BMW 330e Munich-1

Technology usually comes at a price. So, when you get a car loaded with such glitz coming around, entering the market at a price point below that which you’d normally expect to pay because of tax and excise exemptions, you can be pretty sure it’s going to get a lot of attention.

The magic word is of course hybrid. Though the landscape has changed, with things having moved up the scale in recent times, the idea of not having to unnecessarily pay more for a car – especially when it’s not for the car itself – continues to have much appeal, even if current offerings taking advantage of that relief are stratospheric to most.

UPDATE: The BMW 330e iPerformance has been launched in Malaysia. Single Sport line, CKD, RM248,800 OTR without insurance. Launch report here.

The recently-introduced F15 BMW X5 xDrive40e is a good example of value (well, in its particular tier, that is). At RM185k cheaper than its petrol-only xDrive35i sibling and RM194k less than it would have been without exemption, there’s no surprise that buyers shopping in that segment have eagerly snapped it up. So much so, the last we heard, the wait list for one goes well into next year.

Still, the real biggie is that which is coming up, and there’s already quite a bit of a buzz going about in anticipation of its arrival. The car in question is the F30 BMW 330e iPerformance plug-in hybrid, which is scheduled to make its Malaysian debut soon, well ahead of its primary competitor, the W205 Mercedes-Benz C 350 e. We recently sampled the car in Munich to see how it measures up.

BMW 330e Munich-45

Like the X5 hybrid, the visible clues to the 330e’s nature aren’t shouty, and from a distance it looks very much like a regular F30 facelift. No changes in dimensions – it measures in at 4,633 mm long, 1,811 mm wide and 1,429 mm tall, identical to regular 3 Series.

Aside from the variant badging on the rear, the biggest giveaways are the small cutout panel sitting above the front fender on the left side of the vehicle, which happens to be the flap cover of the charging port, as well as eDrive logos adorning the C-pillars.

Underneath the hood, there’s a blue eDrive strip on the engine cover, while inside, it’s left to eDrive lettering on the scuff plates and on a mode selector switch for the hybrid powertrain to tell you what it is, along with the associated readouts within the instrument cluster.

These offer information on the vehicle’s electric and total range, current fuel or electricity consumption and the progress of vehicle charging as well as the level of battery charge available. Elsewhere, the central display screen can show aggregated fuel consumption levels as well as what the system is doing in real time, but that’s about it; everything else looks and feels like a regulation 3er.

The 330e iPerformance’s petrol-electric system is made up of a B48 2.0 litre TwinPower Turbo four-cylinder mill putting out 181 hp at 5,000 to 6,500 rpm and 290 Nm from 1,350 to 4,250 rpm, paired with a synchronous electric motor offering a maximum output of 87 hp at 2,500 rpm (rated output is 60 hp) and 250 Nm from zero to 2,500 rpm. A permanent electric boost function ensures that a constant 100 Nm is always available to provide added accelerative zip.

Working with an eight-speed Steptronic automatic gearbox – with the motor sandwiched between the engine and gearbox in place of a torque converter – to drive the rear wheels, combined system output is 248 hp and 420 Nm. Comparatively, while power output is identical to that on the petrol 330i, there’s more torque, 70 Nm more than the 350 Nm coming off the latter’s B48.

The juice for the electric motor is provided by an refrigerant-cooled, 293 volt lithium-ion battery with a 5.7 kWh net capacity (7.6 kWh gross), flat mounted underneath the luggage compartment floor. The automaker says that the charging time to get the battery to 80% charge capacity takes about 1.6 hours at a rate of 3.7 kW (16 amperes, 230 volt).

It takes two hours and 12 minutes to charge the battery to full from empty via a BMW i Wallbox Level II 240V charger, and around three hours using a domestic wall socket. The 330e comes equipped with its own standard charging cable.

