Recognisably a Beemer - just a bit quieter about being one
Claimed fuel economy and emissions
Attracts low company car tax
It's a 3-series
Not so clever when it runs out of battery charge
Will you remember to charge it?
Diesel still the choice for high mileage drivers

First Drive review: 2016 BMW 330e SE plug-in hybrid

The 3-series goes — whisper it — all green

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First Drive review of the 2016 BMW 330e PHEV

2016 BMW 330e at a glance

  • Handling: ★★★☆☆
  • Comfort: ★★★☆<☆
  • Performance: ★★★☆☆
  • Design: ★★★☆☆
  • Interior: ★★★★☆
  • Practicality: ★★★☆☆
  • Costs: ★★★★☆

WHAT A pleasure it has been these past years to witness the enthusiasm with which the car industry has faced up to the challenge of developing responsible personal transport for a post-oil world. Even if that enthusiasm seems to be fed in part by manufacturers’ zeal for shaping the future and in part by the threat of swingeing fines if they don’t knuckle down and get on with it.

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BMW’s engagement with the problem has looked more convincing than some. Its EfficientDynamics programme has never seemed a fig leaf, its i3 electric city car is as thorough an imagining of tomorrow’s transport as we have seen and the i8 plug-in hybrid supercar, if hedged about with contradictions, is a design masterclass. A little less bold conceptually, the 330e continues the electrification of the BMW range, being a plug-in hybrid version of the brand’s most popular model, the 3-series saloon.

A 182bhp 2-litre petrol engine shares the work with a 65kW electric motor, whose high-voltage battery can be charged at home to yield 25 miles of all-electric travel— although a short journey through light traffic in Munich seemed to chew through the bars on the charge meter with some enthusiasm. Still, you can switch off pure electric mode until  you hit the city, thus going emission-free where it counts.

This commuter-friendly upmarket saloon returns upwards of 145mpg and emits only 44g/km of CO2, which is barely more environmentally destructive than many of today’s upmarket aftershaves.

First Drive review of the 2016 BMW 330e PHEV

Significant achievements, then. But at what cost to the 3-series’ traditional hard-driving sportiness — its essential Beemerhood? Since when was it the function of a 3-series to whisper like a milk float?

Well, perhaps it never was. But it is now, and if the silent wafting in all-electric mode alienates you, there’s always the thick steering wheel, the firm upholstery, the nubby automatic gearshift and surely the market’s crispest head-up display ticker-taping along the base of the windscreen to remind you where you are.

The hybrid gubbins adds 160kg of weight, with consequences for the car’s agility. But it’s still quick and, under acceleration, conjures up a rasp in the engine and enough dance in the chassis to suggest the retention of at least some of the dynamism that has historically given this car its cachet and catered to the needs of people with such retro interests as “engagement” and “handling”.

First Drive review of the 2016 BMW 330e PHEV

And at least the practicality isn’t compromised. The batteries have been craftily packed in so as not to fill the boot, which still offers a flat floor, and you can still drop the back seats. Moreover, you can charge the 330e from a standard home socket without causing the walls of your house to glow red and the bulbs to come shooting out of your table lamps. It takes 3½ hours — or a little over two hours if you use a charging station.

But how assiduous will people be about plugging it in? Because, of course, you don’t have to. Unplugged, the car will run as a Prius-style hybrid — albeit an uneconomical and heavy one. Will those 25 free miles be enough to motivate you to plug it in every evening?

First Drive review of the 2016 BMW 330e PHEV

And then there’s the cable, all 9ft of it, which comes neatly curled up in a soft black bag and slotted into a dedicated space at the side of the boot. Or, at any rate, it does when the car is fresh from the dealership. Give it time, though, and that cable will surely end up slung into the boot with everything else, knotted around an empty bottle of windscreen de-icer, a solitary jump lead, a pair of mud-caked training shoes and bits of your daughter’s art project.

Then again, what is the electric dream about if not revising your thinking and changing your habits? At least in the 330e you won’t have to revise those thoughts too radically, because it’s still recognisably a Beemer. It just doesn’t shout about it.

2016 BMW 330e SE specifications
    • PRICE: £33,935 (after plug-in grant*)
    • ENGINE: 1998cc, 4 cylinders, petrol
    • POWER: 182bhp @ 5000rpm (engine only)
    • TORQUE: 214 lb ft @ 1350rpm (engine only)
    • TRANSMISSION: 8-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
    • ACCELERATION: 0-60mph in 6.1sec
    • TOP SPEED: 140mph
    • FUEL: 148.7mpg
    • CO2: 44g/km
    • ROAD TAX BAND: A (free)
    • RELEASE DATE: On sale now

*After government plug-in grant of £2,500 from March 1

BMW 330e rivals

BMW 330d Luxury saloon, £37,800 (view cars for sale)

  • For Terrific to drive; traditional power source
  • Against Higher emissions and tax bills

Mercedes C 350 e, £35,770 (after plug-in grant) (view cars for sale)

  • For Strong performance; competitive emissions and fuel economy
  • Against Many drivers will still prefer a straightforward diesel or petrol car

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