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BMW 3 Series


BMW M3

Summary

BMW 3 Series

Is the 330e the best of both worlds?

A plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV), it’s a part-time electric car for the city and a full-time sports sedan for everywhere else.

Sound familiar? BMW’s been down this path before, back with 2012’s ‘ActiveHybrid 3’ and then its first 330e-badged successor four years after.

Both were based on the previous F30 3 Series shape. However, this year’s all-new G20 iteration improves the breed with a bigger boot, up to 50 per cent better range and brawnier performance.  

The thing is, it shares showrooms with the 330i and M340i xDrive, which represent a powerful return-to-form for the 3 Series.

So, the question isn’t so much ‘Is the 330e a good enough PHEV?’ more so than ‘Is the PHEV worthy of the BMW badge?’ Let’s find out.

Safety rating
Engine Type2.0L turbo
Fuel TypeHybrid with Premium Unleaded
Fuel Efficiency2.2L/100km
Seating5 seats

BMW M3

If you’ve got a thirst for power that would make Vladimir Putin seem benign, you’ll likely find the BMW M3 a little underwhelming, what with its measly 331kW/550Nm and a propensity to spin the rear tyres into rubber-flinging oblivion with each traction control-free prod of the accelerator.

Happily, there's now a solution. Enter the M3 CS (Competition Sport); a track-ready special edition that ups the performance ante right across the board, with more power, stiffer suspension, better aero and the kind of angry exhaust note that sets tectonic plates a-rumbling. 

So, is more M3 never enough? Or is the new CS too angry for its own good?

Safety rating
Engine Type3.0L turbo
Fuel TypePremium Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency8.8L/100km
Seating5 seats

Verdict

BMW 3 Series9/10

You know about Goldilocks and the Three Bears, right?

Well, its themes of too little or too much apply for buyers of an eco-focused luxury sports sedan. If a hybrid like the Lexus IS 300h isn’t electrified enough, and a pure EV such as the Tesla Model 3 is going too far, then a PHEV like the 330e plugs the gap just about perfectly.   

Yes, prices are high (and especially so with a few choice options), boot capacity is on the low side for a 4.7-metre long sedan and that lusty four-pot turbo is sonically no match for a turbine-smooth BMW inline six as per the M340i, but the 330e does most of the expected things well and some of the ones you might not exceptionally.

Pay the price and you can have your cake and eat it too.


BMW M37.6/10

The biggest, baddest M3 is also the very best of the current breed. It's a specialist tool, sure, but if you're in the market for a track-attack sedan that will paint a smile on your face, even while striking fear into your heart, then look no further.

Jump into a BMW M3 CS or wait until next month for the new Merc-AMG C 63 S? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.

Design

BMW 3 Series

Remember when BMW 3 Series were compact three-box sedans that looked like nothing else? Today’s version seems so close in size to a 5 Series that only an anorak can instantly tell them apart. In fact, at a glance, differentiating the current G20 from the old F30 generation isn’t so easy, either.

It’s no surprise, then, to learn that both the 3- and 5 Series share the company’s scalable, light but super-strong ‘Cluster Architecture’. Imbued with a large-car feel, the 330e is elegant in silhouette and handsomely detailed, its imposing stance highlighted by the M Sport lowered suspension (by 10mm) and bi-colour five-prong double-spoke 19-inch alloys and (optional) Laser-light LEDs.

Flying under the radar for an eco-warrior, there is nothing other than two ‘filler’ flaps to give the PHEV game away externally. It’s all business as usual.

The same cool insouciance permeates our 3 Series’ leather-laden and metallic-accented cabin, that is now properly spacious for four adults. It still retains the signature-BMW driver-centric dashboard angle, but the style certainly isn’t retro, with twin large digital displays and a myriad of personalisation and vehicle configuration choices underlining the 330e’s modernity.

Aided by plenty of eco incentives to go PHEV, in Europe, BMW expects the 330e to be the best selling version; that said, given the inherent conservatism of premium medium sedan buyers globally, there is virtually nothing about this model’s overall execution that is too futuristic, intimidating or oddball.


BMW M39/10

Interesting, you say? Well, just look at it. The massively domed bonnet, the flared wheel guards, the blacked-out roof, the quad exhaust tips - this thing looks wild from every angle. BMW tells us you can actually swap the lightweight roof for a traditional version with a sunroof, but why on earth would you?

