2021 BMW 330e Review

2021 BMW 330e - Plugged in and ready to roll

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Back in the 2019 model year, BMW launched the seventh-generation of its trendy 3-Series compact sedan available with an inline turbocharged four cylinder or turbo six engine; both traditional internal combustion choices.  In 2021, the German automaker adds an electrified element to the aspirational 3 Series with the all-new 330e plug-in hybrid.

Plug-in electric hybrid vehicles (PHEVs), such as the 330e, differ significantly from an all-electric vehicle (EV) such as the Chevrolet Bolt or BMW's own  i3 in that PHEV's include internal combustion engine technology onboard along with a rechargeable lithium-ion battery module.  Traditional gas-electric hybrids (HEVs) such as the Toyota Prius utilize self-charging battery packs necessitating no plug port, but delivering very limited all-electric driving ranges.

The 2021 model year is the last for the diminutive, quirky BMW i3 EV, making way for the larger 2022 all-electric i4 sedan.

It was during the sixth-generation (2012-2018) that 3-Series introduced the first effort of a PHEV variant under hood during the 2016 model year.  This second 2021 effort provides more combined horsepower (24 more) and a greater all-electric range.

Our 330e tester included a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine generating 181 horsepower on its own and teams with an electric traction motor adding 107 horses for a total of 288. When BMW's new-for-2021 Xtra Boost kicks in (by pushing the accelerator pedal to the metal when in 'sport' mode), 40 more horsepower gets summoned for up to 10 seconds. An eight-speed automatic transmission comes standard.

The electric motor teamed with a fully-charged battery module, provides approximately 22 driving miles before seamlessly transitioning to the IC engine. No worries concerning 'range-anxiety,' a newly-coined term describing the fear of running out of juice without a charging stations nearby. Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles such as the 330e serve as a transitional bridge between a world of fully-electric EVs and traditional ICEs.

If by chance plug-in opportunities are nowhere in sight for an extended length of time, the 330e still soldiers on thanks to the conventional IC engine.   On its own, the 330e's gas engine delivers 28 mpg combined city/highway driving; a rather disappointing two miles less than the gas-exclusive 2021 330i's estimate of 30 mpg combined.

The electrified 330e offers both rear wheel (starting at $44,550) and all-wheel xDrive, for an additional $2,000.    A non-plug-in 330 starts not far away at $41,250, making the jump to electric financially tempting.

The 330e continues with a single trim and a steady potpourri of a-la-carte and packaged options. Our rear-wheel drive tester's $44,550 starting price ballooned to $59,645, including comparatively thrifty $995 destination charge.

Stand-alone options included Cognac Leather seating ($1,450), wireless cell phone charging ($500) and ambient lighting ($250). A $2,600 Executive Package added heated steering wheel/seats, heads-up windshield display and lumbar support while a $700 parking Assistance Package added active park distance control and a surround-view camera display.  A $1,400 Dynamic Handling Package brings with it performance-inspired "M" sport brakes and adaptive suspension.

Keep in mind the 2021 330e qualifies for a $5,836 Federal Tax credit when filing annual income tax returns.  Many all-new all electric EVs qualify for a $7,500 Federal tax credit.  Federal credits for PHEV's such as 330e vary depending upon the capacity of the on-board battery pack. The State of Illinois offered an 'Alternate Fuels Rebate Program' beginning in 1998, but by 2014, was quietly phased out.

When opting for a conventional 120-volt household outlet (referred to often as a Level 1 charger), estimated charging time slots in at approximately five-and-a-half hours.  Our at-home tester took a little longer at six-and-a-half hours.  Many folks gravitating towards EVs or PHEVs invest in a level 2 garage charger, reducing juicing time for the 330e down to about three hours.  Level 2 delivers 240 volts and also powers such household appliances as washing machines. Installation and purchase of garage-installed Level 2 chargers have come down in price during the past decade and incentives abound when taking this investment plunge.  

The 330e carries forward with conservative exterior BMW 3-Series traditions including front twin kidney grille flanked by LED headlighting, long hood (with circular blue-and-white medallion), body-colored strap-like door handles, thin A and C pillars and short rear deck lid. Side windows continue sizeable contributing to good sight lines for this four-door vehicle.  Long, thin, Amber 'eye brow' turn signal lighting resides above headlights

As with most PHEV's the receptacle accepting the hand-held hair-dryer-sized plug is found behind a small swing-out door on the driver's side front fender, kitty corner from the swing-out door housing the conventional gasoline lead pipping on the rear passenger fender. Save for this second door flap, the PHEV exterior styling remains virtually identical to the gas-exclusive 330 version.  

