Compromise—a word not even lawmakers in Washington like. Inherent to the concept is a concession; you give up something you want in exchange for something you desire even more. Regardless of the nature of the trade, it can be tough to deal with. Just a few years ago, hybrid cars came with a lot of compromises: Their drive wasn’t great, and their looks were quirky and different. But their fuel economy and low CO2 emissions eventually made them popular. In the past five years, however, things have changed. Hybrids have started to look similar to regular cars, and they’re delivering even better efficiency numbers; they’ve even improved their driving dynamics to deliver a fun experience at the wheel. (Heck, we’ll soon have a plug-in Ferrari.)
BMW is not behind the curve. Its i division is responsible for the all-electric i3 and hybrid i8, and the brand plans to have 25 electrified models on the road by 2023. One of those models is the 2020 BMW 330e, the 3 Series plug-in hybrid based on the new G20 platform. It looks just like the standard 330i, and it requires very little compromise (the U.S. spec model will appear as the 2021 BMW 330e)
If not for its charging port next to the driver’s door, it would be easy to confuse this electrified variant for the pure internal combustion model. Unlike the previous 330e, there are no blue kidney grilles, no blue surround on the wheels, and no badges that identify this car as a hybrid. And that was on purpose. BMW likes the idea of having a hybrid that doesn’t look like a hybrid, where the driver doesn’t have to give up the looks to get a fuel-efficient model. That’s exactly the case with the 2020 BMW 330e.
Things could not be more different under the hood and sheetmetal, though. All 330e units will be powered by a 2.0-liter turbo-four making 184 hp married to a 113-hp electric motor for a combined output of 252 hp, just shy of the regular 330i’s 255 hp. But the plug-in magic doesn’t stop there; the electrified sedan can release 41 additional horses when driving in standard XtraBoost mode, increasing the combined output to 292 hp. No compromise here.
The hybrid model’s additional power translates to a 5.9-second 0–62 run, according to BMW tests. In our own testing, the internal combustion 330i ran from 0 to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds. If you’re a fan of speed, the hybrid can get all the way up to 143 mph; the 330i can do 155 mph with the optional performance tires (otherwise it gets to 130 mph).
And the magic continues. The U.S. model should get about 30 miles of electric range. That’s more than double the range of the previous-gen 330e. Although the 2020 330e’s all-electric range has been rated in Europe at 66 km (41 miles), BMW said a more realistic number is 60 km (37 miles). Translate that to American certification numbers, and we’re probably looking at something just north of 30 miles of all-electric driving. Not bad. And while you’re driving in pure EV mode, you can reach speeds of up to 87 mph.
It’s also too early for EPA fuel economy ratings, but expect its numbers to be above the 2018 330e, which delivered 71 mpg-e combined.
As in politics and relationships, the 330e does require some compromises. But there’s not a lot of giving up. The car weights about 440 pounds more than the regular 3 Series (the battery weighs about 330 pounds, and other components add 110 pounds), it will have a higher price, and there’s less cargo room because the 12-kW-hr battery is under the rear seat (and the gas tank is now above the rear axle). The good news is that the trunk is the only place where space was sacrificed, and part of the cargo floor can be lowered to fit in a golf bag. The bad news is that cargo room went from the 330i’s 17 cubic feet down to 13.2 cubes.
Also, BMW says the 12-kW-hr battery will charge to 80 percent in about two and a half hours when it’s connected to a 220-volt charger; expect three and a half hours for a regular 110-volt. Even if you leave it on a charger all night, the battery will still only be charged to 80 percent (10.4 kW-hr); engineers are leaving the other 20 percent for “green energy” charging, meaning brake regen, downhill cruising, etc.
The 330e is also packed with technology that thinks green. Hybrid mode works with the built-in navigation to come up with a route that will maximize its hybrid abilities based on the geography and traffic. Using geofencing technology, the 330e will also automatically switch to all electric when driving through “green zones,” emissions-free areas in some European cities where only electric cars are allowed.
Whether we were driving with Auto, Hybrid, or Electric mode on the twisty, hilly roads outside of Munich, the ride was pleasant, but the added weight is noticeable. The car feels heavier than the regular 330i and more planted in tight corners. I was particularly impressed by how smoothly the battery and engine work together; you don’t really notice when the engine is taking over or has turned on. The 330e can also be very quiet, which is quite a difference compared with the 330i.
But switch to Sport mode or XtraBoost, and the 330e turns into an angrier machine. With XtraBoost, the 330e releases its additional 41 electric horses for 10 seconds, launching the car with force and letting a powerful exhaust note into the cabin. The quiet car we had just driven a few feet back turned into a sport sedan that delivered instant power to the wheels. It takes the corners with agility and delivers a pretty fun experience at the wheel. The steering becomes a bit more rigid in Sport or XtraBoost, and you’ll see different graphics on the instrument panel, with the display turning red. It’s a bizarre feeling switching to XtraBoost: The 330e has a different character and becomes un-hybrid for a moment, feeling closer to an M Sport car.
Selecting the driving mode is easy. Each mode is clearly labeled next to the shifter. Press the Sport mode button twice to get to XtraBoost. It still offers paddle shifters, and the M Sport package will be available in the U.S.
Part of that fun experience at the wheel is because the 330e is only available as rear-drive (for now). BMW hasn’t made a decision on whether it will make an xDrive version, but because Americans tend to like all-wheel-drive sedans, there’s a chance we might see that on our shores next year; the 330e will arrive to the U.S. for the 2021 model year.
We still don’t know how much more the plug-in hybrid will cost over the 330i, and that will probably be the biggest compromise consumers will have to make. But when you look at how much money you’ll save on gas without significant sacrifices to performance, looks, or interior space, the compromise might be no compromise at all.
The post 2020 BMW 330e Euro-Spec Review—Driving the Un-Hybrid appeared first on MotorTrend.