The 2022 BMW 330e Is a Better 3 Series, But Only for Some

Deciding whether the plug-in hybrid 3 is best for you requires asking some questions.

2022 bmw 330e plug in hybrid orange
Will Sabel Courtney

These days, it may seem like the moment has come and gone for plug-in hybrids. True electric vehicles, after all, are achieving new peaks of performance constantly; it seems as though every month, there's a new EV capable of going farther or quicker or doing so in more style than those that came before.

But for millions of Americans, a PHEV still represents a better real-world choice than a car that solely runs on batteries. Blame not the tech in the cars, but the infrastructure to recharge them; unless every single trip you take represents travel between points with your own privately owned chargers, sooner or later, you'll have to struggle with the public fast-charging infrastructure and its many, many issues. (That advantage only grows in colder climates, where low temperatures drag the range of EVs down much more quickly than they do internal combustion ones.)

The BMW 330e — the plug-in hybrid version of the current G20-generation 3 Series — seems, at first blush, like a solid representative of PHEV prowess. It's made to sit more or less right alongside the 330i as the entry point for the model; both vehicles start at the same price, and offer similar power and a choice of rear- or all-wheel-drive models.

Upon spending a bit more than a week with the 330e, I walked away impressed, not wowed — but still left debating whether it's a better buy than the 330i.

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The questions you should ask yourself before buying a BMW 330e
bmw 330e 2021
BMW

The basic idea of a plug-in hybrid is one where execution matters greatly. Done well, it offers the best of both worlds: EV efficiency for the vast majority of driving, gasoline flexibility for long trips and unexpected adventures. Done poorly, it results in a heavier, less-efficient internal combustion car that can only squeeze out a few miles of electric travel around town before the big battery pack becomes dead weight.

Deciding whether any particular PHEV is right for you, then, means figuring out if its particular balance of traits is better or worse for you than a purely internal combustion vehicle or an EV. In the case of BMW's 3 Series plug-in, asking yourself a few questions can help sort things out.

How do you drive?

To make the most out of the 330e requires a gentle touch on the right pedal. Granted, driving gently is the best way to maximize efficiency in any car, but it's even more so with this PHEV; while the 330e can do up to 87 mph in electric mode, that motor only makes 107 horsepower on its own, which means you need to drive with the delicacy of a driver's ed student on their final exam to keep the gas motor from rearing to life.

How far do you drive?

Speaking of electric-only operation: even with a full battery, this hybrid chariot only goes 22 miles before it turns back into a gasoline-powered pumpkin (or 20 miles if you go for the all-wheel-drive 330e xDrive).

Data on the length of the average American commute varies widely, especially in this let's-call-it-post-pandemic world, but according to a 2021 report by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and the U.S. Department of Transportation, people who still physically go to their workspace travel who make more than $100,000 a year travel about 27 miles to go to work. That means, even if you drive gently and recharge on either end of your commute, you'll still wind up doing around 10 miles on gas power per day. That's not a lot — figure a third of a gallon, at worst — but it's still far more than, say, the old Chevy Volt or the current Toyota RAV4 prim

Where do you drive?

This matters for two reasons: first, rural and exurban drivers likely have greater distances to travel, lessening the proportionate impact of the EV-only range; second, like all hybrids and EVs, the 330e is more efficient in towns and stop-and-go traffic, where it has more opportunities to capture energy from the brakes and recharge the battery.

Where do you park?

More specifically, perhaps: where do you park at night? Is it in a dedicated garage or driveway, where you can jack the 330e into an electrical outlet? It doesn't have to be a 240-volt charger, either; even a 110-volt wall socket can recharge the battery in roughly 12 hours.

(One other minor question to ask yourself: how much trunk space do you need? The 330e stashes its 12-kWh battery directly below the boot, slashing the gas-powered 3 Series's 17.2 cubic feet of space back there to just 13.2.)

The 330e is still a 3 Series, though — and that's a good thing
bmw 330e 2021
BMW

Everyone's use case is unique, of course, but if you're looking for a quick primer on which 3 Series to choose, use this:

  • if you mostly take short trips, and/or you live in city or suburbs with a dedicated parking spot where you can charge at night, the 330e is a better choice.
  • if you take a lot of long trips, or if you lack an easy place to charge every day, the 330i is a better choice. Its impressive highway fuel economy (Car and Driver's testing clocked a stunning 42 mpg at 75 mph) and larger gas tank mean longer trips go down smoothly, and the added space in the trunk helps make road trips easier.

Now, granted, if you read the first of those two blurbs and thought hey, that describes me, you might also be following that up with the thought, but wait, that also means I could totally have an EV, right? Well, yes — but the 330e offers an unexpected hole card in the form of its price. With a starting price of around $45,000, it's more affordable than all but the short-range stripper versions of the latest crop of great, close-to-affordable EVs — the Kia EV6, the Hyundai Ioniq 5, the Ford Mustang Mach-E, the Volkswagen ID.4. For the same amount of money as a nicely-outfitted EV6 Wind RWD, you can have a legendary BMW sport sedan — one that also just so happens to make the first 20 miles of every day's drive emissions-free.

And while it may not be quite the sport sedan icon it once was, the 3er remains one of the best cars in its class — in gas-powered and hybrid forms alike. Slide the 330e into Sport mode and get the turbocharged inline-four humming all the time, and it becomes just as entertaining to drive as the 330i. And as a bonus, Sport mode chargers up the battery surprisingly quickly — which means you'll probably wind up with a few bonus miles of zero-emissions motoring after you have your fin. It may not be as earth-friendly as plugging in, but it's a nice little bonus for something you're already doing.

2022 BMW 330e
bmw 330e 2021
BMW

Base Price / Price as Tested: $43,900 / $54,570

Powertrain: 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four + integrated electric motor, 12.0-kWh battery; eight-speed automatic; rear-wheel-drive

Horsepower: 288

Torque: 258

EPA Fuel Economy: 75 mpg-e with charged battery, 28 mpg on gas alone

Seats: Four well, five in a pinch

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