The dome bonnet is fitted with a massive rear-facing vent that sucks hot air off the engine, while the carbon front splitter emerges from the bottom of the grille as if the CS is forever jutting out its jaw. At the rear, the carbon wing is peaked at each end, again aiding aero efficiency, while four fat and centred exhaust tips complete a pretty angry-looking package.

Inside, it’s the usual M treatment: shoulder hugging seats, Alcantara to shave grams off the kerb weight, plus a clean and functional interior design.

The design across the board is not what you'd call understated, and it likely won't appeal to everyone, but I think it looks the absolute business.

Practicality

BMW 3 Series

For a swoopy sports sedan, the 330e’s interior is pleasingly practical and – after a little familiarisation – user-friendly. As the biggest-ever 3 Series, four average-sized adults can fit in easily, while a smaller fifth person can crowd in on the rear-centre cushion. For short periods, anyway.

One surprise is the lightness of the doors due to them being partly aluminium, which means while they close with a reassuring thud, they’re might feel flimsy at first.

No such misconceptions await once inside the cocoon-quiet cabin, thanks to solid and lush materials everywhere the eye lands and hands touch. Even the plastics seem expensive.

As the 3 Series is famous for, the 330e’s dash is driver-centric, with ample adjustability of the fat-rimmed wheel and unimpeded reach for most of the important switchgear. Sat low and cosily ensconced between door and bisecting centre console, the mood is definitely grand-touring sports sedan.

For this generation, BMW has honed the once-controversial 'iDrive' controller into an artful yet logical example of on-the-move multimedia interface and data retrieval, with a concerted effort to simplify what is a mountain of available information.

Of course, familiarisation is essential, but even a short tuition will open up a world of configuration and customisation of every single facet of the car – chassis, powertrain, climate control, audio, communication and media being the main platforms. Sounds intimidating but isn’t.

To help relax (or energise), there’s even a ‘Caring Car’ feature in the sub menus with appropriately chilled ambient lighting, audio and climate control.

Indeed, the Germans have made strides in improving the perceived quality and functionality in other areas of the latest 3 Series, such as the gear lever operation, thoughtful storage and effortlessly effective ventilation.

However, the digital instrumentation has ignored decades of classy analogue style for a messy computerised multi-view layout that is just too Space Invaders.

Sure, it’s multi-configurable and includes a less-cluttered basic screen, but where’s the sophistication and beauty here? Notice to carmakers: would you wear a watch this ugly?

Moving to the back seat, the optional sunroof might eat into rear headroom, and really long-legged travellers need to ensure the front-seat occupants are as far forward as comfortably possible, but otherwise it’s the same story of well-sculptured cushions and backrests, set within a business-class style environment.

Twin USB-C ports, a 12V outlet and temperature controls are a bonus, hungry door pockets can take a large drink bottle and the essential cupholders are set within the centre armrest.

The only giveaway that this 3 Series is hauling extra electrification is inside the boot. Somewhat shallower than the regular 480-litre item, a higher floor than usual cuts that by 105L to 375L.

But at least the battery doesn’t intrude to the point where you can’t use the cabin load-through with the tri-sected backrests folded down (via a handy lever if you’re standing behind the vehicle). A through-loading system is part of the standard 40/20/40 split-fold backrest.

The floor itself is stepped half way, but if you require a flat surface, it can be lifted to even out the area. And remember, there is no spare wheel – just tyres that can be driven ‘flat’ as required to drive you to the nearest garage.


BMW M37/10

Every bit as practical as any other M3, really, which is impressive given the outrageous performance.

There are some sacrifices made in pursuit of weight loss, of course. There's no centre-console storage (replaced by a strip of Alcantara and a single, lonely USB charge point), and backseat riders lose air vents, power and just about everything else. The good news, then, is that there's space a-plenty back there, with enough head and legroom behind my own 176cm driving position.

But up front, the M3 CS is a comfortable and spacious place to spend time. There are twin cupholders, too, as well as room in each of the doors for bottles. The navigation and multimedia systems are straight-forward and easy to use, as are the performance-focused functions.

Boot space is still a claimed 480 litres with the rear seats in place, matching the storage room in the regular M3.

Price and features

BMW 3 Series

It’s clear that electrification will become the norm in the not-too-distant future, from hybrids combining internal combustion engines (ICE) with electric motors and batteries, to the full battery electric vehicle (EV) and eventually hydrogen EV experience.

Somewhere along that spectrum, and nestled between the 320i (from $68,900) and 330i (from $74,900), is the 330e.

