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The BMW 330e xDrive is a terrible idea done well

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I would not call BMW’s Ultimate Driving Experience Event a true indication of any car’s abilities. You essentially drive a BMW for six laps like a lunatic – pushing it to a limit that’s beyond reason on a typical street drive. Surprise, the BMW 330e is no M car. And yet, there’s something here…

My readers will know a G-Series BMW inside and out by now, so let’s focus on the bits that matter.

BMW 330e
2023 BMW 330e xDrive quick take
Get one:

Typical 3 Series goodness. Seamless hybrid operation. Defies its 4,000-pound curb weight.

Don’t get one:

No better with fuel than a 330i, but more expensive. Buzz-buzz four-cylinder. Steering that keeps you guessing.

Soul Score: 7

A playful hybrid that answers a question nobody asked.

The 2023 BMW 330e overview

BMW 330e

I have this issue, maybe you can relate to it. Whenever I have a dedicated daily, I end up caring about it just as much as the “special” car. I’d challenge you to find a 328i in better shape with 140,000 miles on it. Does wonders for my car OCD.

But the 328 was pretty benign behind the wheel. Never really got the fizz going. You could say the same with a regular 330i. It’s meant for the masses. Still, there has to be good here underneath all the boring, like Anakin Skywalker. Otherwise the M3 wouldn’t be so delicious.

I maintain the stance that placing two motors inside a car is wasteful and useless, but let’s put that aside for a moment because this car is genuinely fun. For this review, we’ll focus on performance, efficiency and price.

PERFORMANCE SCORE: 7. Toss-able tease

BMW 330e
Drives lighter than it is. I suppose that’s true of any BMW.

The BMW 330e isn’t going to knock your socks off, but it will remind you that driving is a skill that can’t always be fixed by simply adding more power. I thought the F30 lost some of that in its chassis, but the G is a big improvement. It enables you to carry momentum through turns without becoming a sloppy mess.

But it isn’t perfect.

Engine and Transmission

BMW 330e
Aside from badge and charging door, no one will know you’re electrically motivated.

The e is a hybrid, so you get a 181-horsepower four-banger (it’s a detuned 330i motor), and a 107-horse electric motor that replaces the torque converter in the ZF eight-speed transmission. They work together seamlessly. To give you a shot of proverbial NOS, there’s an Xtraboost function which, in Sport mode, delivers an additional 40 horsepower for up to 10 seconds. Push the throttle down past the kick down point to engage.

But that means you only get the full bananas 288 horsepower for 10 seconds at a time. Think BMW will give you a discount?

The e and i both accelerate to 60 in about the same time, but the 330e is 500 pounds heavier, giving us a clue as to what “30” additional horses can do. It’s more; BMW always underrates.

Of course the ZF is superb, it always is, able to read your mind and kick down before the next turn. How does it know?

bmw-330e
I wouldn’t call the limits high, but they don’t always need to be to have fun.

If there’s a letdown, it’s that the typical buzz of a German four-cylinder remains, piped through the speakers like a terrible concert playing in your neighbor’s backyard. You learn to deal with it, but you’ll never rev it just because. Not exactly a smooth operator either. Maybe an M340e is what we need.

You can drive this car 20 miles using just the battery, but that’s only if you do so as a monk. Turn off the AC, no music, no lights, and accelerating s-l-o-w-l-y. I don’t want to punish myself to save $5 of gas, sorry.

Just leave it in Sport, and it works.

Steering and Chassis

bmw-330e
Another example of an excellent LCI update.

Tires are so important on a car. We forget that they are the only thing to actually touch the road.

The 330e here has a set of summer tires that helps transform the car a bit. Bigger tread blocks help the steering feel more precise, provide more grip and make this car genuinely fun on an autocross circuit. The rear is eager to rotate, the front neutral until you ask it to do too much. Then it understeers like all BMWs.

BMW 330e
Move from brake to full throttle in a hurry, and the weight really lifts off the front end.

The battery being low in the car helps with weight distribution, so even though the BMW 330e is much heavier than a conventional model, it doesn’t feel like it. Credit also the Adaptive M Suspension.

There’s a pleasant lightness here. The G80 M3 is as heavy as the e, but it steamrolls the pavement into submission. The 330 is more like a ballet, asking you to maintain momentum through turns because the speed is harder to build. Both can be fun if you’re practiced in the art of driving.

