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BMW 3 Series


BMW M5

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 M5

Remember back when people were saying the BMW M5 would lose a little something by shifting from its traditional rear-wheel drive set-up to all-wheel drive?

It would drain a little sparkle, maybe. Or some excitement. It would become more predictable, more placid - hell, even boring.

But hindsight is always 20/20, and we know now that switching to AWD has done nothing but allow BMW to funnel even more power into the tarmac, with the German brand upping power outputs and dropping lap times in one fell swoop. 

Consider the M5 Competition, then, BMW’s way of delivering the ultimate 'I told you so'. Because it’s not just the most fun, most potent AWD M5 ever - it’s the best M5 period.

Safety rating
Engine Type4.4L turbo
Fuel TypePremium Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency10.6L/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 M57.8/10

The term bigger is better doesn't often apply to performance cars, but it fits the M5 Competition perfectly. Big inside, but small outside when it matters, BMW's new performance flagship might be expensive, but there's no shortage of bang for those bucks.

Is the bruising BMW M5 your high-performance sedan from heaven or hell?  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 M58/10

Let’s start with the new stuff, shall we? The BMW M5 Competition gets a new colour ('Frozen Dark Silver'), as well as new 20-inch (and lightweight) alloy wheel designs, and the grille, aero-designed wing mirrors and boot lip are finished in high-gloss black. The quad exhaust pipes are a black, too, as is the rear diffuser. Elsewhere outside, though, it’s the more muscular 5 Series of old.

Parked next to the much smaller M2, you quickly realise just how much bulk the M5 is carrying. It stretches 4966mm in length and 1903mm in width, and it looks every centimetre of those dimensions in the metal.

Climb inside, and you’re greeted with the familiar BMW interior design, with a huge centre screen, digital driver’s binnacle and a spaceship-level number of buttons surrounding the shift lever. The M5 Competition also arrives with full leather (seats and dash) trim, with carbon-effect dash inserts and aluminium pedal and foot rest trims.

Is it the most adventurous design treatment, inside or out, that we’ve ever seen? Well, no. But it looks polished and premium outside, and feels plenty comfortable inside.

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 M57/10

As far as performance cars go, the M5 Competition is a rolling Swiss Army Knife. For one, it’s bloody massive, which pays considerable dividends for passengers. 

Up-front, the seats are far enough apart to ensure you’ll be rubbing shoulders with exactly nobody. The centre console Is super wide (all the better for fitting all those buttons), allowing for a sizeable centre storage bin, joined by two cupholders and a second storage bin in front of the shifter which is also home to your USB, power and 'aux-in' connections.

In the back, there’s business-class levels of leg and headroom, and you can even fit another whole adult in the centre seat if you’re so inclined. The pull-down seat divider is home to two extra cupholders, sitting in front of a thick armrest, and the rear air vents get their own temperature controls. There’s an ISOFIX attachment point in each window seat, too. Pop the capacious boot and you’ll find 530 litres of storage space.

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 M57/10

Parking the M5 Competition on your driveway will require a $229,000 investment. That's not chump change, and a considerable jump over the regular M5, which arrived (in launch-edition guise) wearing a $199,529 price tag.

Outside, that money buys you new and lightweight 20-inch alloys, LED headlights with auto-dipping and active cornering, keyless entry and a four-tipped sports exhaust. Inside, expect a 'full leather' interior (seats, dash and door inserts),a nav-equipped screen which pairs with a 16-speaker stereo (but Apple CarPlay is a cost option) and dual-zone climate control.

Performance wise, M-designed variable dampers, a lightweight carbon-composite roof and a M sports exhaust all join the standard features list. Still, $30,000 is fair jump over the standard (and well equipped) M5. But if money is no object, you'll be buying plenty of fun. 

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 M59/10

Yes, our all-electric future feels inevitable. And yes, there’s much fun and performance to be had from battery-powered EVs. But you can’t help but hope that future is a Star Wars style far, far away when you get acquainted with the BMW M5 Competition’s monstrous twin-turbo V8.

It’s good for a wondrous 460kW (up 19kW on the regular M5) and 750Nm. Both of which are big numbers, which are fed to all four wheels via an eight-speed 'M Steptronic' automatic. Happily, you can, at the push of some buttons, make the M5 a rear-driver again. It’s slower, but damn if it ain’t much more fun.

As a result, the performance numbers need to be seen (or better yet; felt) to be believed. The near-two-tonne M5 Competition will blaze from 0-100km/h in 3.3secs, 0-200km/h in 10.8secs, and push on to a limited top speed of 250km/h (or 305km/h, provided you do some BMW driver training).

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 M57/10

Well, BMW tells us you’ll return 10.7-10.8 litres per hundred kilometres on the combined cycle. But we would suggest that’s unlikely, unless you have Miss Daisy lounging in the back seat. Drive it like you definitely will drive it, and you can expect to pay for that privilege at the pump. 

Emissions are a claimed 243-246g/km of CO2, and the M5 Competition’s 68-litre tank will demand a premium unleaded petrol.

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 M59/10

Things this large simply shouldn’t be this potent. Like John Goodman suddenly toppling Usain Bolt at the Olympics, the BMW M5 Competition is bulk-defyingly good at the fast stuff.

The secret is its ability to hide those sprawling dimensions on a race circuit or twisting road. BMW’s engineers have poured plenty of work into stiffening the chassis of the M5 Competition, from new anti-roll mounts to additional under-bonnet bracing, to make the brand’s biggest performance sedan feel more lithe and responsive when pushed. 

And while its size never vanishes completely - and you find yourself praying you don’t encounter oncoming traffic on skinnier roads - engaging the Competition’s sportiest settings unlocks a Copperfield-level vanishing act.

The engine helps too, of course, pushing the M5 along with staggering ease, even when you’re pottering at suburban speeds. But really flatten your foot and the big V8 will force you to reassess your knowledge of physics. It’s really very fast, the Competition, the power flowing uninterrupted to the tyres, the engine still very willing to deliver more oomph long after your courage has jumped ship. 

The steering, direct though it is, lacks some natural feel, but you are always left with the impression that the Competition is going to go where you point it.

More fun stuff? Well, you can switch the traction control to a half-off setting, allowing for some smoking, drifting heroics before it drags you back into line. BMW calls it M mode, and it’s designed to make a hero of even the most ham-fisted of pilots, myself included. The braver still can deactivate traction control all together which, combined with rear-wheel-drive mode, turns the M5 Competition into the biggest and possibly most expensive drift car of all time .

Away from the track, though, the Competition version of the M5 is almost as good as transforming into a comfortable everyday commuter as its less hairy siblings. The adaptive suspension can be softened, and the steering lightened, to make toppling traffic a doddle. 

The keen-eyed among you might well have noticed we’re yet to touch on any major downsides of the drive experience. And you'd be correct. 

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 M58/10

BMW is yet to confirm full specifications for the M5 Competition, but you can expect the safety offering to largely mirror that of the regular M5. And while the performance variant has not been crash tested, the regular 5 Series was awarded the maximum five-star safety rating.

Expect dual front, side and curtain airbags, as well as a knee bag for the driver, and a parking camera. You'll also find AEB, active cruise (which allows for brief spells of autonomy), thanks to its lane-keep assist

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 M57/10

The ownership package is yet to be confirmed, the M5 Competition will be covered by BMW’s three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty. 

Service intervals are condition, rather than time or distance, based, so the car will tell you when servicing is required.