Arriving from Germany in either racy M Sport or dreary Luxury grades from $81,900 (before on-road costs), it features an electric motor and battery pack for up to 60km of pure EV propulsion, before a four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine kicks in for in excess of 1800km between refills, officially. Range anxiety be damned.

Mind you, the similarly-engined 320i but minus the electrification is almost 300kg lighter. Blame all that extra electrification swag like an 83kW synchronous motor, 10.3kWh lithium ion battery and a five-metre 1.8kW charging cable.

Being a PHEV means it needs up to six hours to recharge from a regular 10-amp household plug, down to a minimum of around 3.5 hours from a larger power source.

In contrast, a non-plug-in, series-parallel hybrid like the Lexus IS 300h barely manages 2.0km of sub-40km/h-only EV range, before its ICE takes over to replenish a much-smaller battery pack, and relegate the electric motor to mere performance and/or economy boosters only. That’s why the Lexus is some $20,000 cheaper.

This leaves the Mercedes-Benz C300e and Volvo S60 T8 Hybrid from $82,300 and $84,990 respectively as the BMW’s only true equals, as they’re PHEVs, too.

Though both promise slightly less EV range than the 330e, the former is comfort-biased while the latter is a bit of a Swedish hot-rod, blitzing all for sheer oomph while scoring all-wheel drive into the bargain.

Note, however, that from $75,425 (before tax and on-road costs) will buy you the mouthful Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus RWD (rear-wheel drive). As a pure EV, the Yank has kicked the ICE habit with a silent and furious need for speed. 

Not that our 330e M Sport Package isn’t hot to trot, with its M Sport-enhanced suspension, brakes, aero body kit, 19-inch alloys shod with run-flat tyres (so no spare wheel), steering wheel, Alcantara/Sensonic vinyl upholstery and ‘Shadow Line’ gloss-grey trimmings. Menacing.  

The BMW’s list of goodies is barely good enough for a sedan that’s over $90K drive-away. You’ll find adaptive dampers that switch seamlessly from firm to soft depending on how stiff/supple you want the ride to be, auto entry/start, stop/start, heated/folding/dipping mirrors, two USB and a single 12V ports, tri-zone climate control, electrically adjustable front seats with driver’s-side memory, three-year subscription-based in-car emergency and concierge services, Apple CarPlay (but still not Android Auto at the time of publishing), 12.3-inch digital instrumentation with head-up display, a 10.25-inch central screen, satellite navigation, extended Bluetooth connectivity, an unreliable ‘Hey, BMW’ voice-activation system, digital radio, 205W amplifier audio, a 32GB hard drive, wireless smartphone charger and a personalisation function in the key saving all your preferred settings.

On the safety and security front there’s also autonomous emergency braking (AEB), warnings and active assistance/intervention for steering, lane-change, lane-departure and front/rear cross-traffic (with braking) situations, full-auto parking with surround-view 3D cameras and sensors, adaptive cruise control with full stop/go, auto high-beam LED headlights with delay/off, rain-sensing wipers, low-speed EV-mode acoustic warnings for pedestrians and localised recharging info including range radius. Handy.

Still, a sunroof is optional, as are our car’s trick 'Laser-light' active/adaptive LEDs, ambient cabin lighting, motion-sensor electric bootlid, seat and steering wheel heaters, galvanised trim, and other goodies, amounting to over $10,000. All blow out pricing towards $100K. Ouch.

At least you can pre-set the climate control in your 330e via a BMW app. Cool!


BMW M37/10

At $179,900, the CS sets a new top-price for the M3 family, well above the $146,529 of the Competition version and miles clear of the entry-level Pure ($129,529). And so you might think you get much more for your money, but you would be wrong. In fact, you get much less.

This is a car designed with the relentless pursuit of performance in mind, so expect few extra luxuries - all of which would add weight. Instead, you get more power (of course), as well as a quad-tipped exhaust tuned to sound like the world is ending around you.

Semi-slick Michelin Cup tyres, lighter alloys, a race-focused bonnet (which, along with the roof, is made from a carbon-fibre/plastic composite, helping shave 10kg off the curb weight), some clever aero tech at the rear and lighter cabin materials also join the the standard features list.

Outside, expect staggered alloys (19-inch front, 20-inch rear), adaptive LED headlights and keyless entry. Inside, you'll find air-conditioning, navigation and a 12-speaker harman/kardon stereo controlled through an 8.8-inch screen.

Engine & trans

BMW 3 Series

BMW’s modular (B48) 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine delivers 135kW of power and 300Nm of torque, and drives the rear wheels via a ZF eight-speed automatic. The latter is regarded as one of the best transmissions of its type in production today.

