Is BMW's 330e the best plug-in hybrid so far?
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BMW’S 330E PROVES THAT THE FUTURE IS VERY BRIGHT INDEED, WRITES CHRIS KNAPMAN
BMW’s 330e is intended to provide enough battery power for daily commuting with the convenience of petrol propulsion for weekend jaunts.
With an official fuel economy figure of 2.1l/100km, and the ability to run on electric power for up to 40km, the BMW 330e is an intriguing proposition.
You only need try an electric toothbrush (preferably your own) to appreciate how battery power can take the effort out of an everyday chore.
The latest versions are so advanced they come with a three-figure price and enough brush heads, speeds and sensitivity settings to cater for all dental needs, whether it’s massaging gums or excavating those gaps at the back where sweetcorn gets stuck.
If you were to consider upcoming environmental legislation as the awkward kernel on the cob that is the automotive industry (and you should), then the petrol-electric plug-in hybrid is the Oral B Ultrasonic that promises to sort it out.
The theory is at least sound: that in one car you get enough battery power to cover your daily commuting needs, along with the convenience of petrol propulsion for weekend jaunts (total range from a full tank and charge is about 600km).
The exact amount of electric-only range depends on the manufacturer, but the consensus seems to be falling around the 40km mark, which is what BMW has adopted for its new 330e.
This car has been a long time coming, BMW having thus far dedicated the majority of its resource surrounding electric propulsion to the i3 and i8 models. But with those now on sale the focus shifts to electrifying others in the range, starting with the X5 SUV, moving through the 3 Series and 2 Series Active Tourer, the 7 Series executive car and eventually everything in between.
The 330e uses a 185kW turbocharged 2-litre petrol engine, along with an eight-speed automatic gearbox, minus the torque convertor.
Mounted within the gearbox, and also driving the rear wheels, is an 65kW electric motor.
It takes its power from a 7.6kWh lithium-ion battery located under the 30mm higher boot floor (luggage capacity is reduced by more than 100 litres).
Assuming there is enough charge, the 330e defaults to pulling away in electric mode, and from that point on power management can either be left up to the car or overridden using an eDrive button located next to the gear-lever.
You can also select maximum power or a battery save function that'll hold charge (or top it up to 50 per cent if needed) until you're in a built-up area.
In full electric mode it will travel up to 100km/h before any internal combusting is required, and offer almost silent running, plus a smooth and strong response off the line.
Limiting the battery to 7.6kWh also means it’s relatively quick to charge (two hours from a dedicated wall box, or three from a domestic socket).
As BMW says in relation to battery capacity, it is not a case of merely considering what is possible, but what makes sense, and lugging around a lot of cells that you rarely use simply doesn’t.
And anyway, it’d be a shame never to get to enjoy the four-cylinder, turbocharged petrol engine, which cuts in unobtrusively and gives a welcome snarl under acceleration as it moves through the automatic gearbox’s eight ratios.
Performance is pretty swift (0-100km/h in 6.1 seconds), with barely any hesitation when you floor the throttle, but carrying around 165kg worth of batteries, motors and other bits and pieces is like having two adults in the boot.
However much engineers might shuffle ancillaries around to give perfect weight distribution, that’s still going to file the sharpest edges off the handling.
In addition, BMW can add itself to the long list of manufacturers who have failed to perfect brake pedal response as it switches between friction and regenerative effort.
This leads to disconcerting feedback and more often than not unexpectedly abrupt stops.
The 330e does ride well enough for BMW not to feel the need to offer adaptive suspension, though.
As corny a conclusion as it might be, the 330e at least proves that future is still very bright indeed.
-Telegraph Group Ltd