BMW 3 Series VS Volkswagen Passat
BMW 3 Series
- A PHEV keen drivers can embrace at last
- Useable real-world pure-EV commuting ability
- Quality BMW cabin design and presentation
- Lofty pricing, and that's before expensive options
- Reduced boot capacity compared to regular 3 Series
- 2.0-litre turbo four lacks BMW six-cylinder refinement at higher revs
- Executive styling
- High quality cabin
- Extensive safety equipment
- More expensive than competitors
- Engine is just okay
- Dual-clutch auto jerkiness
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.
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.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Hybrid with Premium Unleaded|
The once-ubiquitous family sedan segment championed by the home-grown Ford Falcon and Holden Commodore is, in 2020, a shadow of its former self.
Dwindling sales in the face of the growing popularity of SUVs has forced nameplates like the Ford Mondeo, Subaru Liberty and Insignia-based Holden Commodore to be discontinued in Australia, leaving just a few models to compete against the dominant Toyota Camry.
Does Volkswagen do enough with the Passat 140TSI Business sedan to warrant a look over a more popular rival or SUV? Read on to find out.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
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.
The VW Passat 140TSI Business sedan might not be the last word in styling, performance or dynamics, but it offers a tech-laden interior wrapped in a smart package.
Those after a dependable, easy-to-drive commuter with room to spare for the family and luggage can do a lot worse than VW's Passat.
Sure, the competition might offer attention grabbing features like a petrol-electric hybrid powertrain or fashion-model-like styling, but the Passat is so perfectly adequate at everything it does, it really is greater than the sum of its parts.
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.
Volkswagen's Passat has always tilted towards a more conservative design, and the current sixth-generation version is no different.
From the front, the Passat wears the same corporate identity as seen on most other Volkswagen models with an emphasis on the horizonal grille that incorporates the headlights, the latter featuring a segmented design akin to luxury cars from Germany.
The lower bumper also wears a chrome strip that ties together the LED fog lights to give the Passat a wide-but-not-aggressive stance.
In profile, the Passat's standard three-box design is as innocuous as they come, though the grey-coloured 18-inch 'Dartford' alloy wheels adds a bit of visual flair.
The rear of the Passat is punctuated by wraparound tail-lights and prominent badging, while the lower bumper hides the exhaust outlet from view.
If we had to describe the styling of the Passat in a word, it would be inoffensive, and the single-grade Business moniker is likely a pointer to the target demographic.
If wearing a suit or smart business attire is part of your day-to-day wardrobe, then think of the Passat as an extension of the same corporate look.
While there is certainly nothing wrong with that aesthetic, the Passat – much like an off-the-shelf suit – doesn't exactly stand out from the crowd and can look quite bland amongst the sea of competitors.
To emphasise the point even further, six exterior colours are available though only one (Aquamarine metallic) is not a variation on white, black or grey.
Inside, the Passat looks much like any other modern-day Volkswagen, with controls that are ergonomic and easy to use.
We appreciate the physical volume knob on the multimedia system, while the large touchscreen also shifts the cabin closer to premium than economy.
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.
Measuring 4775mm long, 1835mm wide, 1457mm tall and with a 2791mm wheelbase, the Passat is certainly large enough to easily accommodate four adults and plenty of luggage.
In the front row, storage solutions are available at every turn.
Two cupholders sit between the front passengers, good for a morning cup of coffee on the way to work, while the door pockets will easily accommodate a medium-sized water bottle.
The glove box is also cooled, though what practical function this serves is still unclear (are you really going to put a drink bottle in there?), while a roof console, driver's side dashboard cubby and storage pockets behind the front seats can accommodate all manner of paraphernalia.
The front passengers also have an armrest with storage box, while the rear occupants are treated to a fold-down armrest with cupholders.
The rear seats offer enough head-, leg- and shoulder-room for our 183cm (6.0ft) frame, but the middle seat is a bit of a squeeze.
As evidenced by our photos, a large and medium suit can fit side-by-side in the Passat's boot, leaving room in the side storage pockets for smaller items that may roll around once underway.
The sedan's 60/40 split rear seats can also fold from latches in the boot to boost storage capacity to 1152L, though the wagon (with its 650L/1780L boot capacity) is still the choice for those who value practicality.
Cargo restraining hooks are available, as are shopping bag hooks (always a win) and a 12-volt socket.
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.
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!
Priced at $46,590, before on-road costs, the Volkswagen Passat 140TSI Business sedan is on the pricier end of the mid-size sedan segment.
However, Volkswagen Australia has taken the kitchen sink approach to specification, and thrown everything it could at its mainstream mid-size sedan.
