The 3 Series family is very much BMW’s staple offering since its introduction back in 1975. Spawned from the much loved “02 Series” the 3 Series carried on the brand’s motorsports efforts in touring cars throughout the 80’s, 90’s and noughties. Some manufacturers do motorsport by means of marketing, whereas BMW sees this as an opportunity to develop and improve its latest products in the heat of competition in one way or another.
BMW is and still a motorsports brand, applying to whatever that is learnt in racing be it winning or retirement to further improve their products. They have been doing this since the 70’s and still very much involved in the sport until this day. Of course, the cars express this vividly and I think current BMW owners can attest to the progressive driving dynamics, day-to-day practicality, hassle and tear-free user experience and top of the shelf refinement.
Not everything that excites has to look like a space ship with outboard laser cannons and ridiculously large wings, which the current F30 Plug-in Hybrid 330e is more like a Braun wristwatch; straight to the point and functional. BMW Exterior Designer Christopher Weil’s confident strokes set in metal permanently with expressive dynamism, which doesn’t stray too far away from the recognisable 3er’s compact proportions.
Unlike the models under the 330e, the Plug-in Hybrid 3er comes with the M Sport aero kit with front and rear bumpers and side skirts painted in body colour, adding a pinch of flair. One way to tell apart from other 320is equipped with the same M Aerodynamic kit are subtle ‘eDrive’ badges on the C pillars, ‘330e’ nameplate and a charging port door located on the left side fender.
You may be thinking that this is quite a conservative looking car and you’re right. However, the equipment fitted isn’t; flanking the signature kidney grilles are fully LED light cluster, front LED foglights, and full LED rear light clusters including fog lamps, exterior and interior mirrors with automatic anti-dazzle function so any annoying high-beam glare from behind won’t be a problem anymore, and rain sensor with automatic activation control for windscreen wipers won’t have you second guessing on how fast your wipers need to be when driving in the rain. Also, not forgetting an electric glass sunroof thrown in as standard.
The 330e rides on 18-inch M Light alloy wheels finished in Ferric Grey with slightly staggered sizes of 8J X 18 and 8½ J X 18 wheels, wrapped in 225/40 R18 and 255/R40 R18 Pirelli Cinturato tyres respectively.
The level of luxury of the F30 moved up a notch. A BMW core value, the drive-centric cockpit is more emphasised and is angled towards the driver by seven degrees. The materials used inside resemble the ones used in the 5 Series sedan giving it a much more grown up and refined atmosphere than the older E90.
Practical, spacious and sensible, you won’t find large LCD screens here instead the latest tech that is intuitively integrated into a rather conservative interior design, but that said, there are plenty of interesting features waiting to be discovered.
Like in most new BMWs, the 330e has a conservatively laid out dashboard assembled with a combination of hard- and soft-touch materials. On top of that, the Aluminium Hexagon interior with matte blue highlights trim does serve as a good visual presence from the plastics and animal skin.
Of course, all of the buttons and switches are within reach, and with good tactile feel. Most of the interior controls are located where you would expect them to be. BMW has taken a completely different route when it comes to interactivity; there are no large honking touchscreens screens to be found here. Hot keys, switches and dials need a physical touch in order to operate them, which is great if functionality and simplicity is your thing.
The F30 provides passengers with plenty plush and support. The 8-way power adjustable Dakota leather with white contrast stitch seats are a joy to sit in, they fit me well and snuggly without being able to feel the side bolsters, which are power adjustable depending to suit your body. That said they do provide genuine support when the going gets spirited. Also, there’s a manually retractable thigh support for drivers with long legs – one of my most liked features.
When it comes to ergonomics, BMW always gets it right; the 330e allows a wide range of adjustability from its seats and steering wheel. And regardless on how the driver sits, there’s plenty of visibility ahead and around, even with the centre iDrive LCD screen doesn’t get in the way, especially for drivers – like myself – who prefer the proper low down racecar driving position.
As for the rear passengers rest assured that the level of comfort and support is very much similar to the front seats. There’s decent head and knee room, so rear occupant space isn’t much of an issue thanks to its larger dimensions allowing an additional 18mm of extra legroom and 8mm extra headroom. Also there is a retractable armrest for additional comfort on long distance journeys.