That transmission also houses the 83kW/105Nm synchronous motor, while the 10.3kWh battery pack is located underneath the back seat. Total outputs are 185kW/420Nm.

Each power source works together to create a smooth and quiet EV experience up to a published 60km, before the 2.0-litre takes over the main driving function, but powering down again when coasting or under very light throttle, to help eke out maximum mileage between refills.

There are three modes to choose from ­– 'Sport', 'Hybrid' and 'Electric' – with the latter allowing for pure EV driving as long as the batteries are juiced up enough; otherwise the default Hybrid setting kicks in, where both propulsion options are used to maximum efficiency.

Back in Electric mode, in Battery Control mode, the driver can pre-select a minimum battery charge level for use later on where conditions are better-suited to EV driving – such as in downtown.    

There’s also a so-called ‘XtraBoost’ function, providing up to 30kW of extra power (topping out at 215kW) for short periods, and is accompanied by a fake/enhanced exhaust note. It’s a bit of a scorcher, actually, revving hungrily to the redline and reeling in the horizon like a proper BMW should.

Don't go searching for an evocative in-line six-cylinder soundtrack, however. Instead, there's simply a zingy metallic snarl as the tacho swings swiftly upwards. S mode loves holding on to each gear ratio, aided by a thoughtfully placed set of paddle shifters.

Overall, the 3 Series PHEV is surprisingly rapid – clearing the 100km/h marker needs just 5.9 seconds – but subjectively actually feels even faster. BMW limits the 330e's EV top speed to 140km/h, or 230km/h in dinosaur-fuel mode.    


BMW M39/10

The M3’s twin-turbo 3.0-litre straight-six engine has been tweaked to produce 338kW and a stonking 600Nm of tyre-frying torque. It’s channeled through a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic and sent to the rear wheels.

That’s enough, BMW says, for a blistering 3.9sec sprint from 0-100km/h, with the CS pushing on to a flying top speed of 280km/h.

Fuel consumption

BMW 3 Series

On the flipside, BMW reckons over 1800km is possible, thanks to the official combined figure of only 2.2 litres per 100km. That’s outstanding range, especially considering the fuel tank is a teeny 40 litres.

Maybe it was the addictive allure of all that XtraBoost oomph, or perhaps it’s the porky 1740kg throwing its weight around, but we could not better 6.3L/100km during our week with the Bavarian wunderkind.  

BMW recommends either premium unleaded (95 RON plus) or E10 ethanol, so no standard stuff, please.

Meanwhile, in EV mode, less than 40km is the real-world range, and that can drop dramatically with amenities running like the AC. The EU electricity consumption figure is 15.4kW/h/100km, which is reasonable for the 330e’s size and weight.


BMW M37/10

BMW reckons you'll return 8.5L/100km on the combined cycle, with CO2 emissions pegged at 198g/km. But we politely disagree. We drove the CS in the fashion we imagine everyone will - or at least should, and our numbers were a little higher than that. Like three times higher.

Driving

BMW 3 Series

The good news is that the 330e is designed for built-up and urban environments, since it benefits from a quiet electric motor to whoosh you along almost silently and always serenely for up to that 60km official range. Acceleration is instant, punchy and remains strong as speeds quickly rise, making the BMW ideal for darting in and out of traffic gaps.

In the real world, with the climate-control switched on and other drains on the car, that drops to under 40km, though that can often be more than enough for most commutes. If there’s access to a normal 10a socket, the BMW will be fully charged to get you back home in fewer than six hours.

Of course, the beauty of a PHEV is that the main form of motivation is a brilliantly muscular and responsive BMW 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol engine, which really gives the 330e wings as a fast and fluent open-road grand tourer. It just laps the miles up.

Still, running on petrol, the Bavarian is as impressive around town, too, since there’s a hefty lump of low-down torque on tap for prompt throttle responses. The superb eight-speed torque-converter auto provides an almost supernatural ability to select the right ratio at the right time, and in a most harmonious manner too.

Perhaps this is a one-off blip in our test car, but a concerning powertrain jolt was discernible from somewhere in the transmission at step-off, as if the 330e is struggling to reconcile electric and petrol power seamlessly.  

Every aspect of the BMW PHEV’s powertrain and chassis – engine, transmission, steering and suspension – can be altered from a cushy softness to a muscular firmness, according to the mood of the driver (or passengers).