As standard, the Passat is fitted with a tri-zone climate control, LED exterior lighting, second-row air vents, automatic boot release, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, 18-inch wheels, heated side mirrors, electronically adjustable and massaging driver's seat, heated front seats, multi-function steering wheel, cooled glove box, leather-appointed interior, and rear window blinds.
An 8.0-inch multimedia touchscreen system, with wireless Apple CarPlay/wired Android Auto connectivity, satellite navigation and Bluetooth connectivity, is also included.
While it is nice to see wireless Apple CarPlay come down to a 'mainstream' model instead of the usual upper-luxury suspects, we did notice the lack of digital radio in the Passat.
Instead, the Passat is fitted with a multi-function display nestled between the speedo and tacho, which works to convey driving data such as fuel consumption and speed warning, but feels much more budget than boujee in appearance.
It's also pleasing to see Volkswagen adopt a future-forward approach with three USB-C ports overall (two up front, one for the rear passengers), despite the current-generation Passat's underpinnings dating back to 2014.
A bevy of high-end safety equipment is also included at no extra charge, including adaptive cruise control and surround-view monitor (more information on safety down below).
The only option available to Passat buyers is the choice of premium paint, but the long list of standard equipment is tempered by the high price tag.
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.
The engine is paired to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission that sends drive exclusively to the front wheels for a 0-100km/h sprint in just 7.1 seconds.
Volkswagen used to offer the Passat with lower-output engines, as well as a more potent Golf R-driveline-sharing 206TSI grade, but those versions have been discontinued in Australia.
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.
Official documentation pegs the Passat 140TSI Business sedan's fuel consumption at 6.4 litres per 100km, while carbon dioxide emissions are 147 grams of CO2 per kilometre.
In our limited week of testing (just before Melbourne entered the second wave of lockdowns), we managed a figure of 9.7L/100km limited exclusively to inner-city driving.
Our figure is still slightly higher than the 8.3L/100km urban consumption rating though, which can be chalked up to our very short and slow speeds to the local shop and back as our average speed over 523km is just 27km/h.
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.
Well, the opposite is true of something like the sedately-styled Passat 140TSI Business sedan.
Don't be mistaken, though, as that is not meant as a form of criticism, and those looking to buy a Passat generally aren't looking for a canyon carving track attack weapon.
Instead, the Passat feels very neutral and easy to drive day-to-day.
With the punchy 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engine serving up the 320Nm of torque from a very low 1450rpm, the Passat feels responsive around town, while the smooth-shifting seven-speed dual-clutch transmission (DCT) works smartly and seamlessly.
There can be some jerkiness from the DCT when slowing to a stop as the start/stop system likes to cut the engine early to save fuel, but that can be remedied by simply turning if off with the press of a button.
The 140kW available is also never really enough to overwhelm the front axle, and the Passat handles with predictability and precision.
The suspension set-up is also geared much more towards comfort and compliance than sportiness.
This mean the Passat is easily soaks up bumps and road imperfections instead of transmitting every jolt through the chassis to the driver.
While the Passat can feel a little numb to steer, the light steering is a plus at slow speeds around town, making U-turns and parallel parks easier.
Though VW offered a less powerful and more potent engine in the old Passat range, we're glad to see the brand stick with the sole 140TSI engine that hits the sweet spot of usable performance in real-world situations.
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.
The Volkswagen Passat wears a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating, though the current-generation model was first tested in October 2015.
At the time of testing, the Passat scored 14.89 out of 16 in the frontal offset test, while the side impact and pole examinations yielded the full 16 and two points respectively.
Overall, the Passat was awarded a score of 35.89 out of a possible 37, though ANCAP's testing criteria has since become much more stringent.
For starters a five-star car must include autonomous emergency braking (AEB) as standard across the range, a technology that is now fitted to all Passats.
Other standard safety equipment includes Volkswagen's 'IQ Drive' safety suite, which bundles together a drive attention alert system, lane-keep assist, front and rear parking sensors, automated parallel parking, surround-view monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, and adaptive cruise control.
ISOFIX anchorage points are also available in the two outbound rear seats, while there are three top tether spots.
BMW 3 Series
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.
Like all new Volkswagen vehicles, the Passat 140TSI Business sedan comes with a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty with 12 months of roadside assistance.
Scheduled service intervals are every 12 months/15,000km, whichever occurs first.
The first, third and fifth service costs $389 each, with the two-year/30,000km and four-year/60,000km maintenance blowing out to $602 and $923 respectively.
So, the first five years of servicing will set you back $2692, though buyers can also opt for a three- or five-year car plan at the time of purchase for $1300 or $2300.
Each care plan includes scheduled servicing for that time period, saving up to $389 compared to paying for each individually.