One way to make the 2016 BMW 3 Series a little bit better than it already is involves leaving performance unchanged in terms of acceleration and handling, while giving it a boost in terms of fuel efficiency. With the 2016 330e, BMW gives the car’s range an enhancement via an electric motor. There’s also an electric-only range of up to 14 miles before switching to gas.
Otherwise, the experience is mostly standard 3 Series. You get a compact luxury sports sedan with those classic 3 Series looks; except this one has a plug and some unique badging.
That electric motor makes 87 horsepower, and total system output is 248 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque. That more or less lines up with the 328i’s horsepower, but there’s significantly more torque. Power gets to the rear wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission.
The 330e’s turbocharged four-cylinder engine makes 184 horsepower and 215 pound-feet of torque by itself.
So what’s it like to drive a plug-in version of the 3 Series? Does it sacrifice performance for fuel economy? Does it get significantly better fuel mileage? Does it feel heavier with the extra weight (about 500 pounds)?
The performance question is the trickiest to answer. The extra torque is definitely appreciated. The 330e is plenty responsive off the line, and the instant power makes urban driving a breeze, especially when passing or merging.
When it comes to ride and handling, though, you need to pick the right drive mode to get the most out of the 330e. In some cars, the various drive modes don’t seem to have much differentiation, but the 330e’s responses are greatly affected by which mode the driver chooses.
This BMW offers two sets of drive modes: eDrive and Driving Dynamics. The latter controls on-road responses in terms of steering feel, handling and other similar characteristics. These modes are Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and available Sport+.
Most of my time with the car was spent in Comfort mode, and while it provided a nice balance between the more-conservative reactions of Eco Pro and the right-now responses of Sport mode, the 330e didn’t feel quite as performance-oriented as other 3 Series models.
Flipping into Sport changed everything. The car became far more responsive, with the reflexes BMW is known for. It felt even quicker off the line, and the steering feel went from mildly sporty to scalpel-sharp. I had little patience for Eco Pro mode, since it was warm and this particular mode dials back climate-control functions such as air conditioning in a bid to save power and fuel.
Comfort mode felt like the best balance for everyday driving, but it pulls back on the reins more than I expected with a 3 Series. When I was driving in this mode, the car did a nice job seamlessly alternating between electric-only and hybrid operation.
In Sport, both motors are permanently active, which has a negative impact on fuel economy. When driving in this mode, it was clear the enhanced performance was coming with a price.
How the gas and electric motors work together is decided by eDrive, which offers three powertrain modes: Auto eDrive, Max eDrive and Save Battery. Auto eDrive is the default setting, which the car reverts to each startup. It manages the two motors together to optimize performance and fuel efficiency while also allowing an electric-only top speed of 50 mph.
Max eDrive uses electric power only for up 14 miles, with an electric-only top speed of 75 mph. If passing power is needed and the driver depresses the accelerator pedal hard enough, the gas engine can kick on to give the car a boost.
Save Battery has two settings. In one, if the battery’s charge is below 50 percent, it will use the gas engine to charge the battery. For the second setting, if there’s more than 50 percent charge, that level of charge will be, in BMW’s word, “frozen” until later. I spent almost all my time with the car in Auto eDrive mode, as I had no real desire to save charge for later, and the computer is probably better at figuring out what’s best for a given situation than I am.
BMW promises a charge time of six to seven hours using a Level One charger and a conventional household outlet. Charge time is reduced to 2 1/2 hours if you use a Level Two 240-volt charger.
The EPA says the 330e gets the equivalent of 72 mpg when running on electric power, or 31 mpg combined when the gas engine and electric motor are both in use. In comparison, the 2016 328i with an automatic transmission is rated at 27 mpg combined.
Outside of the hybrid powertrain, the 330e is a pretty standard 3 Series, with typical features like iDrive, heated seats and the like.
Opting for the plug-in hybrid version of the 3 Series will you give a car with nice boost in fuel economy and performance. That’s not a bad deal at all, even for a sticker price of $44,695. The BMW 330e is a solid addition to an already strong model lineup.