After jumping through all the necessary hoops to get my hands on an American driver’s license, it was starting to feel like the right time to hit the highways in the US of A. With years spent navigating the roads of Europe and a few months finding my way around the streets of New York under my belt, I was ready to head out and see what the highways of America’s East Coast had to offer.
Along the way, everything felt new and exciting, while also appearing welcoming and homely. There was blueberry pie, lobster and sunshine – all pretty new to me, a Brit. But also afternoon teas, fish and chips and a few clouds in the sky. Same same, but different. And it was a similar affair with the car I chose for the trip, a 2022 BMW 330e.
Over four days, I uncovered a lot to like about the plug-in hybrid sedan, much like how there’s a lot to appreciate about the roads between New York and Cape Cod. In fact, it turned out to be the perfect car for a trip that felt brand new, but familiar and comforting at the same time.
(Full Disclosure: BMW lent me a sunset orange BMW 330e with a full tank of gas and a fully-charged battery pack for a long weekend trip out east.)
It’s a plug-in hybrid version of the German brand’s midsize 3 Series sedan. From the outside, it’s pretty much indistinguishable from the traditional gas-powered variant, save for a charging port behind the front left wheel.
Under the hood, it’s got a 2-liter inline-four engine and an integrated electric motor. That electric motor is paired with a beefier battery pack than the first iteration of BMW’s hybrid 3 Series, meaning it can now cover more than 20 miles on battery power alone.
But there’s a cost to that extra hybrid power and the BMW 330e starts at $42,950, which is just over $1,000 more than its gas-powered sibling. What’s more, the model the firm loaned me added the Driving Assistance pack, which gives you blind spot detection and lane departure warnings, and the Dynamic Handling pack, which adds M Sport brakes, adaptive suspension and variable sport steering.
This, coupled with some interior options and that glorious sunset orange finish meant this 330e would set you back $54,570, which puts it right up alongside the M340i models in terms of pricing.
This all comes down to that hybrid powertrain, I think. In the Bimmer, this sees a single electric motor fit nicely in between the engine and the gearbox, which then routes power from both to the rear wheels. The motor is fed by a 12 kWh, 354v Lithium-ion battery that’s hidden under the rear seat.
Thanks to that electric motor, the 330e’s throttle response is instantaneous. It’s on hand when you dart away from the lights and kicks in to support your acceleration up to highway speeds. It can do both thanks to its continuous output of 50 kW (equivalent to 68 hp) and peak output of 80 kW (109 hp).
On the drive out of Manhattan, the increased battery power over the old model meant I could silently sneak up streets with nothing but the roar of the city for comfort. I managed 22 miles of city center driving, stop-start traffic and highway cruising before the battery pack told me it was out of juice. That seemed fine and is pretty much in line with what BMW suggests it’ll manage.
But what I wasn’t prepared for was the way the car kept topping its charge up thanks to regenerative braking, which kicks in every time you take your foot off the gas. By the time I’d covered the 180 miles to my first stopover, the car had mustered up a further 11 miles of electric range on regen alone. This meant that almost 20% of the drive had been emission-free. Impressive.
But all that regenerative braking does mean the car doesn’t coast when you take a foot off the gas, another new sensation to wrap your head around. Instead, it would begin slowing whenever you let off the accelerator as the batteries charged up. This took some getting used to, but the excitement of seeing the battery level increase whenever you slowed didn’t really get old.
Meanwhile, the navigation system has charging ports pre-programmed, and it worked well for us, as we just picked one, parked, and plugged in. A two-hour top-up at a level two charger with an output of 5 kW gave me 75 percent battery, and a later three-hour stop at a similar power point saw us back up to full power.
The familiarities kicked in whenever the battery level dipped and the car turned away from its electric power. Once the charge dropped to a low level, you’d be treated to a jolt of electric power to start before the engine whispered into life. The transition to gas-power was seamless, with only the gentle hum of the motor alerting you to its presence. Think of the battery pack as the lobster that pairs deliciously with the Mac ‘n’ Cheese of internal combustion, an exciting teaser that leads you into something reliable and wonderful.
In the BMW’s Hybrid drive mode, the engine and battery pack work in unison to give you the most efficient ride possible, while Adaptive sees the car select the best settings for the road you’re on. There is a third Electric mode, which only uses the battery power and can be used whenever you have sufficient charge.
Driving in these three modes felt almost identical, aside from the quicker starts off the line when electrical power was engaged. The steering across all three felt light and responsive. Gearshifts when the engine did kick in were seamless and the eight-speed automatic did a great job selecting the right one for the task.
If you prefer having a little more control over your gear-changes, though, you can choose to set the car up in Sport mode. There, you can manually shift through the gears via paddles on either side of the wheel, which was a welcome option to have while navigating the twisty, turny lanes on the Cape Cod peninsula.
Even then, the changes were as smooth as the ice cream they serve at Mel’s Downtown Creamery (a delicious stop on the trip). The way the 330e cycles through every gear is quite lovely, and it’s one of the factors my usually travel-sick companion says led to a trouble-free adventure. Nice work BMW.
Yes, on the whole, the cabin is very comforting. My review unit came with a lovely black leather interior with blue stitching, which was matched by blue ambient lighting throughout the cab. There was also aluminum trim detailing across the dash and center console.
It was a nice place to be for the four-hour-long traffic jam I found myself in when escaping Manhattan. But, that jam proved to be about the limit for comfort in the sport seats fitted up front. Despite endless opportunities to tweak the height, angle and lumbar support of the driver’s seat, I was beginning to feel stiff after this long behind the wheel and a little more cushioning would have been nice. But then again, four hours is pushing the longest drive you ever need to make in the UK, so maybe I’m just out of practice.
Up to that point, though, the seats were pretty good and allowed you to program in your personal driving position. You can do this for two different settings and easily switch between them via buttons on the door, which is pretty neat if you share the car with someone else.
There was ample legroom in the back, which had space for three and also doubled as handy storage space for a few antiques picked up en-route. And, the trunk fit all our luggage and food supplies with ease.
There was a lot riding on this adventure along the East Coast, a first big road trip and a first car review. So starting with a new iteration of something we’re all familiar with, like a bougie German sedan, seemed like a good choice. And I’d say it definitely was.
The familiar grip of the steering wheel was instantly calming for any nerves I had about taking a $54,000 car through Manhattan’s chaotic traffic. While the gentle hum of the electric motor had me intrigued from the minute I pulled out the parking lot.
Then any concerns about the amount of time it would take to reach a full charge were quelled by the familiar aromas wafting ‘round the filling station when I topped up the tank. And thankfully, the car’s incredible gas-mileage meant that this wasn’t a stop we had to make often.
And that was my lasting, albeit very unglamorous, takeaway from this trip. Yes, the car looks excellent, it drives really nicely and the cabin is a lovely place to spend a few hours (but no more than four). But, after covering around 600 miles on just $70 worth of gas, I can’t fathom why anyone would consider buying anything less than a hybrid.
If you are in a position to begin embracing a dash of electric power, then this hybrid 3 Series is the perfect place to start.