2021 BMW 330e Sedan review by Ben Lewis
We recently tested the Audi Q5 PHEV Plug-in hybrid, and found it gave near the performance of the pricier SQ5, with a price and efficiency closer to the base Q5 – especially when the federal and state tax breaks were added in.
So, we were equally excited to driver the BMW 330e – the 3-series sport sedan with plug-in hybrid powertrain. While the previous gen had a similar version, the 2021 features the all-new 3-series that came out a couple years ago. Was this another plug-in we could love more than a gas-powered car?
BMWs tend to be evolutionary by design, so not only is the 330e quite similar to the non-e variants that have been with us for a couple years, but it is familiar to the previous model. That’s not bad, as BMW has polished the design into something that’s handsome but not outlandish.
While other BMWs have gone for monstrous nostril-like grilles, the 3-series are prominent but proportionate. Helping sell the look, our tester was an M-Sport, which adds larger cooling ducts to the fascia. Combined with adaptive LED headlights and a cool LED signature line, the front looks sporty and aggressive.
The profile continues the theme, with a sharp cutaway in the lower door panel that creates some visual excitement and pairs delightfully with the 19-inch M Sport alloy wheels that just give off an air of capability.
At the rear is the new slim-design LED taillight shape we first noted on the M235i Gran Coupe, and it adds a bit of tightness and space. The M-Sport lower fascia looks especially sporty with the dual exhaust pipes poking out. We were also very pleased with the classic BMW Alpine White color on our tester. BMWs just always seem to look great in white.
Sport, Luxury and Tech.
Inside, the 3 series is modern BMW, which is to say stylish, high quality with a definite sporting intent. Opening the door on our tester and the first thing that captures the eye is the rich color of the optional Cognac Vernasca Leather – a perfect contrast to the Alpine White exterior.
Rich is an apt description here. All 330e models feature power front sport seats, a sport leather multi-function steering wheel, fine wood trim with Ash Grey-Brown high gloss finishers. Being an M Sport, our tester also enjoyed a sensaTec covered dashboard, aluminum trim, and a heated M Sport Steering wheel. You are surrounded by the good stuff.
The gauge display is familiar. It must be – we’re getting used to the counter-clockwise tachometer display! To meet the needs of the e model, the hybrid-specific instrument cluster also displays electric motor output, charge status, and full-electric or combined driving ranges. Being a plug-in hybrid with a gas engine, you don’t get the range anxiety of an EV, but it’s still nice to be informed.
Keeping you in the loop is the info-tainment display, with a handsome 10.25-inch screen. Access is through the iDrive system with large rotary control knob and touchpad controller, and it works extremely well, with Navi, and Apple CarPlay, which is now standard. Available wireless charging and wireless Apple CarPlay mean having to plug in is a thing of the past. The 10-speaker, 205-watt sound system pumped in fine sound as well.
Those in the rear get very comfortable adult-size space, and we were pleased to find a split-folding rear seat, great for larger items. No power trunk lid, but it does have a remote open and it’s feather light to open and close, so no big deal there. With the battery part of the hybrid system and the large tote that holds the home charger stuff, the trunk area is notably smaller than the non-hybrid 3-series, though.
The drive is the big persuader that you won’t miss that trunk space. Under the hood is BMW’s familiar turbo 4-cylinder 2.0-liter, that pumps out 181 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. of torque. It’s a lovely smooth engine that punts the 3-series (and many other BWM’s) along quite happily. That little e on the badge changes things, with an electric motor that kicks in 107 horses and 77 lb.-ft. of torque, for a combined maximum of 288 horsepower and 310 lb.-ft. of torque with Xtraboost.
Xtraboost, you say? A new feature for the 330e, in Sport mode, you can dial up and extra 40 horsepower for up to 10 seconds. Electric afterburners! And honestly once you’ve savored that extra oomph, you’ll be addicted to it – it changes the quickish model to fast, with a slight growl from the 4-cylinder making it even more fun.
Ok, for those into the numbers, on a full charge you can go full EV mode for abut 22 miles, and the 330e can also run in full EV mode up to 87 mph. BMW says in Xtraboost, you’ll get 0-60 in 5.6 seconds. We think they’re being a little conservative, it actually feels faster than that.
Serving up the power is BMW’s familiar 8-speed automatic, and it’s great at rifling off quick shifts in Sport mode, and generating a fun driving experience. We did find it got occasionally flustered when we were toggling between Sport and other modes. Easy fix – stay in Sport.
Handling is excellent, too and while you might feel that extra weight of the battery pack, the chassis feels exceptionally balanced, the steering is precise – and it seems each iteration, the feel does get better – and the ride has a nice range from supple in standard mode, to firm but not harsh in Sport.
Driving the 330e reminds us of a typical BMW trait – the more you drive it, the more it reveals. When we drove the Audi Q5 Plug-in Hybrid, it seemed determined to win you over in the first 30 seconds, which is probably helpful to salespeople on the test drive.
The 330e has more depth – oh it’s nice from the start, but the further you go, the more you appreciate the tasty little details – the little bits of feedback that comes to the driver, that satisfying feel of being in something special.
Well, yes and no. Like the Audi Q5, what starts out as pricey comes down with available Federal and State rebates. Your most basic BMW 3-series sedan now starts at $41,450. So, if you look at the 330e base price of $44,550, it’s a no brainer to pop for the extra power. And if you qualify for the $7,500 fed rebate – winner, winner, PHEV dinner!
Our tester took advantage of that possible windfall by adding some tasty side dishes, including the Cognac Vernasca Leather ($1,450), Dynamic Handling Package ($1,400), Driver Assistance Package ($1,700), M Sport Package ($3,800), Parking Assistance Package ($700), Executive Package ($2,800), Ambient Lighting ($280), and Wireless Charging ($500). Add in $995 for delivery and we rang the bell at $57,495.
Competition would include the BMW M340i comparably equipped comes at $58,795. Without the rebate we jump for the legendary and exhilarating 6-cylinder of the 340i. But when you’re talking $7,500 less for the 330e with a rebate, that would be tough. Too close to call. Drive ‘em both and decide.
The other car that kept popping up in our subconscious was the Kia Stinger GT2 V6 we tested. Loaded at $53,100 it was an amazing performance sedan. Why no one will look at you cross-eyed for buying a BMW 3-series, dropping over $50 large on Kia may be a challenge. Perhaps a choice for the brave, but we say drive it before you snub it. You’ll love it.
With the 330e, we have another reason not to fear the impending electrification of enthusiast cars.
Fast, efficient, thrilling to drive, and with all that BMW goodness we have come to love, the 2021 BMW 330e Plug-in Hybrid is a great driver’s car – and points to an exciting future for the brand.
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.