sedans can uniquely deliver: Confident but frisky handling and an interior that feels enclosed yet retains a refreshingly open forward view. This year, BMW adds a plug-in hybrid powertrain that furthers the sedan’s efficiency but it’s not without a few compromises.
While this current generation debuted in 2019, it still looks new and it remains untarnished by an overly dramatic grille, but its taller body sides and relocated styling curves come across as a bit bland compared to previous generations, especially in this basic white color (premium colors are $550). The LED headlights and the taillights do their part to provide modern and high-tech fashion while the M Sport package throws in more aggressive styling with re-shaped front and rear bumpers and blue brake calipers which add a hint of the 330e’s sporty abilities. The plug-in hybrid is new for 2021 and the charge port on the left fender is the most obvious sign of the additional power source underneath.
While the exterior doesn’t fully convey the 3-series sports-sedan roots, the interior is a different story. The sport seats are firm and feature significant bolsters while the steering wheel is thick and feels good to hold. The large digital combi meter hood is offset by a low positioned dashboard that allows for very good forward visibility and makes the 330e an easy car to drive – at all speeds.
While it has grown in size over the generations, the 330e is not a large car. Rear seat passengers will need a little bit of cooperation from those in front to get comfortable and because of the large center tunnel, capacity is best left at four, despite five seatbelts. Most notably, the additional electrification hardware specific to the 330e takes a huge chunk out of the cargo volume, leaving barely enough space for travel luggage for two. If there is a deal-breaker with this car, this is probably it.
The front dash panel is logically arranged with high-quality physical buttons where many competitors have gone with touch-sensitive inputs. The 10.25-inch infotainment touchscreen is incredibly crisp and each of the menus have informative animations and it is very fast at changing from one function to the next. The 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster is also very crisp but the 330e doesn’t take full advantage of the creative freedom that it offers. The ambient interior lighting falls into a similar bucket, as its colored lines are precise and consistent, don’t bathe the interior with indirect light as do some of the BMW’s competitors. At all times of the day, though, the 10-speaker sound system delivers an impressive audio experience.
The plug-in hybrid powertrain helps the 330e achieve an EPA-estimated EV range of 23 miles as it pulls power from the 12 kWh battery pack. An XTRABOOST drive mode is also onboard to use maximum electrical power to assist the turbocharged four-cylinder as it produces a satisfying growl at higher RPM. Accelerating at full throttle under EV-power only reveals the 330e is not as powerful as some other plug-in hybrids (and EV’s).
When left in Hybrid mode, the car determines which power source is ideal as it considers your typical drive route and traffic. The total system achieves 288 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque but the 330e relies primarily on its engine to provide the thrust.
The optional adaptive suspension successfully manages the additional weight of the electrified system and the 330e will cruise down the highway with a slightly firm ride and unflappable motion control. It’s also capable in the twisties too with an entertaining balance that encourages fast turn-ins, however, the numb steering system didn’t provide much desire to try to explore the 330e’s limits.
With rear-wheel drive, a competent suspension, and plenty of total power, the 330e has the potential to be an entertaining low-speed dance partner but it takes a bit of practice to be able to predict how much power is immediately on hand from the electrical system and how much is on its way from the turbo. When driving with more prudence, the two power systems operate and hand-off duties seamlessly.
Compared to the other 3-series models, the 330e’s starting price of $44,000 is only $1,500 more than the gasoline-only 330i and delivers a much better driving experience. The next rung up is the more powerful 340i but that step up is about $12,000, which makes the 330e feel like a bargain. However, the 330e does not start out with many features and requires pricey packages to get proximity entry, leather seating, adaptive cruise control, and blind-spot detection. Other luxuries are tempting such as the M Sport and Dynamic Handling Package ($4,500) and upgraded headlights which run another $1,000. In all, this example is nearly $60,000.
The BMW 330e offers a lot of car but also requires a lot of money. It’s very good at doing most everyday tasks and provides the feel of luxury in a sporty handling experience, plus it delivers emissions-free around town motoring as well as strong passing power. By equipping the 330e with both power systems, the BMW performance extends into the emission-free zone without losing the gasoline powertrain’s long range and fast refueling conveniences. Considering its low upcharge over the 330i, the 330e arguably delivers the best all-around performance among the whole 3-series family.