The best buy in the BMW 3 Series range has an electric flavour

German car giant delivers plug-in models to rival anything already on the market

Make: BMW

Model: 3-Series

Year: 2016

Fuel: Hybrid

Date Reviewed: October 6, 2016

Wed, Oct 12, 2016, 07:10

   

I’m sure there are new cars on sale that don’t come with an extension cord. It’s just that in the past few weeks every car I’ve tested is part old-school combustion engine, part new-age battery pack. This combination represents the most practical bridge to the future and as such the volume of new models offering a mix of electric power and regular engines is testament to the direction the motoring world is going.

Particularly in the premium segment, it seems that by the end of 2017 most models will offer the option of a so-called PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle).

After several years of sitting on the fence in the electric debate, it’s hard to think of any firm that doesn’t have a plug-in car – in some format – either due for production or in the planning stages.

During presentations at the recent Paris Motor show, each car firm presented electric concept cars; then tried to outdo each other in terms of promises as to the distance attainable on a single charge.

The show started with VW’s ID concept promising an impressive range of 400km on a single charge. By lunchtime Renault was promising 500km and there was mention of 600km at one stand by early afternoon.

Given that most electric cars – with the exception of Tesla – struggle to achieve anything over 120km on a charge, those are remarkably impressive targets. All the more so when you consider the promises were that these cars would all be on our roads by 2020.

Maybe I’ve been party to too many false dawns for the electric car age, but I reckon a few of those concepts will fail to make it onto forecourts within the next four years.

Added reassurance

Despite assurances that the average commute for an Irish motorist is only fraction of the achievable range per charge, opting for an electric-only car simply isn’t on the cards. The sales figures show that Irish buyers aren’t biting.

Where there is an evident consumer interest is in plug-in hybrids that let you run them on full electric for distances up to 50km but with the added reassurance of a regular combustion engine should you need to complete a much longer distance.

So we come to this latest offering from BMW: a plug-in 3 Series and a similarly powered BMW 2 Series Active Tourer, the premium brand’s answer to the people carrier.

First to the 2 Series. BMW is a little late to the party when it comes to practical family motoring. Indeed, the party has moved on to crossovers and urban SUVs: that’s where family buyers are focussed these days.

Nevertheless this practical premium high-roofed hatchback is the latest BMW to be offered with a plug and lead. The car itself is smart and functional, and the same as the 2 Series Active Tourers we’ve reviewed in the past.

It arrives alongside the very impressive BMW 330e, a PHEV version of the popular 3 Series.

Both are fitted with the same 65Kw (88bhp) electric motor and battery pack. Electric power feeds into the rear-wheels of both. A full charge takes three hours 15 minutes and gives you a range of up to 41km on full electric power up to speeds of 125km/h.

On the 2 Series the regular combustion engine is a three-cylinder 1.5-litre 136bhp petrol engine driving the front wheels, while on the 3 Series it’s a 2-litre 184bhp petrol engine driving the rear wheels.

Both cars also garner battery charge from the usual recuperation methods used by hybrids, such as brake energy. With apologies to the engineers who have developed these complex hybrid recuperation systems, it is a little similar to the traditional dynamo on a bicycle.

The end result is a pair of cars delivering official emissions levels of less than 46g/km, claiming average fuel economy ratings of close to 1.9 l/100km (148mpg) and qualifying for government grants of the order of €7,500.

Suddenly even the most ardent petrolhead has to sit up and take notice.

In terms of the 2 Series Active Tourer, prices start at €49,440 but after the grants kick in the final cost is a more reasonable €41,940. To put it in perspective, that’s just a few hundred euros more than the 218d version of the same car.

Premium finish

The real star, however is the 330e, starting at €40,180 for the SE version. That’s less than the price of a 320i SE petrol or a 318d SE diesel. Yet you get far punchier performance with a combined petrol-electric output of 255bhp from the 330e. Compare that to 150bhp from the 318 diesel.

The 330e also delivers a 0-100km/h time of 6.1 seconds, compared to 8.6 seconds for the diesel equivalent or 7.2 seconds for the 320i petrol.

You also get the 41km commute on an electric charge, which means your daily commute should be fossil-fuel free, and an annual motor tax bill of just €170.

I enjoyed driving both on electric mode, and I’ve always had a soft spot for the 2 Series Active Tourer, but more so the seven-seat Grand Tourer version. It’s that mix of family functionality with proper premium finish that has been missing on many people carriers to date.

However, it pales in comparison to the 330e. If you are looking for a 3 Series I can’t see why you would look any further than this variant, unless you have the financial wherewithal to opt for the M3.

On the road you get noticeably better acceleration, while even the added weight of the motor and battery pack seems to add something to the car’s dynamics. The ride is a little firmer than we are used to from the 3 Series range but overall this car offers the ideal balance.

True, I would find it hard to believe the average Irish motorist could achieve the claimed 1.9 l/100km from this car, even in the most eco-friendly mode. And if your daily commute is cross-country then you are not going to reap the electric rewards. However, for the vast majority of 3 Series customers – or potential ones – the 330e seems like a no brainer.

While we await the arrival of the all-electric cars capable of getting us from Cork to Letterkenny and back on a single charge, the PHEVs seem the most sensible solution and in the form of the 330e offer the sort of performance and price that’s hard to argue against.

Lowdown: BMW 330e

Powertrain: 1998cc four-cylinder petrol engine combined with a 65kw (88bhp) electric motor putting out a total of 255bhp.

Electric-only range: 41km (25 miles)

Fuel economy: 1.9 l/100km (148.7 mpg)

Price: €40,180 for SE version (after grants); €44,210 for M Sport version

Verdict:

If you are in the market for a 3 Series, it’s hard to think why you would buy anything else