Aside from the regular Driving Experience Control modes (Sport+, Sport, Comfort and Eco Pro), three system operation modes are available here, similar to the X5 hybrid. The default setting is AUTO eDrive, which balances the workload of both the combustion engine and electric motor for propulsion.

Dependent on available charge levels in the battery, the motor can be used for setting off under normal load conditions and can operate in electric mode at up to 80 km/h (slightly higher than the X5’s 70 km/h) before the engine takes over.

The second mode is MAX eDrive, in which the car runs on pure electric power at up to 120 km/h, with the usable range of operation dependent on available level of battery charge. If required, a kick-down on the accelerator pedal switches operation to AUTO eDrive mode to provide full power available from the system.

The last is SAVE Battery mode, which has the car running on engine power alone, enabling the battery’s current level of charge to be replenished via the engine or through energy recuperation, with charge levels topping out at around 50%.

In this mode, if the battery has more than 50% of its energy remaining, the charge level is locked, so that the remaining electric energy can be used when needed (this of course involves switching back to AUTO eDrive). Fifty percent isn’t where it ends; more can be pumped into the battery, but that involves switching to the car’s Sport driving mode. Doing so bumps up the charge level to around 80%, and it’s capped at this percentage.

Key performance figures are a 0-100 km/h time of 6.1 seconds and a 225 km/h top speed (0.3 seconds and 25 km/h slower than the 330i). Like the X5 xDrive40e, the 330e can operate up to 120 km/h in pure EV mode, and electric-only range is rated at around 37 km on a NEDC cycle.

This will certainly be less in real-world conditions, with around 22.5 km being quoted as a more realistic figure. Likewise, the claimed rated consumption, which is 2.1 litres per 100 km combined on a NEDC cycle rating; it’s unlikely owners will ever see something that low.

As expected, there’s a weight and volumetric penalty. The 330e tips the scales at 1,735 kg, which is 190 kg more than the petrol 330i (1,545 kg), and the placement of the battery in the trunk means that boot volume for the car is 370 litres, which is 110 litres less than that available in the regular 3er.

Specification-wise, the demonstrator in Munich was decked out, but isn’t representative of what we’ll be getting. The German mule was a loaded M Sport variant, equipped with an M Aerodynamic package, M Sport brakes and suspension as well as 18-inch star-spoke style 400 M wheels shod with staggered Michelin Pilot Super Sport rubbers. Also on, BMW Individual trim and all the bells and whistles from an electronics point of view.

From what we’re told, the local variant will be more sedate looking type sans M-based kit, and standard equipment for it will include 18-inch five double-V-spoke wheels, an electric sunroof, a Comfort Access system, rear view camera, navigation and HUD as well as Dakota leather seats. We’ll of course have the full run down when the car is launched.

On to the drive assessment, which involved a route running from downtown Munich to Tergernsee and back to Munich airport, a freely-plotted course that ran for more than 340 km in total. Having picked up the 330e from Garching the evening before, we’d begun our EV mode count from then to see what mileage could be gained from a full charge at start, because that was very much going to be a one-off affair.

That single full charge on Auto eDrive was good for just under 22 km of electric-only travel, primarily in urban surroundings. By then, the battery had dropped to a nine percent charge level, at which point the engine took over proceedings. In the interest of preservation, the battery isn’t allowed to deplete completely, the system switching over to the motor and recharging the battery when levels hit the eight percent mark or so.

Charge up times are decently fast, and once the battery gets to about 15% onwards on the move, the system switches back and forth from electric to motorised propulsion depending on applied load and conditions. Meanwhile, an electric compressor ensures that the climate control system isn’t engine dependent.

Again, as noted on the X5, motor and engine integration displayed very good aspects at speed, transitions being seamless. At slower speeds, there were times when things were less coherent, the engine making itself known in quite pronounced fashion that it was coming online.

