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BMW 330e M Sport –Sport versus efficiency

POSTED BY Amirul Hazmi ON 31 May 2017

Although hybrid electric vehicles (HEV) are not entirely new to the Malaysian market with the popularity of the Toyota Prius, Honda Insight and the likes, the number of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) on Malaysian roads on the other hand remains low and seeing a car being charged via a plug-in cable in public places is not a common sight.

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BMW may not be the first company to introduce PHEV models in Malaysia but the fact that they have introduced the i8, X5 xDrive40e and now 330e, means the company is one of the most intensive automakers to do so.

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Officially launching the330e Sport Line trim for the Malaysian market in August last year, BMW then introduced the 330e M Sport a few months ago and Motorme.my was given the opportunity to sample the latter.

Appearance

The exterior of the 330e M Sport gets M performance parts which include an M Aerodynamic kit (front and rear apron with diffuser inserts and sill covers at the side) and a stiffer M Sport suspension package (which lowers the car by 10mm) as well as M light double-spoke 441 M alloy wheels finished in ferric grey metallic. A pair of full-LED units with LED fog lights provide illumination for the driver.

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This particular 330e M Sport and the earlier introduced 330e Sport Line can be distinguished from the base F30 3-Series by a number of features – the charging port door (similar to a fuel cap) on the left front fender, an i or M badge just below it and an eDrive emblem on the C-pillar. Elsewhere, the 330e is largely similar to the car it based on.

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The M Sport treatment on the 330e effectively increases the dynamic proportions of the car with its sharper front bumper, lowered ride height and more pronounced rear bumper. Untrained eyes will have no idea that this sporty-looking sedan is a plug-in hybrid.

The 330e M Sport is available in four exterior colours, Black Sapphire, Estoril Blue, Alpine White and Mineral Grey (as finished on this car).

Cabin

The cabin of the 330e M Sport is very much identical to the base F30 3-Series. However, further inspection will reveal certain details such as a unique door sill finisher with M badge. There is an eDrive driving mode button on the base of the gear lever and a dedicated hybrid system display within the instrument cluster and iDrive system.

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The cabin receives Dakota leather upholstery, power-adjustable sports seats with driver’s memory function, a sliding glass sunroof and an electric sun blind for the rear windscreen. Other unique features in this particular 330e M Sport is the sweet three-spoke multi-function steering wheel with paddle-shifters. I find myself really liking the design and overall feel of the steering wheel and the paddle-shifters.

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The centre console of the BMW 330e is fitted with an 8.8-inch high-resolution display, equipped with BMW Connected Drive kit of emergency and concierge features. The driver will also enjoy a nine-speaker 205W HiFi loudspeaker system, a colour head-up display and a rear-view camera. Being a hybrid, the boot space is reduced from 480 litres found in the conventional 3-Series to 370 litres to make room for the hybrid battery.

Powertrain

Perhaps the biggest thing that sets the 330e apart from the base car is the powertrain. A B48 2.0-litre TwinPower Turbo four-cylinder engine sits under the hood, delivering a healthy 184hp at 5,000rpm to 6,500rpm and 290Nm of torque between 1,350rpm and 4,250rpm. This engine is paired to an eight-speed automatic transmission.

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However, slotted between the motor and the ZF-sourced gearbox is an 87hp/250Nm electric motor, powered by a 5.7kWh lithium-ion battery. This provides a combined output of 252hp and 420Nm of torque. The powertrain package should enable the 330e to sprint from zero to 100km/h in 6.1 seconds and up to a top speed of 225km/h.

Similar to the X5 xDrive40e, the 330e boasts three driving modes; Max eDrive for pure electric driving, the default Auto eDrive to enable the car to switch between the combustion engine and electric motor, and Save Battery mode that restricts the operation solely to the internal combustion engine.

Behind the wheel

Without listening to the engine noise or observing the exterior features and e-specific buttons on the centre console, I would easily believe that I am driving a 320i M Sport if judged by pure driving characteristics alone.

That’s how natural the 330e felt behind the wheel.

