by Frank A. Aukofer

Electrification. It’s the current buzzword for the future in the automotive industry. There’s a lot to embrace in the various approaches so far, including the 2021 BMW 330e plug-in hybrid sedan.

There are at least four avenues so far: electric motor, where you plug in to charge the battery pack; hybrid, with an electric motor working in concert with a gasoline engine; plug-in hybrid, which combines the first two, and hydrogen fueled from a service station pump or manufactured onboard from a fuel cell.

The bottom line from whatever source is electric power, which is non-polluting, fuss-free mechanically and delivers instant torque, or twisting force, as soon as it is switched on. 

Eventually, as the technology advances, battery electric likely will take over with quick charging that takes no longer than fueling a gasoline or diesel engine vehicle. 

The simple hybrid is the method of choice now. Hybrids, led by Toyota’s popular Prius, have delivered millions of economical, reliable vehicles to owners all over the world.

Then there are the plug-ins, epitomized by the tested BMW 330e. The concept has merit. Hook up the 330e to a 240-volt charging station — there are many all over the country — and in three hours the battery pack is charged. 

When you engage, the first thing it does is to enable BMW’s so-called XtraBoost, which conjures up an additional 40 horsepower when you punch the hot pedal off the line. It only lasts a few seconds but enables the 330e to accelerate to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds, BMW says.

If that hasn’t sucked the juice from the batteries, you can then cruise about 22 miles on pure electric power. After that, your 330e becomes a regular hybrid, toggling back and forth between and in concert with the gasoline engine until you either plug in again or fill up the tank.

All this folderol earns the 330e a miles per gallon equivalency rating from the EPA of 75 MPGe. If you don’t bother to charge it, the 330e’s city/highway/combined fuel consumption on mainly gasoline power comes to 25/38/28 mpg.

It works, too. On a 100-mile round trip, the tested 330e’s gasoline gauge pointer barely moved off the “full” peg. But it’s not all honey in the tea or toddy. The tested 330e’s base price is $45,545. A standard 330i costs $2,000 less and, curiously, delivers slightly better gasoline-only fuel economy of 26/36/30 mpg. 

So, if spending a couple of grand more to plug in and get up to 22 miles on pure electric power is your thing, go for it. Truth is, with this BMW you hardly detect the difference between all-electric and hybrid driving anyway, so seamless does the system switch back and forth.

Until you do a bit of schooling, either by yourself with the owner’s manual or with a BMW instructor, you do have to puzzle over the scattershot of numbers on the instrument panel. With some of these systems, especially with premium cars, it seems as if infotainment functions are made deliberately complicated to justify the higher prices.

For example: On other models, BMW has a simple button below the instruments to re-set the trip odometer. On the 330e, you have to search through a bunch of menus to find a display that gives you that information, along with your fuel economy. Sometimes it doesn’t pay to ask.

But if a performance/luxury plug-in hybrid activates your synapses and you can spend about 60 large, you won’t be disappointed. This is a BMW, after all, which telegraphs that you will inherit driver involvement in a sweet-handling and easygoing transporter in any driving situation.

This tester carried $14,100 worth of options, bringing its as-tested price to $59,645. That, of course, made it uncommonly well equipped with such items as adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist. 

Both, by the way, are uncommonly aggressive — no doubt because of their BMW genes — so don’t get too spooked when you appear to be headed for a collision with that 18-wheeler before the adaptive cruise brakes slam on, or the lane keeping almost jerks the steering wheel out of your lazy hands.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 BMW 330e PHEV four-door sedan. 
  • Engine/motor: 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline, turbocharged, 181 hp, 258 lb-ft torque; paired with 107 hp, 77 lb-ft torque electric motor and 12.0 kWh lithium-ion battery; total system 288 hp, 310 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and rear-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 6 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/trunk volume: 98/13 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,039 pounds.
  • Electric-only range: 22 miles. 
  • Charging time (@ 240 volts): Three hours.
  • EPA combined miles per gallon equivalent (MPGe): 75. Gasoline only: 28 mpg. Premium fuel required.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $45,545.
  • Price as tested: $59,645.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

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Photos (c) BMW