While electrics may never be as sexy to paddle as twin-scroll turbo, the electrification of vehicle powertrain is a key piece of puzzle in the containment (and hopefully reduction) of greenhouse gases. But ‘eco’ has always been a tough sell next to the more illustrious internal combustion engine. Simply put, not many are willing to pay more and live with ‘compromises’, particularly when oil is cheap.
With its brand cache and a history steeped in performance, BMW has as good a chance as any to assimilate consumers on the goodness of electrics. And if you haven’t noticed, the brand been busy reinventing itself, wagering a calculated path to the future with electrification as its centerpiece. The expanding range of iPerformance plug-in models is testament to this, and in the 330e, BMW’s most important and best-selling sedan gets in on the act. So yeah, they really do mean business.
Not merely a hybrid, but a plug-in hybrid
In the US and many parts of Europe, hybrid vehicles that can be charged by an external electrical source (hence the reference of ‘plug-in’) qualify for rebates and tax incentives. In theory, a plug-in is essentially the halfway house between a hybrid and a full electric vehicle (EV). It usually has a battery pack large enough to sustain zero emission drive for a respectable range of between 30km to 50km, and travel at a speed of around 100km/h. Here’s what the BMW 330e is capable of:
Electric range (EU cycle): 37km (revised from 40km to reflect local specs)
Top speed (electric only): 120km/h
Battery capacity: 5.7kWh (net usable); 7.6kWh (gross)
Fuel consumption: 47.6km/l or 2.1L/100km
While raw numbers indicate that the 330e is capable of a distance up to 40km on pure EV mode, real-world achievement is likely less when you have air-conditioning or heater on, even so, the EV range is not to be belittled for a current-generation Toyota Camry Hybrid can only manage 2km to 3km, with a max EV speed of 40km/h. As with most hybrids, the 330e’s fuel efficiency numbers are off the charts due to testing cycles that are particularly sympathetic to plug-ins (e.g. air-con is turned off, short test distances, usually simulated on rollers), so you’ll have to take the claimed 47.6km/l or 2.1L/100km with a few tablespoons of sodium chloride. CO2 emission is up to 49g/km.
The hardware that propels the 330e comprises the B48 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine (rated at 184hp and 290Nm), it works in tandem with an electric motor capable of 88hp and 250Nm for a combined system output of 252hp and 420Nm, whether you have the lot at your disposal is dependent on the state of charge of the Lithium-ion battery pack.
Kerb weight: 1735kg
Fuel tank: 41 litres
To pare down the weight impact of hybrid electrical components, BMW integrated the electric motor with the eight-speed automatic transmission (revised with slightly taller gearing). This clever piece of engineering dispenses with the need for a torque converter, relying instead on the reduction ratios of the electric motor to manage the transfer of torque.
Other measures to curtail weight and make room for the batteries include a reduction of the size of the fuel tank to 41 litres (from the 60-litre tank of a conventional 3-Series), though the 1735kg 330e still weighs 160kg more than a 330i, mainly attributed to the battery pack situated under the boot. As a result, trunk space is trimmed from 480 litres to 370 litres. But being BMW, the 50:50 weight distribution between front and rear axles is faithfully adhered to in the 330e.
Pitted against the petrol-powered 330i with a more highly strung B48 engine (which has 252hp and 350Nm), the 330e takes a smidgen longer to reach 100km/h from standstill (6.1 seconds against 5.8 seconds of the 330i) and tops out at 225km/h (the 330i does 250km/h). If for whatever reasons you need anything faster than what the 330e is capable of, you should be shopping ‘M’ instead of ‘i’.
A charging port (on the front left fender), ‘eDrive’ branding (on the C-pillar and engine cover) and hybrid system read-outs notwithstanding, there isn’t much to visually differentiate the 330e from other 3-Series models. Using the 330e doesn’t require any form of geekiness on the part of users either, however, the plug-in hybrid system does offer three different usage modes for the driver to choose from:
Auto eDRIVE: This is the default setting each time the car is started up, and it automatically regulates how the engine and electric motor work together. When conditions allow, the maximum speed under pure electric power is up to 80 km/h, exceed that and the combustion engine will come to life.
Max eDRIVE: This mode uses electric power only (up to 120km/h and 40km in range,) – which is ideal for urban confines. However, the combustion engine will kick in if the accelerator goes beyond its kick-down position when more power is required, e.g. overtaking.
Save Battery: If the lithium-ion battery’s charge is below 50%, the engine will charge it up to 50%. But if the battery has more than half of its charge remaining, the state of charge is retained or ‘saved’ for future use.
Speaking of charging, the 330e comes with its own portable charging equipment that’s terminated with a R1772 connector (to car). Plugged into a standard 3-pin wall socket at the other end, the 330e will take about five hours to be fully charged, assuming its battery pack is wholly depleted. Your BMW dealer will also sell you a BMW i-Wallbox if a permanent charging fixture at home or at the office is preferred, the wallbox charges at a higher current (16 amperes) and would complete the job in slightly over three hours.
The BMW 330e iPerformance will be unveiled to the public at BMW Innovation Days 2016, happening 26th to 28th August at Desa Park City, Kuala Lumpur. Stay tuned for our drive story on the 330e soon.