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By default, pressing the Start/Stop button will put the tachometer to ‘Ready’, which means the 330e is in electric mode and ready to roll. Even when the engine started and at idle, the vibration and engine noise were barely felt or heard. To me, BMW has done a very good job in making the electric driving and internal combustion engine (ICE) driving modes as similar as possible.

Obviously, there wasa weird sensation as I rolled out of the neighbourhood silently with enough torque to make the boy racer in his sports hatchback from the next block feel uncomfortable. Apart from the noise and rev needle that stayed at ‘Ready’ while the speedometer climbs, the drive in 330e was remarkably natural. Leave it in Auto eDrive and the car’s onboard computer did its wizardry, switching smoothly between ICE and the electric motor.

When fully-charged, the 293volt lithium-ion battery is claimed to be able to provide enough juice for the electric motor to run up to 37km with a top speed of 120 km/h. In Auto eDrive mode, applying too much (or full) throttle while the car is running on electric power will induce in a swift interference of ICE, where the engine supports the acceleration with the correct gear and at the correct rev.

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However, in Max eDrive mode, the 330e is restricted to electric driving and upon reaching a top speed of 120 km/h, you’ll feel that its power delivery is cut down to hover at that speed. The ICE however will still interrupt the propulsion should the motor run out of electric power.

In city driving, I drove the 330e in Save Battery mode to use the ICE to recharge the battery and when it was full, I would manually engage into Max eDrive mode to exploit its full electric power (and to extend my driving range per tank, too). Most of the time when the battery icon on the instrument cluster indicated that it was full at five bars, I only managed to accumulate a driving range of around30km. Perhaps charging a bit longer and being mindful of the air-con and infotainment system will enable me to reach the claimed 37km range.

Charging the battery can be done in two main ways. The first is by driving and this includes accelerating, coasting and braking. Coasting at high speed will recharge the battery at a capacity of one bar while braking will effectively recharge the battery with a full three bar capacity. The second way is by plugging-in the charging socket (equipped in the boot) into a public charging port or three-pin socket found at home.

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To be honest, the extra 200kg battery carried by the car wasn’t really felt 90% of the time. Here’s where the compromise comes in. You carry around extra weight all the time, even when there is no power in the battery, but it returns an efficient overall driving result and reduces the number of visit to petrol stations. The eDrive experience also encourages you to fully-anticipate the drive and be more involved and attentive.

The steering is on the light side but delivers enough feedback to let you feel what is happening at the front axle. The brakes on the 330e is not too firm and a bit spongy, but fairly easy to modulate. There’s also some inconsistent, weird feel at rolling speeds just before stopping or from a standstill where the brake pedal can feel a bit strange. This is believed to be the result of ICE-electric mix of propulsion.

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Naturally, a 3-Series with its rear-wheel drive layout and ‘The Ultimate Driving Machine’ tagline is a sporty car from the get go, and I can safely say it is the case with the 330e, especially when this particular car is dressed in the M exterior package and M sports suspension.

A wise man once said, “Even if you could, doesn’t mean you should”.

The 330e can be a proper performer. It has three settings – Eco Pro, Comfort and Sport – that alter its power delivery, throttle response, damping rate, steering weightage and gearshifts. The difference was felt especially between Comfort and Sport modes as I felt everything sharpening and more sensitive in Sport mode, but that’s not what you’d want to enjoy in the 330e. We can leave the tyre-shredding hoonigans to the M2 or M3.

In terms of fuel consumption, the 330e recorded an average of 7.2 litres per 100km with me driving in Save Battery mode most of the time. I believe this figure would drop significantly lower if I had spent more time in Max eDrive or even Auto eDrive.

Warranty

The government-approved EEV is priced at RM258,800 which is quite a bargain, considering the original price of RM368,800 without the EEV incentive. Included in the price is a five-year unlimited-mileage warranty, a five-year free maintenance package and a two-year BMW Tyre Warranty.

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Verdict

If you aspire to own an entry-level premium sedan with cutting-edge technology, then the BMW 330e M Sport will appeal as a serious contender. It competes directly against the equally-capable Mercedes C350e that costs nearly RM40k more. The BMW 330e M Sport brilliantly showcased a glance into the future of vehicle propulsion, added with a touch of motorsports heritage and sporty driving dynamics.

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