Although never heavy, there is substance to the steering even at slower speeds, and the upshot is an engaging and involving experience. Switching to Sport intensifies everything, for an edgier, more athletic experience.

Great for keener folk seeking the 3 Series’ enthusiast’s machine reputation. That said, the turning circle is tight for easy manoeuvrability, while the auto parking feature helps getting the sedan into tighter spots, and generally works reliably.

Adaptive dampers do a great job in helping to smother out most of the bumps and ruts of suburbia’s roads, though larger speed humps can expose the limits of available suspension travel as well as ground clearance (147mm).

Out on the open road, the steering is a boon, working with the taut chassis for sharp handling and balanced roadholding. Displaying towering levels of roadholding, the 330e simply remains glued to the road, even at speed.

One small observation is that the 330e lacks a mechanical limited slip differential, so there isn’t quite the surgical handling crispness that elevates the latest 330i into the dynamic stratosphere.

That, plus the extra mass of the PHEV, do dull the steering’s sharpness and BMW’s overall agility slightly. Never stodgy, just not supernaturally athletic. That’s the price you pay for parsimony.

Finally, in the sportier settings, with the stability and traction controls’ hold loosened, the tail can be made to swing out, meaning the driver must remain alert and ready to reel it all back into place.

This isn’t as much a flaw as a playful aspect of the 330e’s very broad dynamic bandwidth. There’s something for everyone.


BMW M39/10

The best performance cars straddle a razor-thin line between exhilarating and terrifying, and the M3 CS definitely parks an axle on either side of the divide.

It's not for the faint-hearted, the CS; it can be an angry, twitchy, rear-grip-relinquishing handful. And not just when you're overly aggressive on the exit of a corner (though also definitely then), but even when you plant your foot on a dead-straight, perfectly smooth and bone-dry patch of tarmac.

As a result, your heart is almost always beating just a little bit faster being the wheel, almost from the moment you slip into the driver’s seat and prod the start button, the exhaust barking into life like a whip cracking in your eardrum.

So intimidating at times, sure. But also huge handfuls of fun. The M3 (and the M3 Competition) experience has been fine tuned to near-enough perfection in the CS formula, from the super direct steering to the thunderous flow of power to the booming exhaust.

This is not a car built for suburban exploring, but BMW deserves credit for making its CS feel pretty liveable when it’s not being driven in anger. The suspension tuning especially, while you’d never accuse it of being overly comfortable, does a surprisingly good job of soaking up corrugations and bumps while still feeling ever-connected to the road below.

Safety

BMW 3 Series

As part of the G20 3 Series line-up, the 330e achieved a five-star ANCAP crash-test rating in October, 2019.

There basically isn’t an active or passive safety item left unticked in this grade, meaning AEB (operational from 5km/h to 210km/h), stability and traction control, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution, cornering brake control and brake-assist, active lane-change and lane-departure warnings and intervention, front and rear cross-traffic alert with braking and blind-spot monitoring.

Eight airbags are fitted – front and side airbags for driver and front passenger and head airbags for all outboard seat occupants.

There’s also adaptive cruise control with full stop/go functionality, as well as a low-speed EV-mode acoustic warning for pedestrians and cyclists to get out of the way. That’s set to about 20km/h.

BMW fits a pair of ISOFIX points for the outboard back seat positions, as well as top tethers for strap-fastened child seats.


BMW M36/10

Another victim of the performance goals here, I'm afraid, with everything that can be removed, removed - hell, even the reversing camera has been punted.

Instead, the safety package consists of front, and front-side airbags and a performance-focused traction and braking package. Parking sensors front and rear, active cruise and speed-limit recognition round out a fairly basic package.

The rest of the BMW range received the maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating when crash tested in 2012.

Ownership

BMW 3 Series

BMW’s warranty is one of the worst in the business. Its meagre three years/unlimited kilometres matches Audi’s Scrooge-y efforts but is two-years shy of arch nemesis Mercedes-Benz.

The 330e’s servicing is condition-based, depending on how it’s driven and other factors, with a dash warning appearing to let the driver/owner know when it’s time. In the UK, a two-year/30,000km interval is advised, if that helps.

No capped-price servicing regime is offered, but the 'BMW Service Inclusive Basic' packages cover scheduled servicing from three years/40,000km to five years/80,000km, and start from $1350.


BMW M37/10

BMW's three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty applies here, with a "condition-based servicing" schedule that means you're car will tell you when work is required. You can prepay your servicing costs for the first five years of ownership, spanning $3350 to $8450 depending on your level of coverage.