The posh interior provides a "BMW' enclosure with thin, red, pen light framing mid-dash and on all four side doors.  Front supportive buckets include knee bolters which kick out front to sooth tired legs. Row-two best situates for a pair of adults in this compact, one on each side of the vertical floor hump. Compared to a couple of model generations ago, this 3-Series back row actually cries out 'spacious.'

A peek into the trunk reveals a tight 13.2 cubic feet of cargo room, impeded by the 12-killowatt lithium-ion battery pack situated under the rear seat.  A conventional 330i sedan adds 3.8 cubic feet of space. Lithium-ion batteries power conventional cell phones, but scale up considerably when called to duty in EV automobiles. The smallish 10.6 gallon fuel tank requires premium unleaded fuel.  

Driving the electrified 330 version is just as rewarding as the ICE counterpart, even more so with the electrified elements contributing to a bit more techno-excitement.  Expect a light, crisp steering wheel nuance when negotiating turns.

The stubby electronic gear shift knob resembles a scaled-down upside down three-wood (the golfer's fairway club of choice) head.  'Park' is found via a push button on the club head itself.  

An 8.8-inch medium-sized in-dash screen illustrates iDrive, BMW's communication interface including an in-depth navigation system. The screen is touch sensitive but also interacts via a large tactile twist dial with a half-dozen buttons between front seats.  Optional gesture controls (part of the Executive Package), serve as a novelty, but not always as dependable as a simple push or twist.  

Expect an extended learning curve when mastering iDrive's many nuances.  Apple Car Play compatibility comes standard while Android Auto has yet to come onboard. Two horizontal air vents, a hazard button and a row of chrome and black buttons monitoring HVAC controls separate the screen from a volume knob and row of eight pre-set buttons below.  

This center dash gently skews towards the driver, a BMW innovation first unveiled during the first-generation 3-Series 1975 debut. The instrument panel includes a supersized 12.3-inch all-digital cluster providing gobs of information. When switching off the ignition, both screens dazzle with BMW-specific graphics.

One of BMW's largest production plants worldwide is located in Spartanburg, South Carolina with capacity to churn out a healthy 450,000 units annually and encompasses 7 million square feet.  All of BMW's five-door crossovers (marketed as 'Sport Activity Vehicles') assemble here. The first vehicle rolled off in 1994. The 330e is not churned out here, instead calling Munich Germany its production home.

All BMWs purchased or leased from authorized dealerships in Chicagoland and beyond receive enrollment in BMW's 'Ultimate Care Coverage.' This no-cost perk covers a three-year or 36,000-mile time/mileage frame of brake fluid changes, oil and air filter changes and general vehicle checks.  This program remains non-transferable to second owners. The Lithium-Ion battery pack warranties for eight years.  

2021 BMW 330e

Price as tested:  $59,645

Engine:  Inline twin turbo four

Combined Horsepower:   288

Overall length:  185.7 inches

Overall width:  71.9 inches

Overall height:  56.9 inches

Wheelbase:  112.2 inches

Curb weight:  4,039 pounds

Gas Economy: 28 mpg combined city/highway

All-electric range: 22 miles

Assembly: Munich, Germany


Dave Boe

Dave Boe, a lifetime Chicago area resident, worked at the Daily Herald, Illinois' third-largest daily newspaper, for 24 years. In 1989, the Daily Herald began a weekly Saturday Auto Section and he was shortly appointed editor. The product quickly grew into one of the largest weekend sections in the paper thanks to his locally-written auto reviews, the introduction of a local automotive question-and-answer column, a new colorful format and news happenings from Chicago area new-car dealerships.

Five years later, a second weekly auto section debuted on Mondays with Boe adding an industry insight column and introducing a "Love Affair with Your Car" column where readers sent in their own automotive memories for publication. During the next 10 years, the number of weekly auto sections Boe edited and coordinated grew to five and featured expanded NASCAR racing coverage, a dealer spotlight/profile feature and a Car Club Calendar where grass-roots automobile clubs could publish upcoming events for free. Boe also introduced more local automotive columnists into the pages of the sections, all of whom were seasoned members of the well respected Midwest Automotive Media Association. In 1997, Boe earned the Employee of the Year award from the Daily Herald.

Boe is a founding member and current president of the Midwest Automotive Media Association. He has degrees in Journalism and Business Administration from Northern Illinois University.