The steering still has a bit of a dead zone just off-center regardless of the rubber, but you can work around it.

BMW 330e
Body roll is well-controlled. Remember, we are asked to be merciless on the course. I’ve never heard an instructor say “You’re driving too fast.”

Brakes

Opt for the Shadowline Package, and you get M Sport Brakes that are larger and the standard units. The important part here is that the brakes work as well as the powertrain, switching from friction to regeneration mode without calling any attention to themselves.

I’m a late braker, like Daniel Riccardo. No doubt my wife loves this about me. In the 330e, I detected no fade, even after heavy use. Well worth the $1,300 (with other goodies) in my opinion.

bmw-330e
M Sport brakes and the Adaptive Suspension are must-have items.

This isn’t one-pedal driving, but outside of a Hummer EV, I’ve yet to encounter a car that can do it right.

The overall take here is that even in Sport mode, the F30 felt a little lame. The 330e is a significant upgrade, from its interior refinement to an engaging driving experience.

But there’s another way to look at this.

Economy and Utility: 4. Promises, promises.

bmw-330e
You can go up to 20 miles on the battery alone. Charge port is located here.

Let’s play baseball. Up to bat is this hybrid 3.

  • The battery pack is under the rear seat, forcing a relocation of the 3’s fuel tank to over the rear axle and taking trunk space from 17 to 13 cubic feet. Strike one.
  • A 330i xDrive has a base price of $45,800. A 330e xDrive starts $1,100 higher, at $49,900. Strike two.
  • The 330e has a much smaller fuel tank (10.6 gallons versus 15.6) compared to the 330i, helping to reduce range from 468 to 320 miles. Plus if you use up the battery, the hybrid actually gets worse mileage – 28 to 30 on the 330i. Strike three.

I don’t understand the point. My daughter’s school is 5 miles away, so I can take her there and back on battery power alone, but anything beyond that is no bueno. I can’t even use pure electric for the return trip to pick her up without plugging it in.

bmw-330e

Saving the planet one 3 Series at a time

bmw-330e
This is, for all intent, a dinosaur-powered car.

When all is said and done, in normal driving as a hybrid you’ll average around 45 MPG, and that’s better than the 330i’s 33 for sure. But you must add back in the electricity you use from plugging the car in. How long will it take you to recoup that additional $1,100 for the BMW 330e?

If your daily commute is in range of an electric car, you might as well just get one of those, plug it in at the end of the day and be done with it. The practicality of the hybrid 3 comes from an unexpected long range trip (say over 200 miles), but how many of those will you make over the course of ownership?

Remember, building an electric car is more wasteful than building an ICE one. And you get the maintenance costs of an ICE engine too – the worst of both worlds.

bmw-330e
If the ‘i” brand is still a thing, the only clues are a small badge and blue roundel.

The BMW 330e is a great execution of a bad concept

bmw-330e
As a BMW 3 Series, this car works. As a compromise, it does not.

One of the goals of this site is to get you to rethink how you perceive the automobile. Does it make you feel something as you drive it? And the 330e does, provided that you push it a bit.

It hardly seems fair to criticize the car – the 330e isn’t at fault for its convoluted setup. But it’s hard for me to recommend it when a lighter, cheaper, less complex solution exists. I certainly wouldn’t want this car over a 330i.

Maybe that’s the problem. The entry-level 328 of the E90 generation was the last to be sold with an inline-six. It was slower, less efficient and not nearly as well-equipped as this 330e.

Which would you rather have out on that autocross?

330e-roller

2023 BMW 330e xDrive Specifications

Vehicle Type: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door sedan

PRICE

Base: $46,900
As tested: $56,875

POWERTRAIN

Turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 16-valve 2.0-liter inline-4 – 181 hp, 221 lb-ft
permanent-magnet synchronous AC motor, 111 hp, 196 lb-ft
Combined output, 288 hp, 310 lb-ft; 12.0-kWh lithium-ion battery pack
Eight-speed automatic transmission

DIMENSIONS

Wheelbase: 135.6 in
Length: 185.4 in
Width: 71.9 in
Height: 56.9 in
Curb Weight: 4,000 lbs

EPA FUEL ECONOMY

Combined/city/highway: 30/28/34
Combined gasoline+electricity: 71 MPGe
EV range: 20 miles
Combined range: 320 miles

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7 thoughts on “The BMW 330e xDrive is a terrible idea done well

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