I’m by no means a technophile, nor am I in any way, shape or form, a technophobe. I’m somewhere in the middle, skewed closer to the latter perhaps. I guess I’m a bit old-fashioned when it comes to cars, seeing as how the ‘newest’ car I own is probably older than 70% of you reading this. There’s good and bad in that, like there is in everything; the good being my eyes are wide-open in child-like amazement to the inherent wonders of new automotive tech, you could say a lot more than others who have the same technology in their cars already. The bad of course is that I spend way too much time at workshops…
Thus, when I got the call to see if I’d like to have a go at the new BMW 330e Plug-in Hybrid (PHEV) after the launch, I figured it was time to get wide-eyed in child-like amazement again. And I wasn’t disappointed. In many ways, from the exterior, the 330e looks like any other F30 3-Series, save for the subtle badging and the charging port on the left (below), which the keen-eyed will be able to spot quite easily.
Not to be mistaken for the fuel-filler (BMW wisely located that as far from the charging port as possible, behind the driver) this is where the similarities of the 330e with its other stablemates abruptly ends.
Under the hood lies a dual-powertrain system comprising a regular IC (internal combustion) 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder, twin-turbo engine (BMW TwinPower Technology) coupled with a BMW eDrive Electric Motor, all mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission.
Combined, the 4-cylinder petrol unit alone is capable of producing a 252bhp with a peak torque of 420Nm, while the electric motor, delivers an output of 65 kW/88 hp and is able to travel at a top speed of 120 km/h in pure electric drive. Did I lose you there? I’ll summarize. This thing is MENTAL. Pedal-to-the-metal, with both the IC and electric-motor at full pelt and wide open, the 330e will complete the 0-100kmh dash in a mere 6.1 seconds, and onward to a top-speed of 225kmh.
If you want, yes, you can travel solely (scary-silently I call it) on pure electric power, never once allowing the IC engine to kick-in. In fact, I actually managed to drive from my house to the convenience store and back, without once having the IC engine kick-in, a distance of about 15km return. In this mode, the electric motor just whirrs along silently, and is able to push the 330e to a top-speed of 120kmh, without the IC engine kicking-in. Combined and during regular driving, the 330e returns an astounding fuel-consumption figure of 2.1L per 100km.
When the electric-motor finally gives up the ghost, the engine kicks-in instantaneously and you’ll only hear it coming to life if you have the windows down. Thankfully, the auto start-stop at traffic lights does not alter the cooling efficiency of the a/c, so over-riding it isn’t necessary.
In addition to an external plug-in recharging system, the 330e also recharges itself on the move, up to 80%, and allows the electric-motor to take over even when it’s down to 5%. A blue digital-meter display indicates the remaining distance you can travel on electric power alone. I managed to get it down to 1km before mercifully plugging in its external charger at home.
Speaking of which, I was impressed that the system took a mere 3-hours on the dot to fully charge itself from 4% to 100% using only the home charging-cable that comes with the car (tucked away neatly in the boot) and an aged 12V, 3-pin plug-point in my porch. Fully expecting the old socket to explode, it thankfully didn’t. Cleverly, the car-charging-port locks the charging head into itself if the car is locked, ensuring that nobody can steal your cable. I never thought of that actually, but I should have because these cables aren’t cheap.
I have to admit though, while the country-wide infrastructure for PHEVs (plug-in hybrid electric vehicles) is improving, with more commercial businesses like malls and even the odd R&R installing charging-stations in their parking lots, when it comes to owners themselves and their dwellings, I would find this charging issue a nuisance if I lived in a condo.
I thought about it a lot actually, while the car was being charged up, its facade glowing an undulating blue while being charged, only to turn green when it was fully-charged. If you lived in a condo, it would be troublesome having to find a 12V socket to charge-up the car if there wasn’t one conveniently near where the car is parked in the condo parking lot. And even having found one, what’s stopping kids from being, well, kids, and switching it off just for shits and giggles, or the condo maintenance guy unplugging your car to power-up his floor washing machine or weed-whacker…or his mobile-phone even. Also having to come down later that night to unplug the car and stow the cable… it may seem trivial at first but something tells me this will become a major annoyance for many later on.
However, if you live on landed-property, where the car is securely parked in your own porch, front gate locked and a 12V socket easily accessible, the BMW 330e is definitely a car to consider. Think of it this way; theoretically, it is possible to drive this car to work and back (if the total distance you travel to and fro is about 40-50km) and never having to use the IC engine even once, which means fewer trips to the petrol station. Get home, charge the car up for the next day.
So why not get a full-electric car then you ask? I’ll answer that in two words. Range Anxiety. The infrastructure of our country is nowhere near ready to sustain a fully-electric car, insofar as public charging-ports/stations are concerned, and anyone who says otherwise is lying or probably trying to sell you one. However, with PHEVs like this 330e, if the juice runs out, the IC kicks-in, and you don’t have to even stop.
I can’t say very much about how long the system will run along smoothly and without any issues of course, but looking at BMW Malaysia’s own in-house testing and evaluation of the 330e even before it was launched, combined with their amazing BMW Concierge Service as well as the BMW 360° Electric program, it’s safe to say BMW has its bases covered. Speaking of the aforementioned 360° Electric Program, those who purchase the new 330e will be offered something called the ChargeNow service.
It consists of a ChargeNow card that grants straightforward access to partner charging stations like ChargEV which is offered through BMW Group Malaysia’s partnership with Malaysian Green Technology Corporation (GreenTech Malaysia). Currently, ChargEV stations are operational in 19 strategic locations throughout KL, Selangor, Kedah, Melaka, and Johor, with more on the way.
The best thing though, is that BMW has definitely and defiantly thumbed its nose at the overall notion of a PHEV, which are normally associated with rather boring terms like environmental-friendliness, social-responsibility, green earth, saves the whales, etc. etc. etc. Sure, you can do all that with the 330e; sure you can drive ‘clean‘ and leave behind nothing more than tyre marks…
However, should the need arise, should you one day find yourself on a stretch of deserted road that would be sinful to not enjoy the way only a true petrol-head can, well maybe then you’ll realize why the taglines profess ‘Sheer Driving Pleasure’ and ‘Ultimate Driving Machine’. They will suddenly, unequivocally make sense, and you’re gonna be chuffed as heck that you bought a BMW 330e…and not a friggin’ Nissan Leaf. – Chris Wee.
(BMW 330e price as tested: RM248,800 – locally assembled)
BMW 330e Photo Gallery…