2021 BMW 330e combines the best of old and new

The grille hasn’t taken over the entire front end of this BMW… yet.


Craig Cole/Roadshow

Like a supermodel with multiple Ph.D.s, plug-in hybrids offer the best of both worlds. They meld the efficiency, refinement and responsiveness of an all-electric powertrain with the quick-refueling and proven performance of internal combustion. By offering decent all-electric range, strong acceleration and admirable efficiency, the 2021 BMW 330e makes a strong case for itself and, more importantly, its entire breed.

Like

  • Appropriately sized grille
  • Well-sorted powertrain
  • Real-world efficiency

Don’t Like

  • More electric range, please
  • Nickel-and-dime options
  • So-so interior

You could argue that plug-in hybrids are nothing more than a stepping stone between the old way (burning dinosaur juice) and a much brighter future (all-electric vehicles), and there’s merit to this. But until battery technology advances and charging infrastructures expand, EVs simply aren’t a viable option for many drivers. Plug-in hybrids bridge this chasm, however, and they often do it very well.

With a foot in each camp, the 330e offers quiet, emissions-free motoring and the ability to go on a cross-country road trip without having to worry about charging. With a 12-kilowatt-hour (9.1-kWh net capacity) lithium-ion battery pack mounted underneath the rear seat, this BMW provides a decent 22 miles of electric-only range. Sure, more would be great, and I wish the 330e offered at least twice that amount, but this is probably enough to get a lot of folks to work in the morning without burning a drop of gasoline. And if your employer hasn’t yet installed vehicle chargers, a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine ensures you can get home after clocking out.

On its own, that four-cylinder engine provides 181 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, which flows to the rear wheels (or the front, too, if you opt for all-wheel drive) through an eight-speed automatic transmission. Beyond that, a separate electric motor provides 107 hp, 77 lb-ft and near-silent operation. Add everything up, and the 330e is endowed with 288 hp and 310 lb-ft of twist, enough for it to hit 60 mph in a claimed 5.6 seconds. And the car feels every bit that quick: Acceleration is sprightly and smooth, all you could really ever need on the street.

Run the 2021 BMW 330e solely on electricity and it should return 75 mpge combined. If you operate this sedan exclusively on the gasoline engine, it should average 28 mpg. In mixed use, taking full advantage of the electric-only range, I’m averaging about 48 mpg, which is pretty damn impressive for a reasonably sporty luxury car.

This powertrain melds the efficiency and responsiveness of an electric motor with the all-season versatility and quick refueling of internal combustion.


Craig Cole/Roadshow

Level 1 charging (hooking the car to a standard, 120-volt household outlet) can take the battery from zero to full in a languid but entirely typical 11.5 hours. A 240-volt Level 2 charger can do the deed in just 3.5 hours. DC fast charging is, unfortunately, not supported. To fully enjoy the 330e and properly take advantage of its electric-only abilities, you really need to install a 240-volt charger in your garage or parking space.

Allowing you to choose how the 330e behaves and manages its energy reserves, several driving modes are offered, including sport, hybrid, electric and adaptive. Each is accessible via a row of buttons on the center console. Hybrid is the default setting, providing a nice blend of efficiency and performance. In this mode, the powertrain is well-sorted, smooth and servile, seamless, blending internal combustion and electric power as dictated by conditions.

Sport delivers greater speed and heightens the car’s reflexes, noticeably stiffening the dampers if you’ve opted for the $1,400 Dynamic Handling Package, which includes an Adaptive M Suspension along with swanky blue calipers for the M Sport brakes and variable sport steering. An XtraBoost function is accessible in sport mode, too, which makes the car noticeably quicker when you nail the accelerator, providing a 40-hp increase for up to 10 seconds.

There’s nothing special about this BMW’s interior. It’s aight.


