BMW 330e PHEV: the best of both worlds

Observer writer

Friday, April 27, 2018

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FOR those of the purists who champion the internal combustion engine and proponents of electric-powered vehicles, the 2018 BMW 330e PHEV offers the best of both worlds.

On the outside, the 330e looks no different from the average 3-series sedan. The model Auto tested came with the optional M Sport package, which may seem contradictory to 'marry' high-performance and efficiency; but once behind the wheel, the picture comes together beautifully.

This option means a revised front, featuring gloss black versions of BMW's signature kidney grilles, and a deeper front bumper with integrated fog lamps. In the back, there's a lower diffuser under the rear bumper. The larger 19-inch wheel package does its best to hide the massive front brake rotors and matching blue calipers. M badging on the exterior is limited to the fender flanks. In all, it's an aggressive-looking sports sedan.

However, BMW aficionados will quickly notice attached beside the Hofmeister kink at the c-pillar is a small badge, eDrive. This space is usually left blank or reserved for very important designations throughout the brand's history. The next is an extra flap on the left fender.

Inside, the 3-series once again benefits from the M Sport upgrades with electric sports seats, cool metallic trim, and accents everywhere. Much like the outside, the subtle hints to the 330e's true function are abound in the blue fabric colour, blue stitching, and its hexagonal pattern. Sitting at the base of the transmission shroud is a button marked eDrive. The rest of the interior is premium BMW with sunroof, buttons that control all the automated functions, and the wonderful iDrive infotainment system that allows plenty of customisation and connectivity.

Fire up the 330e and you hear nothing. The expected BMW turbo growl is nowhere to be heard. Step on the accelerator pedal and the silence continues despite instant forward movement. That's when the car begins to reveal itself — the E being for electric. The 330e is a Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV), combining a two-litre TwinPower Turbo engine with an electric motor. Individually, they make 180bhp and 87bhp, respectively. Together they make 248bhp and 309lb/ft of torque. However, it's not about the numbers, it's about on the road performance. Both motors operate seamlessly, assisting each other in different ways depend on the drive mode. The 330e uses the electric motor for instant starts and low-throttle applications. Aggressive acceleration brings them together for explosive low- and mid-range power as the electric motors fills in any gaps in the turbocharger's delivery.

At high speeds the engine recharges the electric motor or they are both put into use. While recharging at maximum attack is fun, it could put one's license in jeopardy, thus the P side of the HEV acronym. Plugged into a standard 120-volt system, 100 per cent battery power can be restored in six to seven hours, or basically overnight. Increase to 240-volts and that time drops to two-and-a-half hours.

The addition of the electric power train hasn't hampered the driving dynamics. The BMW cruises in pure silence with 14 miles of range up to 75mph on a full charge making daily traffic an ease. Even on fuel, the 330e can return 29mpg.

Pushed to its performance limits, the 330e still handles extremely well; the extra weight of the trunk-mounted battery giving the rear-wheels a bit of extra grip and an on-the-limit sense of stability that models equipped with the stiffer M Sport suspension tend not to have when faced with rougher roads. The bigger brakes also help in control, because BMW has opted for friction-based energy recuperation — the heat during braking is converted into electricity — rather than traditional regenerative braking, where the rotational inertia of the brakes is used to recharge the battery. Thus, the brakes operate like standard.

Ultimately, the 330e is a set of functioning contradictions to those unsure of electrification. It's as fast as it is efficient, as engaging and addictive to drive, and can simply be forgotten as reliable daily transport. For those within its 14-mile electric range, this means little or no fuel can be used for commutes, especially given that charging can be done during traditional work and home hours.

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