And, like its SUV sibling, the maximum speed running on MAX eDrive mode was higher than that listed, topping out at a similar 126 km/h reading on the HUD with the pedal well on the floor. You can’t barrel along silently for long, because the charge depletes very quickly at full electric pelt; my brief, less than two-minute highway run started out with a 50% reading and dropped energy levels to around 13% by the end of it.

As for hitting the maximum speed, the car ran comfortably into the 220 km/h mark on the non-speed limited stretches of the Autobahn. Despite the added bulk, and the fact that the tester was carrying three people and luggage for two, the 330e didn’t feel sluggish, and for all intents and purposes will be fast enough for all but the most demanding driver.

BMW 330e Munich-50

Low-end pull is very good, and the extra torque negates the extra weight it has to paddle around compared to something like the 330i, even if it doesn’t feel as pure. Still, such dynamic fluidity aside, the progression up to speed never feels lacking, though it’s strangely devoid of any aural emotion. It might be me, but the B48 sounds somewhat dull in this particular application, even when spanked.

That muted character amplified something else down the line. It could have been the particular set-up, but the same niggles that were observed on the regular 330i were also present here – a rather high-ish level of road and tyre noise that made itself known at highway running speeds. It’s very evident when seated at the back.

Dynamically, there’s nothing to complain about, save a vague, rather ambivalent steering. The 330e itself handles quite well when pushed into corners, with the extra mass at the rear making itself known only in the most ham-fisted moments. A closer look at the local car, without accompanying baggage and personnel, should reveal just how well sorted it actually is. Likewise, ride aspects; all that loading seemed to go very well in making everything on the M Sport downright compliant, almost plush.

The comparison with the Mercedes-Benz C 350 e, which is also slated for these shores (last we heard, late this year or early next), is inevitable. The Mercedes is also very drivable and not far off when it comes to pace, but from what can I remember, isn’t as dynamic in scope and delivery.

It’s also able to carry slightly less in the boot (335 litres), something that didn’t come under direct scrutiny then. As for the BMW’s, it’s just about decent, enough to tote two medium-large bags and a couple of backpacks.

The Merc, however, scores a few nice returns. While the 330e’s system had very capable reaction to load, coping well with progressive acceleration without bringing the motor into play despite lowish battery levels, gauging the threshold of load became a sight affair at times, requiring looking at the indicator on the instrument panel to ascertain things. It would have been nice to have something like the C 350 e’s haptic pedal, which delivers pulse feedback to indicate threshold limits.

The bigger thing concerns the ability of the system to recharge the battery’s capacity. That on the Mercedes – via its Charge mode – can fill its battery pack back to 100% capacity. Whether or not that’s important depends on your perspective and demands of such a system. You can well go on the whole day utilising 50% battery power when it’s most needed, but if you’re the type to always want 100% on your battery scorecard, well, the BMW isn’t it.

In actual use, the fuel consumption returns from the 330e via its OBC turned out to be quite sterling, considering that we’d driven the car hard over many a sector, left it largely running during photos and had hauled along more than 300 kg in it the entire time.

BMW 330e Munich-4

By the time we rolled into Munich airport late in the evening, the average consumption read 7.6 litres per 100 km, having been consistently hovering in the sevens the whole day. You really can’t compare an SUV with a sedan, but here it is, for those who are interested – the X5 managed 8.5 litres per 100 km around Munich last year.

So, how does the BMW 330e shape up in the grand scheme of things? Very nicely, it would seem. Its predecessor, the ActiveHybrid 3, went for RM398,800 (this, with EEV status gaining it duty exemption), a price tag that ensured it wouldn’t pan out commercially.

This one certainly looks like it will, and in a big way. If the estimated RM240k-RM260k price tag – brought about as a result of duty exemptions – holds true, it’ll be nothing short of a bargain, considering its pricing in mature markets (for example, it’s the equivalent of RM218k in Australia), and we all know what people think of bargains now, don’t we?

The BMW 330e iPerformance plug-in hybrid has been launched in Malaysia, in a single Sport Line trim priced at RM248,800 on-the-road without insurance.