BMW 330e first 20 000 km review


So, just to start this thing off - I am quite biased in the regards of this car as I am now working for BMW for a year and this is my company car. Also I have not had the pleasure of testing its direct competition. But I still wanted to share my experiences with this rather special product. I have now driven 20 000 km in this car, so it is time for a first review.

Before this car I only had one other - a sweet 2013 Mercedes C 180D that I traveled around the Europe in and that made me start to appreciate cars and made me seriously consider applying for a job at BMW when they sponsored Debconf 15 in Germany. It was a comfortable high quality car with enough power and a whole lot of tech toys.

After 6 months working at BMW it was time for me to choose a company car (and sell my old car). It is not mandatory, but the value in this proposition is very significant and you'd be missing out a lot by not taking that. So I started looking at the BWM website and selecting a car for myself.

I am a big fan of electric cars. I love Tesla and everything that Elon Musk is doing to the car and energy markets. Unfortunately the Model S was out of my price range and Model 3 is still not there yet. BWM also has a few full and partial electrified options, but the selection is rather limited so far. i8 is outside my price range and rather unpractical. i3 was a serious contender, but I am not a fan of its looks that scream "I am an electric car!" and the charging infrastructure was not yet there to allow me to drive from Germany to Latvia easily. And that was one of the goals that my new car would have to be able to do. I was also very interested in travelling all over the Alps on weekends and having to stop at a charger for an hour every couple hours would really limit the places that one could feasibly visit in a day or two and still return home. Even with the battery upgrade (announced after I already made my order) and range extended the i3 is not really fun to drive on highways.

So the selection really was between BMW 225xe and BMW 330e. These cars basically have very similar powertrains - the 87hp electric motor is combined with either a 134hp (225xe) or 182hp (330e) gasoline engine and both have a small 7.7 kWh battery that realistically is enough for around 20 km. After trying the BMW 225xe Active Tourer, I decided for the 330e - I did not feel too comfortable in the higher seating position. It was safe and stable, but at highway speeds I had the feeling that the face of the car was really working hard to push the air out of the way.

It took 4 months from the order to delivery of my 330e - they are very, very popular. BMW can't make enough of them to satisfy demand.

Despite my screwup in the ordering (I managed to miss ticking the tech package, so no HUD for me), I was floored by the car as soon as I got in and then again when I first got on the autobahn with it.The car is amazing. It has its weaknesses, but the strengths clearly overpower them.

Basically BMW made a car that is: a green eco daily driver around town and a beast on the autobahn and a powerhouse in the twisty Alpine roads and just another great BMW 3 series car and also a positive way to transition any petrolhead to electric. Let me explain in detail how that works.

Starting with the price - BMW 330e has the same petrol motor as BMW 320i, but the electric motor added to that brings the total power to the same level as BMW 330i and it costs just 1k€ more than the 330i. However, selecting 330e already pre-selects a few additional options with combined worth of 810€, so in fact choosing the hybrid system itself only costs you 190€ (comparing to to gasoline-only 3 series car with the same power level).

There are a few drawbacks that get a bit hidden here. Fuel tank of 300e is reduced from 60l down to 45l. There is no underfloor storage in the boot of the car (where there is usually a spare wheel). Top speed of the 330e is limited to 235 km/h unlike the 330i that is limited to 250 km/h. The 330e is almost 200kg heavier than the 330i, this can be felt in acceleration, but does not hinder cornering as much because this weight is very low. There is no option to have a trailer coupling or have a wagon (touring) version of the 330e for more cargo space. This can be annoying sometimes, but in the end none of these were a deal-breaker for me.

If you (or someone you know) is a petrolhead and you want then to transition over to the electric side slowly and happily - get them to buy this car and soon enough they will be seeking out charging stations and seriously considering getting a full electric next. BMW 330e is a real BMW - it is a driver's car. It accelerates, corners, breaks and even drifts with the best of them. However (and here where petrolheads get hooked), it does this best when there is some charge in the battery. When there is charge in the battery and you press the gas pedal, you get the rush of instant, electrical acceleration while the gasoline engine turbines are still spooling up to speed. And that instant electrical power works at all speeds - from standstill up to the max speed, because the electrical engine is mounted before the gearbox, so it can assist the gasoline engine at all speeds. However, if you do not plug your car in to recharge it will revert back to the power levels of a BMW 320i with a couple big passengers in the back - it will still be quick, but you will feel (and miss) the difference. And that feeling will be what will drive even the heartiest petrolhead to install a charging station map app or start using the build-in navigation with its extensive list of charging station points of interest. From there it is just a small step to a charger at home and then to a fully electric car as a serious consideration. In fact if you switch on the Sport mode of the car, it will try to keep the battery charged up to 10-15% so that it could give you the full power of the car when needed, just like a KERS system in Formula 1. Cars such as this are essential in bringing people from gasoline to electric propulsion gradually and also gradually building up demand for charging infrastructure and forming habits at all levels - from personal to institutional.

Hopefully by the time people start looking for replacements for their BMW 330e there will be new plugin hybrid and fully electric options in this category with larger batteries and much better fast and slow charging infrastructure all over the world.

