BMW Announces Plug-in Version of 3-Series

By · May 15, 2015

BMW 330e plug-in hybrid

In September 2013, Peter Wolf, BMW’s head of production line for large vehicles, said, “We are planning to have a plug-in hybrid vehicle in each and every model series.” Twenty months later, BMW appears to be methodically marching to this plan by announcing the introduction of the 330e, a plug-in hybrid version of its popular 3-series sedan.

The announcement about the 330e was part of BMW’s press release about its mid-cycle update about the entire 3-series line-up. The 330e will have an all-electric range of about 22 miles, which is a step up from the upcoming BMW X5’s 13 miles in electric mode. The most important metric for a plug-in hybrid is its all-electric range, because it indicates how long a driver can operate the car on electricity, and thus avoid trips to the gas station.

Total output for the 330e will be 250 horsepower, with 310 pound-feet of torque. Sprints to 60 miles per hour are expected at just over six seconds, with a top-speed of 140 mph.

The 330e will likely become BMW’s fourth plug-in hybrid, following the luxury BMW i8 sports car, which went on sale in August 2014, and the 2016 BMW X5 xDrive40e, due in the U.S. in fall 2015. The plug-in version of the BMW 2-Series Active Tourer, also expected later this year, will likely arrive before the first 330e models go on sale. (And of course, the i3 electric city car, which has a range-extended option, has been on the market since last May.)

While pricing, efficiency and other detailed information is not yet available for the BMW 330e, we can look to the larger X5 xDrive40e SUV for some reference points. Its 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo engine and electric motor are integrated into its 8-speed automatic transmission. When fully charged, the X5 xDrive40e will go about 13 miles in electric mode, before the 308-horsepower engine is utilized.

Design Changes

All refreshed 3-series vehicles for 2016 will include a revised suspension and electric power steering. The four-cylinder 320i, 328i, and 328d models use an existing powerplant, while an optional all-new six-cylinder turbocharged 3.0-liter engine will go into the 340i.

Visual changes to the 2016 3-series lineup include reshaped headlights, new wheel designs, and updated LED taillights. On the inside, the center console is slightly reorganized, and additional chrome trim adorns various surfaces and controls. There are also a few technology updates, including enhanced capability for the optional parking assist system, and upgraded software for the navigation system and infotainment interface.

Beating Tesla Model 3 to the Line

Readers of this site know the fundamental difference between a pure electric car and a plug-in hybrid. So the Tesla Model 3, not due until late 2017 or early 2018, is not a true competitor. But the well-established reputation of the BMW 3-series, which accounts for 25 percent of all BMW sales worldwide, nonetheless represents an option for consumers wanting to plug into the grid for vehicle power.

Not only will the 330e arrive on the market approximately two years before the Tesla Model 3, its 22 miles of EV range could satisfy many commuters—while allowing quick fill-ups for hundreds of miles of added range, compared to a 200-mile EV that, even when quick-charged, will takes about 30 minutes to refuel. Plug-in hybrid versions of 5- and 7-series sedans are expected to arrive in the next few years, turning the BMW dealership into one of the industry's most plug-friendly showrooms.

In March, Mercedes announced its own aggressive schedule of plug-in hybrid introductions that includes 10 models by 2017. At that pace, there will be a new Mercedes-Benz plug-in hybrid model introduced every four months on average for the next two years.

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