Craig Cole/Roadshow

When driven in electric mode, the 330e is, predictably, nearly silent. The motor provides decent giddyup on its own and can propel the car to a lofty 87 mph before the engine engages; if you press the accelerator past the kickdown switch, internal combustion commences to provide additional motivation. Take it easy and it’s a piece of cake (preferably with ice cream) to run solely on electric power until the battery is depleted — the performance is that good.

Pivoting away from the 330e’s powertrain, the rest of this car’s dynamics are fine, but hardly magical. If you want an automotive religious experience, you’ll have to look elsewhere as BMW is no longer the standard bearer of driver engagement. This machine’s steering and braking are solid, but they don’t compel you to go corner-carving. The tiller’s nicely weighted and free of kickback or annoying vibrations and the brakes are easy to modulate without giving passengers whiplash every time you roll to a stop. Likewise, the ride quality is quite nice, compliant but well controlled in normal use and significantly stiffer when you switch over to sport mode, though not starchy enough to cause the car to crash over bumps.

If you’re familiar with BMW’s G20-generation 3 Series, which is a few years old at this point, nothing about the 330e’s cabin will surprise you. The interior is spacious and surprisingly comfortable with supportive front chairs and a surprising amount of room in the backseat. Entering and exiting the rear, however, is a bit annoying because of the wide sills you have to step over. This example’s high-end, cognac-colored Vernasca leather (a $1,450 option) looks great and feels even better, though I wish the same could be said about the rest of the interior. No, nothing is blatantly low-buck, but many of the materials are so-so, including the soft plastics, which would look much more at home in a mass-market Honda than they do in this luxury car. The sun visors are also made of a hard polymer that looks and feels pretty objectionable.

BMW’s iDrive 7 infotainment system is speedy and exhaustively full-featured.


Craig Cole/Roadshow

BMW’s iDrive 7 infotainment system is as responsive and quick to boot up as ever, though in my opinion, it’s still not that easy to use, with its drop-down menus and too-many functions. You can interact with this multimedia array by pawing at the standard 10.3-inch central touchscreen or by using the control knob and associated buttons on the center console. Choice is good! This car also comes with a standard 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, which is fine (if, again, not particularly intuitive). Simplifying things, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard equipment. Both smartphone-mirroring systems connect wirelessly for added convenience. 

This 330e is fitted with the $3,800 M Sport trimline, which includes swanky 19-inch wheels, the Shadowline exterior upgrade package and an M steering wheel. This options group also bundles navigation, forward-collision alert and lane-departure warning. On top of that, my tester features the $2,600 Executive Package, which gets you a crisp and useful head-up display, keyless entry, blind-spot monitoring and a heated steering wheel, features that, at this price, should probably be standard. At least BMW’s implementation of these features is unbeatable. Most of the advanced assistance technologies work as advertised and greatly bolster driver confidence. The adaptive cruise control is a perfect example, accurately steering as the road bends, accelerating when traffic clears and alerting you with flashing lights if it loses sight of the lane lines.

This car wears a white paint job, which, along with black, are the only colors BMW doesn’t charge extra for. Other hues, including some much more adventurous ones, cost an additional $550. Fortunately, the 330e hasn’t received the same botched nose job other BMWs have. The car’s twin-kidney grille is still handsome and proportionally sized, a reminder of simpler times and smaller nostrils.

The best part of this sedan is its gasoline-electric powertrain. 


Craig Cole/Roadshow

A rear-drive 2021 BMW 330e kicks off at $45,545 including a sensible $995 in delivery fees. If you want one of these plug-in hybrids with all-wheel drive it’ll set you back an additional two grand. The example evaluated here is pumped up with a few options, but nothing crazy. Accordingly, this 330e checks out for $59,645, though it should be eligible for a federal tax credit of $5,836, which makes it an even better value.

If you want to go electric but still have reservations about making the leap, a plug-in hybrid like this BMW is the perfect solution. Efficient and smooth, easy to drive and pleasantly responsive, the 330e truly is the best of both worlds.

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