Abundant Caution: The 2021 BMW 330e
Updated: Mar 31, 2022
One week before I sat down to write this, GM announced it would be an all-electric vehicle manufacturer by the year 2035. Yesterday, Jaguar Land Rover announced an even more ambitious timetable, with Jag a pure EV brand by 2025---just four model years from now---and Land Rover a "majority electric" brand by 2030.
Announcements like these have become routine since the rollout of the Ford Mustang Mach-E, a car that Ford hopes will win over all of America the way Tesla has the coasts, and since a new administration that recognizes climate change and intends to respond to it has taken office.
BMW, meanwhile, has its all-electric i3 and, until the 2022 iX SUV arrives, that's it for pure electrics. It has invested heavily in PHEVs---plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, which deliver a certain all-electric range on a charge before switching to a hybrid gasoline/electric powertrain until the car is charged again.
We've long been a fan of PHEVs here. But the key to a killer PHEV is that all-electric range. The best ones (Chrysler Pacifica, Toyota RAV4 Prime) offer at least 30 miles you can drive before you touch a drop of gas or put a particle of pollution in the air (the Pacifica 32, the RAV4 Prime 39).
For the 2021 BMW 330e, that all-electric range is just 22 miles. That's an improvement over the 2020 BMW X3 xDrive30e we reviewed in the fall, which offers only 17 miles on a charge, and a substantial leap from last year's 330e, which managed only 14, but still. Unless you drive very, very little, you're going to burn some gasoline.
The good news is that when you do, you'll burn less since it is a hybrid powerplant. The EPA estimates 28 miles per gallon combined city and highway.
The gasoline part of the equation is a 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder with 181 horsepower. The electric motor is 111 horsepower. And new this year is XtraBoost, which, when in sport mode, adds 40 horsepower when you punch the throttle (think of it as electric nitrous), so the 330e can be very quick.
Past that, what you have here is deservedly one of the most-beloved sedans on the market, the BMW 3-series---a well-crafted, beautifully balanced, sweet-handling sports sedan.
Base price for the 330e is $44,550. The window sticker is at the end of this review so you can see for yourself, but among the standard equipment highlights at that price are 19-inch wheels, an eight-speed sport automatic transmission, a wi-fi hotspot and navigation.
Our tester had, as European premium marques tend to, a significant amount of extra-cost optional equipment. $14,100 worth, to be exact. I'll let you refer to the window sticker below for specifics. But let's just say that I wouldn't change a thing, apart from the pure electric range, and that $59,645 (the as-tested price) strikes me as about right for what you're getting.
BMW needs to recognize that, especially in the States, and especially along the coasts, luxury buyers are increasingly including Tesla in their equation. PHEVs are a terrific proposition for buyers who can't quite bring themselves to make the all-at-once leap to all-electric, but that pure electric PHEV range has to be a lot closer to 40 miles than 20 to make that case.