I like this car so much I am buying one. Well, a second-hand one that is not nearly as good but is much lighter on the wallet.
A 2016 model will set you back about $35,000 and do 30km on pure electric. It is a half-decade worse than the 2021 BMW 330e plug-in hybrid electric, but unless BusinessDesk suddenly sells many thousands of extra subscriptions, the older car it is for me.
Which is a shame, because the 2021 BMW 330e is a great car, and a lot of fun, too.
Driving on back roads heading for Paparoa an hour before sunset, I crest a hill to a kilometre-long downhill section with a sweeping right-leaning curve. There’s been a lot of rain over the past fortnight and the grass is green and growing. I’m flanked by hundreds of dairy cows either side of the road, with their shadows extending out to metres long. I tap on the accelerator and glide down the hill, recharging the batteries and enjoying the bucolic view.
It’s one of those moments that remind me why I love driving, and love cars. These technical marvels – driven by thousands of little petrol explosions and, in this case, electricity largely generated and stored within the vehicle – make me glad to be a journalist who somehow got lucky enough to get the car-review gig.
The back road from Whangārei to Paparoa is my favourite test drive. It is resplendent with undulating straights, challenging corners and very little other traffic. In this case, I have taken the time to make a trip from our place on the Kaipara Harbour to the Whangārei Bunnings that was almost unnecessary, but the car makes it worthwhile.
The 330e has two engines — one is two-litre, turbo-charged, four-cylinder and petrol and the other is electric. Combining them gives 218kW of power (135kW from the traditional motor and 83kW from the new-fangled one). It gets to 100km/h in 5.9 seconds. An XtraBoost mode also gives an extra 30kW of power when needed.
The petrol consumption is a STUNNING 2.2 litres per 100km travelled, and the carbon dioxide emissions are just 50g/km — about a third of the petrol-only variant.
The combination of electric and turbo-enhanced petrol creates effortless power, and the rear-wheel drive makes windy roads plenty exciting.
When overtaking or driving at high speed (it’s OK – I did this on a racetrack), putting the 330e into Sport mode gives you access to an extra 30kW of power for short periods. You are hitting 150km/h before you know it, and the car likes that. A lot.
The electric motor is built into the eight-speed automatic transmission, which is just 15mm longer than in a petrol car.
Under BMW’s enlightened pricing structure, there’s no shonky price increase for electric. The “entry-level” 320i is $76,900 and the 330i is $92,900. The hybrid 330e is $94,900, which to my mind makes the petrol-only 330i a non-starter.
It would also put serious pressure on any decision to buy the $122,900 six-cylinder M340i. Even though it puts out an impressive 285kW of power, you’re better off to sell one of the kids and buy the M3 Competition at $168,990, which may be the best car ever made.
But the 330e really is a very clever car. The little 12kW battery, with a range of 68km, is enough to power most city driving. You just plug it into any power supply to charge overnight, or you can use the charging station at the mall, etc.
In comparison, the 2016 model can do 30km on battery alone. The new model has the industry’s best range.
Inside the car, it is all BMW perfection, with everything thought through. The standard myriad safety systems keep you alive, the assisted-driving system works really well and the heads-up display is considered in its minimalism.
I took the 330e out at night on a country road in what turned into a torrential downpour. I turned on the assistance system, called Driving Assistant Professional, as a little experiment along the lines of “I bet it can’t handle this”, and it could. No issues, even though I did chicken out and resume control.
Hybrids are an interim technology as we all move to electric vehicles and BMW has some strong contenders launching this year and next in the pure-electric space, including the iX SUV and the i4 sedan. But, for now, combining the petrolhead comfort of the two-litre engine and the earth-enhancing electric is enough for me.