BMW’s iPerformance range has been expanded with the introduction of the 330e in SA, which brings the tally to five models — if you discount the niche i8 sports car — under the Bavarian’s plug-in hybrid portfolio.
Motor News has driven all the models, bar this smallest member of the family, with the most recent one being the 530e that we drove in Germany a few months ago. It was a relatively good proposition that offered up to 40km of electric-only mode at speeds of up to 120km/h.
The iPerformance range had been mostly in a higher market segment, but it is good to see the technology trickle into a lower segment, which should mean a relatively lower capital outlay, albeit still a hefty R767,400.
With the 320i as the building block for the rest of the model, the 330e takes the 320i’s 2.0l Twinpower Turbo petrol unit making 135kW and 290Nm and augments it with a 65kW and 250Nm electric motor. This brings the combined system output to 185kW and 350Nm that powers the rear wheels via an eight-speed transmission.
Performance should be brisk, particularly off the line, as the electric motor offers instantaneous power and thrust. It is claimed to take 6.1 seconds to reach 100km/h from rest and go on to a top speed of 227km/h.
Fuel consumption is pegged at 2.1l/100km, while carbon emissions are said to be 44g/km. The high-voltage battery, with a total capacity of 7.6kWh (gross) or 5.7kWh (net), made up of lithium-ion cells, is located underneath the boot and boasts efficient cooling including a highly integrated low-temperature circuit.
Speaking of boot space, there is a rather paltry 370l. However, it is an issue that afflicts both 530e and 740e due to the location of the batteries.
There are three driving modes available: Eco Pro, Comfort and Sport. In Comfort mode, which prioritises a fine balance of comfort and efficiency, as well as dynamics, the use of the electric motor is regulated in such a way that BMW says it helps to ensure both relaxed and economical driving. If required, the electric motor teams up with the combustion engine to maximise power delivery. Top-end performance using the full system output of the combustion engine and electric motor combined is the focus of Sport mode. In this setting the engine and motor are permanently active. This allows the drive system to react instantaneously to every movement of the accelerator.
In Eco Pro mode, the efficiency potential of electrification is utilised particularly extensively. Intelligent hybrid functionality allows the electric motor and combustion engine to work together with the greatest possible overall efficiency.
Charging-wise, the lithium-ion high voltage battery can be fully replenished in just two hours and 12 minutes using a BMW i Wallbox at home or the office, so that the car’s maximum electric range is available when you are ready to set off again. Alternatively, the model can also be charged from empty in three hours from a conventional domestic power socket using the standard charging cable supplied.
Much like the i8, the X5 xDrive40e and 740e, the 330e at the touch of a button in Max eDrive mode can run on purely electric power. Here, the combustion engine only comes into play when the accelerator’s kickdown threshold has passed. In Save Battery mode, the battery’s charge can be maintained to enable electric driving later on in the journey. If the charge level drops below 50%, the battery is replenished.
The model will take on the Mercedes-Benz C350e, which has been on the market for quite some time and is built locally in East London.
While the market for plug-in hybrids remains minute locally compared to some European markets, they play a significant role in a marque’s fleet reduction of carbon emissions and, as such, we can expect more models of this variety to enter the segment. The argument remains that hybrid and electric cars command a premium over conventional diesel variants, but alternative fuel and renewable energy will continue to be on the brief for most car makers.
In the US, the 330e will sell well as that market is averse to diesels. With major cities such as London looking to ban combustion engine-powered vehicles in the city centre, the transition towards this new technology is inevitable.
For those looking to embrace the technology, BMW seems to be leading the charge with a complement of cars under its iPerformance banner. Much like its siblings, the 330e will remain a niche model in the South African context, but the tide will without doubt change in the not-too-distant future.