The other Model 3: BMW’s plug-in 3 Series is the hybrid you didn’t know about

The Tesla Model 3’s debut was, hands down, the biggest electric-car unveiling this year. Its splashy reveal in March brought Tesla millions of dollars in deposits from potential buyers – many of whom lined up at Tesla stores like customers do ahead of a new iPhone launch.

But, the Model 3 is still a long way off. Those who didn’t get in on the initial wave of orders, likely won’t take one home until well into 2018 or later. There are still quite a few electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles to tide the market over until the Model 3 comes through and steals everybody’s thunder.

Among them – the BMW 330e. The plug-in hybrid version of the iconic sports sedan you probably didn’t know about.

BMW unveiled the 330e in 2015 – months before Tesla would shatter expectations with a Model 3 prototype that quickly garnered hundreds of thousands of preorders. The 330e is one example of BMW’s move toward more mainstream green cars, which include the all-electric i3 compact and the plug-in hybrid i8 sports coupe.

The 330e and its SUV counterpart, the X5 xDrive40e, could potentially be a preview of more plug-ins (or perhaps fully electric) BMWs to come.

The automaker recently dropped off a 330e for us to test. Here’s how it went.


Right off the bat, you can see there are few things that betray this 3 Series’ electric powers.

source
Bryan Logan/Business Insider

That is, until you catch a glimpse of the “330e” badge out back …

source
Bryan Logan/Business Insider

… and the extra fuel door, located on the front driver’s side fender.

source
Bryan Logan/Business Insider

There’s also an “eDrive” badge planted rather conspicuously behind the rear doors.

source
Bryan Logan/Business Insider

Here’s that charging port in action.

source
Bryan Logan/Business Insider

So, how does the 330e drive? Let’s hop in.

source
Bryan Logan/Business Insider

That eDrive button on the base of the shifter allows you to switch between all-electric and hybrid modes.

source
Bryan Logan/Business Insider

This is no Tesla. Driving on battery power alone got us about 14 miles of range max in highway driving. The 330e can recharge its own lithium-ion battery pack as you drive, but 50% was as far as it would charge using this method.

caption
2017 BMW 330e
source
Bryan Logan/Business Insider

The cabin is well-appointed and comfortable, both for street and highway travel.

source
Bryan Logan/Business Insider

A convenient charging cable is included, though it may not be worth reaching for this when you’re out and about, since the battery range is so short. If you’re charging at home, it plugs into a standard wall outlet.

source
Bryan Logan/Business Insider

The 330e is a good choice for people who want a luxury plug-in hybrid sedan, with the performance pedigree of a BMW.

source
Bryan Logan/Business Insider

BMW put together a respectable package here. Overall MPG is impressive, and the 330e’s gas and electric powerplants combine to offer more than enough acceleration when you need it.

source
Bryan Logan/Business Insider

If you’re looking for a small, sporty luxury sedan in the mid-$40,000 range with excellent fuel economy, this is a good choice.

Despite the extra weight from its lithium-ion battery, the car still handles remarkably well. It remained sure-footed during spirited driving on some curvy roads, and acceleration was smooth and quick.

Of course, it’s not a Tesla Model 3. You won’t be able to drive 200-plus miles on battery power, but the 330e does everything your standard 3 Series excels at, so being able to plug this one in is really just an added perk. And if you have a commute that’s fewer than 14 miles or so, you could feasibly drive on battery power alone and save some money on gas.

It remains to be seen whether BMW will eventually make an all-electric 3 Series, but there’s no doubt that it could if it wanted to. Such a car could be a game-changer for a nameplate that did just that in the entry level sport luxury sedan segment four decades ago.