Gas prices in my neighbourhood are currently hovering around $1.70 a liter (for my American readers, that’s a whopping $5.15 USD a gallon). Rising gas prices, along with an increasing awareness of environmental concerns, are making electrified cars more and more attractive to families, including mine. It’s really cool to see how many new battery electric vehicles, hybrids, and plug-in hybrids are available now, and even cooler to drive one!
The BMW 330e is a plug-in hybrid, or PHEV. Basically, it has both a battery-powered electric motor and a gasoline-powered internal combustion engine. Its estimated range on pure electric is 35 km for the rear-wheel drive base model, and 32 km for the all-wheel drive xDrive model. A PHEV like the 330e gives you the best of both worlds with electric range for local commuting and a gasoline engine that kicks in when needed.
When it comes to electric cars, one of the biggest concerns that potential buyers have is charging and range – how far will this car go before I have to plug it in? When it comes to daily driving, this probably isn’t as much of a concern as you might think.
For Canadians who drive to a regular workplace, the median distance is just 8.7 km. Regular errands (e.g., grocery shopping, school runs, going to the drug store, etc.) don’t typically take us that far from home. Most of us simply don’t drive hundreds of kilometers a day, which makes going electric a much easier transition. But even if you only take a couple of longer trips a year, lots of families don’t want to deal with stopping to recharge along the way. This is where a PHEV shines, especially if it’s your only vehicle.
With British Columbia’s COVID numbers down and restrictions easing up, we recently had the chance to take the BMW 330e xDrive out with the family for a few days to one of our favourite local destinations. Harrison Hot Springs is located on the south end of Harrison Lake, a little less than 2 hours east of Vancouver. We packed our suitcases, packed up the kids, set up Android Auto, and we were on our way.
First impressions? The BMW 330e xDrive is a sleek and sexy sedan, and the Tanzanite Blue Metallic colour of our tester is absolutely gorgeous. On the inside, the car has a really nice, solid-feeling cabin with plenty of luxurious, soft-touch materials and features like standard power sunroof. Our tester sported the textured Aluminum Tetragon Trim, a beautiful trim that feels really upscale but is actually one of the no-added cost options available on all models.
Inside the 2021 BMW 330e
We were able to fit two extra large suitcases side by side in the trunk. That’s plenty for a few days away, but there really wasn’t room in the trunk to add much else. Inside the cabin, the 330e has lots of pockets and storage spaces for everyone though. All four doors have a large side pocket for snacks and a surprisingly roomy cupholder that can hold full-sized one liter water bottles, which is so convenient for longer trips. Net pockets in the seat backs keep the kids’ road trip supplies like books and a tablet close to hand, and a roomy covered console has lots of space for the driver and front-seat passenger. Wireless charging rocks too!
There’s room for three in the back, though that middle seat isn’t the most comfortable. With two people, you can use the pull down armrest in the centre for cup holders, which coincidentally also adds a little separation for the kids when they start to squabble about whose arm is on whose side.
When you’re spending hours in a car, the seats need to be comfortable. Both driver and passenger seats have power-adjustable position and height, recline, lumbar support, and side bolsters that adjust in and out. The 330e’s seats also have a unique feature I’ve never had in any other car I’ve driven. Both front seats allow you to manually extend the seat, making them ideal for taller people who want more support along the back of the thigh.
We didn’t need them for this trip, but I was happy to see that both front seats and the steering wheel are heated. This might seem like a luxury, but even in Vancouver, winters can get pretty chilly so heated seats and steering wheel are very much appreciated. We didn’t have heated rear seats on our model, though that’s an option you can add.
My kids are out of car seats now, but old habits die hard. I noticed right away that the outboard rear seats both have an Isofix (LATCH) system and rear tethers, but unlike every other car I’ve ever owned, the brackets aren’t hidden deep in the seat bight. They’re actually on the seat back under labelled covers, making them so much more convenient and accessible! Speaking of the back seats, my kids were happy to find separate climate controls for the back and 2 USB-C ports to charge their games and electronics.
The 330e xDrive is a lot of fun to drive in sport mode, especially with XtraBoost engaged which adds an additional 30 kW/40 hp for up to 10 seconds, on top of the combined 185 kW/252 hp already generated by the combination of electric motor and combustion engine. Even in hybrid and pure electric modes, the 330e still has enough power to accelerate smoothly and pass comfortably on the freeway.