I was pleasantly surprised by the iDrive navigation interfaces. I was very used to driving using Waze before this, because the build-in maps in cars are often bad and outdated and also usually take more attention to operate than the apps on the phones nowadays. Not so with the new BMW navigation software (I have the Professional version). I found that I could do common operations like navigating to an address of a contact or adding a stop at a fuel station along the route much faster, with fewer actions and with less attention to the screen than with a phone. In addition having the destination programmed into the car turned out to have multiple additional benefits. For example the hybrid system in this car communicates with the map to know when the route goes uphill or downhill and adjust power regeneration for that. Also the car will automatically save up some battery towards the end of a journey if it is inside a city so that you can drive the last few kilometers on pure electric and reduce your in-city pollution (both air and noise). The car will also then be able to display information about the next turn or how exactly are you supposed to drive through the next complex intersection in the instrument cluster (or HUD) so that you don't have to glance to the central screen for that info.

One other big feature that I loved in the 330e is the remote climate control. As the car already has a large battery inside of it, it can use this battery for all kinds of nice things, for example you can command the car from your phone to start pre-conditioning the climate in the car. In the winter that would warm the car up and in the summer cool it down to the temperature you last set in the car. Some gasoline cars also have such service available as options, but as they do not have the battery, adding this option requires complex additional hardware that starts up the car's engine remotely to provide enough power for the climate control to work. As you might imagine that kind of option is not cheap. And you can also set this to work on a timer too. The pre-conditioning will fail if there is not enough power in the battery, so that is another reason to plug in your car into the charger early and often.

The remote services also remove the anxiety of thinking if you actually locked the car or not - you can always just take your phone and send a remote lock signal.

The real life fuel consumption of 330e is something that is quite hard to find online and I understand why - it varies. Really, really varies.

If you have a power plug you can and do use either at work or at home, then you might go weeks without using any fuel at all. BTW it takes 3 hours to fully charge from a normal 220V 16A socket and 2 hours from any Type 2 socket. Unfortunately the car can not take more than 3 kW from any source, so all the fast charger power is kind of wasted on this car. But you still can recover 10-15 km of range from a half an hour lunch stop at a free Type2 charger at IKEA and sometimes that is all you really need to get where you need to go.

At the other extreme of fuel use is flying at 200-220 km/h on the unlimited sections of the German autobahn. It is a delight to do this in this car - it is rock solid, stable and very predictable even at top speed. It has great brakes for that moment when someone does not notice you in their rearview mirrors. Your attention focuses on the next moment, the next breath, then next car, the next bend. Most of the time you do not even hear the engine (unless you turn on to the Sport mode) - the cabin is well insulated and wind and tire noise only start to penetrate it at speeds over 200 km/h. For that experience you have to be then prepared to pay with average fuel consumption around 8 l/100km and frequent refueling stops due to smaller fuel tank.

If you are outside Germany and the highway speed is limited to 130 km/h then your cruising fuel consumption is likely to be closer to 4 l/100km. Park yourself on the tail of a trailer truck following it with active cruise control at 90 km/h in EcoPro mode and you might find your "Remaining range" indication actually increasing while the car sips 2-2.5 l/100km. Been there, done that a few times.

One other cool feature that my car has (it is an option) is the Adaptive LED far light. I was already used to automatic far light on my Mercedes that turned off the far lights as soon as it saw another car in front. However, this BMW system does more than that - it actually keeps the far lights active while creating a "shadow" area pointing at the detected car(s) so that even if there is a car in front of me I can still have the road sides fully illuminated all the time. Sometimes, when I am driving behind another car the system works so well that my far lights shining around the car in front illuminate the surroundings better  and further than the lights of the car in front. This does confuse a lot of people however as they think that I will blind them as my high beams are still on as they approach. So there a lot of angry high beam blinking. But I guess people will get used to such systems soon enough.

I will not go into much details about the costs of the car for me except to say that BMW Car IT is a great employer and thanks to their company car program I am paying less per month for this 2017 BMW 330e than I paid for my 2012 Mercedes C 180D (when insurance, maintenance, depreciation, tires and fuel are included). And I am driving significantly more with it as well - I was driving an average of 1900 km per month with the Mercedes and now I am averaging 3500 km a month in the BMW. Having company paid fuel inside Germany helps in that a lot. ;)

If I was choosing a new car now then I would also very seriously consider the new BMW 530e - basically it is the same kind of setup except some 10k€ more for a new level in style and comfort, newer version of the iDrive, completely new chassis platform with carbon fiber and other fancy stuff, new engine generation, more advanced driving assistance and parking assistance options and even more space in the back. There are way more fancy options in the 5 series lineup, such as massage seats or gesture control or rear seat entertainment screens or remote vision - where you can see in your phone video from the surround cameras of your car. I expect that some of this will also trickle down to 3 series when it will get its next refresh that is rumored to be in the next couple of years. And there will be more options - the BWM future model readmap as already stated multiple times publicly includes plans for electrified cars in all segments (mostly plugin hybrids) as well as more specific plans for fully electric Mini and BMW X3 models in the next couple years. And then there will be the much rumored iNEXT car due in 2021 model year which will not only be electric, but also capable of authonomy up to Level 5. These really are interesting times in the automotive world. Thanks, Elon! :)

I have driven this car since it was manufactured in January 2017. It started with 3km on its odometer. Now it is at 20 000 km. I expect to drive it until January 2019 and I expect the final odometer to be between 80 and 100 thousand km. We will see how the car holds up over the time.

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