There are three 3-point seatbelts at the rear and ISOFIX guided anchor points as well. When it comes to getting cool air, the people sitting at the back won’t be neglected at all. They can set the intensity of the airflow and decide how cold or warm depending on their consensus.
There’s a screen in the middle of the dashboard but its not a large one; the 8.8-inch display monitor relays clear and crisp visuals of the BMW iDrive menu interface and navigation system. What’s under the hood of the 330e’s dashboard is a DVD drive, hard disk for maps and audio data with MP3 decoder.This also includes BMW iDrive Touch Controller with direct menu control buttons, eight-function bookmarks and 2-tuner reception.
With the Internet of Things now very much part of our everyday lives, BMW ConnectedDrive is able to leverage the power of the internet allowing access to services including Intelligent Emergency Call that connects directly to BMW’s call centre with location and details for deployment of emergency services, Teleservices, Concierge Services and Remote Services.
There’s also Wiki Local to provide interesting factoids on the locations you’ve passed while on the road. If mainstream radio isn’t your thing, there are Bluetooth and USB devices with smartphone connectivity streaming your favourite playlists and podcasts without any distortion of hiccups.
Sound reproduction comes from Harman Kardon supplied surround sound system with 9 speakers with DSP multichannel amplifier with an output up to 205 watts. With the equalisation and other sound settings in default, the Harman Kardon system reproduces Lossless 64kHz FLAC files faithfully and easily handles hard hitting sounds with none of any of the interior panels rattling their way to oblivion. Vocals are clear, the treble crisp and the bass are impactful, all without overpowering one another, playing movie soundtracks with plenty of detail and well balanced. 205W may sound a little lightweight, but adequate for a car this size.
The 330e comes fitted with the 2.0-litre B4B four-cylinder turbocharged engine, similarly found in more powerful MINI Cooper S variants, but what’s different is that the engine is positioned longitudinally and is attached to an electric motor.
What is unique about the B4B uses a long stroke design, and the block and cylinder head is made from aluminium. The 2.0-litre mill boasts a twin-scroll turbocharger for instantaneous throttle response, direct injection, variable valve lift (Valvetronic) and variable valve timing (Double Vanos). The power output from the engine alone is quite impressive for an engine this size; 184hp at 6,500 rpm and flat maximum torque output of 290Nm from 1,350 to 4,250 rpm.
PHEVs should be able to drive solely on electric over 20kms or more, which the electric motor grafted to the fossil powered engine, makes 65kW (87hp) at 2,500rpm and with a near-matching 250Nm of torque available from 0 to 2,500rpm. With both engine and electric motor working in unison, the total system output is 252hp at 5,000rpm and 420Nm of torque available from 0 to 2,500rpm. That’s a shade close to the maximum output of bigger G30 5 Series with 70 more torques.
Mated to that is an 8-speed Steptronic automatic transmission supplied by ZF, which is one of the best auto gearboxes ever existed. Gearshifts are smooth and seamless with shift times of 200 milliseconds. Additionally, the eight-speed auto gearbox has the ability to shift in a non-sequential manner – dropping from 8 to 2 is possible in extreme conditions. With this many gears, the main aim is to achieve fuel economy; on paper, the 330e is able go as low 2.1 L/100km, however as tested, a much lower 1.8 L/100km figure was recorded.
Despite grown slightly in size, the 330e isn’t a difficult car to get around. With its driver oriented cockpit, no matter how high or low the driver sits, there’s no problems in looking out and around with minimal blind spots. Even navigating through the tight multi-storey parking complexes and housing areas designed around cars of the 1980’s is not a problem either thanks to ultrasonic sensors that warn you with audio cues and visual feedback of your immediate surrounding.
If you’re not too confident in your parking skills, or just being plain lazy, the 330e can very much park by its own; the same ultra sonic sensors ‘sniff’ out for available spaces at speeds below 35 km/h. Once the car finds the right spot, simply follow the simple instructions and you’ll be able to park hands-free, and can be overridden at any time. When backing out from a parking spot, Crossing Traffic Warning and Rear Collision Warning does its job competently especially in busy streets.