For the most part, we drove in hybrid mode which allows the car to automatically select the best balance of electric and gasoline driving. The car moves smoothly from electric (up to speeds of 140 km/hr) into gasoline and back as needed, and I never really felt the shift. Driving in hybrid and electric also allows regenerative braking which helps to recharge the battery while driving for even better fuel economy.
Safety and Added Features
Our tester came very nicely equipped with the Premium Enhanced Package – we’re talking premium Vernasca Leather seats, Head-Up Display, wireless charging, and a Harmon/Kardon Sound System. This package also includes ambient lighting which is a really sweet addition, particularly the LED accents along the dash and door, and the “light carpet” projected outside the car in front of the doors.
Airbags, Frontal Collision Warning with City Collision Mitigation, rear collision protection, blind spot alerts, rear cross-traffic alerts, and lane departure warning all come standard. The Advanced Driver Assistance Package adds Active Cruise Control with Stop & Go, and Parking Assistant Plus with Surround View. Other optional safety features include front cross-traffic alerts, lane keep assist, and an evasion assistance system.
Parking Assistant Plus with Surround View is actually a suite of three really useful features. The 3D Surround View high definition rear camera and 360 degree birds-eye view are absolutely brilliant for parking, especially in tight quarters. Park Distance Control uses the front and rear sensors to alert you when you’re getting close to nearby objects, and Parking Assistant will actually automate perpendicular and parallel parking for you!
iDrive Infotainment System
BMW’s 8.8″ touchscreen iDrive infotainment system is responsive and reasonably user-friendly so it didn’t take us long to figure out the basics. Most functions can be controlled either through the touchscreen or using a manual dial/switch, making it convenient for the passenger to use as well. Like all BMWs, the 330e supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Once you set up Android Auto for the first time, the car will auto connect without having to plug in your phone again.
I’m a huge fan of the built-in navigation and turn-by-turn directions on the Head-Up Display (HUD). The HUD displays just the right amount of information: current speed, speed limit, and turn-by-turn directions projected on the road in front of the car. On one occasion the HUD inaccurately displayed a 100 km speed limit on a local highway that was really only 60 km, but it quickly corrected as soon as we approached the next speed limit sign.
Harrison Hot Springs is a regular destination for our family so directions weren’t necessary this trip, but if you’re going anywhere new, the navigation system with HUD makes getting around so simple. You can enter your destination on the go while driving with voice commands. Our car got it right on the first try to all the destinations we tried, including Taco Rio (where they serve the best tacos in Harrison!) just outside the village centre.
Charging the BMW 330e
While EV chargers aren’t quite as ubiquitous as gas stations yet, they are rapidly increasing in number and not difficult to find at all. (We used the PlugShare app to locate nearby chargers.) The 330e’s standard J1772 charging port is stored behind a flap in the front driver’s side fender. While in Harrison, we used a Level 2 charger at our hotel, which took 3 hours to fully charge the battery before heading home. Since the battery pack on a PHEV is fairly small compared to a fully electric vehicle, you don’t need Level 3 DC fast charging.
When it comes to charging at home, there’s no need to buy a pricey wall charger or have an electrician come in. The 330e comes with a charging cable stowed away in a small storage area beneath the main trunk, just large enough for the cable and a first aid kit. You can recharge the 330e overnight with a regular household 110 volt plug, and if you have a 220 volt outlet (like the kind your dryer or oven uses), then you can recharge from 0-100% in around 3 hours.
In the final calculation, after charging at home and at our hotel in Harrison, we ended up using noticeably less gas than expected for the entire round trip of 220 kilometers, plus a couple of short trips outside the village. All told, we only used about a quarter of a tank (around 10 liters) which works out to somewhere around 4.5 litres per 100 kilometers!
The 2021 BMW 330e offers the flexibility of a daily driver that can handle your local commute and errands on purely electric, along with the ability to still head out on the road for longer trips. With the versatility to go electric, hybrid, or gasoline, the 330e is a stylish and comfortable way to explore electric driving, reduce your emissions, and save on gas without the range anxiety or having to commit 100%.
Price: The 2021 BMW 330e sedan starts at $44,950 CAD for the base rear-wheel drive model and $54,000 for the all-wheel xDrive model. Our nicely loaded xDrive tester came in at $66,200.