On Malaysian roads, the 330e provides a plush ride in COMFORT and ECO PRO drive modes with minimal road and wind noise at speeds under 160km/h, which you’ll get there even without even noticing.
There are three Hybrid modes to choose: eDrive, Max eDrive and Save. eDrive allows the hybrid powertrain and batteries to work in their own accord, Max eDrive provides electric-only propulsion up to 120km/h before the engine kicks into life, and Save allows preservation and power regeneration while driving – the higher the speed, the higher the hybrid energy regen.
The hybrid system’s protocol puts fuel efficiency as paramount unlike its main rival, which regardless of stopping at the traffic lights or stuck in heavy traffic, the engine stays dormant in eDrive and Max eDrive, whereas the engine provides drive on demand in Save mode, conserving fuel and a lot more friendlier to use.
With the revised adaptive dampers, the hybrid F30 rides with poise with a sophisticated sense of isolation from the road beneath. Potholes and crevices still can be felt with the Sport mode’s sterner settings and large 18-inch wheels, yet each vibration is generally made to be remarkably distant.
The variable Servotronic steering is light and direct, making navigation around junctions and U-turns without much effort from the driver. The switchgear like the wiper and signal stalks are easy to reach and operate. Finally, the signal stalk holds its position unlike the ones in older BMW models that returns to centre even when it’s on. And, with the variable sport steering ensures less physical effort required to turn the wheel at any speed with precision and agility through shape bends and corners.
With decades of motorsport experience, BMW cars benefit directly from many years of racing campaigns and championships. And, when it comes to performance the 330e doesn’t lack any. Weighing close to 1.5-tonnes, the PHEV 330e is able to sprint to a hundred from standstill in just 6.1 seconds a number achievable by most hot hatches and tops out at 225km/h on paper and as tested in the real world, the 330e manages to get there pretty quickly!
The eight ratios are well spaced out to complement the hybrid powertrain’s low and broad torque band with a motive force feels of a large capacity six-cylinder engine in past, and to get up to speed quickly, engaging Sport allows a more sensitive throttle and holds the gear for much longer.
In Manual shift mode, switching between ratios can be done via the shift lever or the paddle shifters behind the steering wheel or via the gear selector, and in the most extreme drive mode, the gear changes are much more quicker especially on the downshifts. There are no shift lights here, but if you do get tunnel vision, the transmission steps in and shifts to the next gear without any hesitation, feeling almost natural, moving into the next cog as the engine crescendos nearing the rev limit.
The 330e performance capabilities shine on the wide and smooth flowing ribbon of tarmac which moving from Comfort to Sport mode is very much a must. There’s a lot more body control in the latter most drive mode is essential of maximising the Pirelli Cinturatos immense dry grip through the switchbacks which surprisingly reserves a pinch of comfort from the suspension even in its most hardcore Sport + drive mode.
The steering feels rich and crisp away from centre with genuine feedback from the front tyres without feeling overly weighted and unhinged. The 330e is benignly balanced, and the chassis’ goodness is made fully exploitable by the crisp steering rack with plenty of mechanical grip at the rear axle, especially when driven spiritedly at high cornering speeds.
The 330e is a complete car and has everything you need for the daily; the interior is spacious and very well thought of with a solid build quality without corners being cut. The seats feel great to sit and the ergonomics is well sorted easily catering to different body types. Basically everything in this car is user friendly without the need for mental gymnastics to figure things out.
And of course, driving is second to none in all BMWs, and the 330e M Sport provides loads of driving fun. Ride is poised and hits the right balance between comfort and body control with a meaty steering rack are the right components for an engaging driving experience with the fuel efficiency of an A Segment car and the performance of a large six-cylinder engine. Fuel efficiency and outright performance is no longer an oxymoron in the 330e. With a total of RM130,000 carved out from its recommended incentivised retail price without insurance of just RM258,800 is very much worth it.
+ Premium atmosphere
+ Solid build quality
+ Unfussy infotainment system
+ Powerful audio system
+ Easy and engaging to drive
+ Extremely frugal fuel consumption
BMW 330e M Sport
Price Msia: RM258,800.00
Engine: 1,998 cc Turbocharged Four-Cylinder
Fuel Economy: 1.8 l/100km (Tested)
Transmission: 8-Speed Steptronic Automatic