The future is bright for electric cars in 2017, as new figures released recently indicate that more than 100,000 plug-in cars could be on UK roads by the middle of this year.
This prediction is fuelled by record numbers of electric car registrations in 2016, with volumes rising 29% on the previous 12 months. In fact, every quarter of 2016 produced year-on-year growth, with the total number of EVs on UK roads now at more than 87,000.
More and more UK drivers are becoming switched on to the cost-saving benefits and convenience of electric motoring, which resulted in 36,907 electric vehicles being registered between January and December last year, a number that’s set to grow this year.
The ever-increasing selection of electric cars available in the UK is another factor aiding the rise in the market. More than 35 plug-in models are available at the moment, which is four times the number on the market just five years ago.
Plug-in hybrids were particularly popular in 2016, as registrations rose by over 40%. Models such as the BMW 330e, Volkswagen Golf GTE and Audi A3 Sportback e-tron proved to be among the most in-demand.
When I first received the 330e to test for a week I was pondering the purpose of a plug in hybrid. Why would you plug your car into the mains when it has a perfectly good 2 litre turbo charged petrol engine up front?!
I had thought to myself that I wouldn’t bother plugging it in at all. But the novelty factor won me over.
Plugging the fossil fuelled beemer into the mains felt strange, but after 3 hours the thing was pretty much charged.
The next day I drove to and from work using no fuel at all. I was sold.
The 2016 BMW 330e is a plug-in hybrid without compromise.
It’s equipped with a 2.0-liter Twin Power turbocharged inline four, paired with a lithium-ion powered electric motor and mated to an eight speed automatic transmission. The combined hybrid system output is 248 horsepower and 310 pound feet of torque, which delivers a respectable 0-60 mile per hour time of 5.9 seconds.
Driving the 330e is a very cool experience. Put aside your preconceptions you might have about hybrids. The 330 moves when you stomp on it. It’s pure electric – super smooth and quiet – when it needs to be, and delivers plenty of turbo punch when you put your foot in it.
The four drive modes meet your moods: EcoPro, Comfort, Sport, and Sport+.
A dip in the Toyota Prius pool might elevate your state of environmentally responsible bliss, but surely you’d miss the driving joy that hybrids sacrifice to trim their CO2 footprints. Good news: Salvation has arrived in the form of a plug-in-hybrid sedan that’s actually fun to drive. The 2016 BMW 330e sedan tested here exploits lessons learned from BMW’s i3 and i8 models (now part of the iPerformance sub-brand, along with plug-in-hybrid versions of the standard cars) to resolve the classic rub between low consumption and high performance.
This green edition of the world’s bestselling luxury sedan is expensive, with a starting price of $44,695, but it’s sure to be a hit with those interested in saving the planet without resorting to public transit.
The powertrain components are a 180-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four in the usual underhood location, teamed with an eight-speed automatic transmission and an 87-hp electric motor/generator. The AC power provider replaces the torque converter inside the ZF 8HP gearbox. Computer-controlled servos and clutches provide manual and automatic command over gear ratios and three different propulsion modes. A 7.6-kWh air-cooled lithium-ion battery lives unobtrusively under the trunk floor, while the 10.8-gallon gas tank rests beneath the rear seat.
To experience the joys of combustion-free driving, simply punch the eDrive button on the console to engage the Max eDrive mode. After an initial driveline shudder, there’s barely a whisper as the car motors toward the future. As more city centers around the globe ban vehicles that produce tailpipe emissions, this mode will be an excellent means of maintaining personal mobility. With gentle accelerator pressure, the iPerformance will motor up to a top speed of 75 mph for a maximum of 14 miles, according to BMW, assuming the battery was fully charged at the start. When the driver inevitably grows weary of turtle mode, pressing deeper on the accelerator pedal—say, to execute a safe pass—automatically fires up the turbo four-cylinder. This occurs so smoothly that the transformation is revealed more by the swing of the tach needle than by any engine rumble.
Mode two, called Auto eDrive, is the default setting. The only difference from the Max setting is that the baton passes from electric propulsion to engine power at 50 mph.
People don’t want plug-in hybrid cars, the auto companies said. Plug-ins are just a stop gap solution on the way to real electric cars, the experts said. But guess what? The plug-ins are here and the manufacturers can’t keep up with demand. In Europe and the UK, demand for the new BMW 330e has far outstripped supply, Motoring reports.
BMW has issued this statement:
“We predicted UK sales of 2,500 for the 330e this year, but the demand was much higher than we originally anticipated. We do have high demand across other PHEV models, but it’s not to the same extent as this. Due to very strong demand, we are indeed oversubscribed on 330e. We’re working with affected parties now and will let you know more when we have it regarding future supply.”
Several UK customers have been informed their orders have been cancelled because the factory cannot keep up.
Volkswagen, mired in its diesel cheating scandal woes, has at least one bright spot of good news. It tells Motoring,
“Last year we took around 2,500 orders for the Golf GTE and that number is expected to grow appreciably through 2016. Demand comfortably exceeds supply although we have, of course, adjusted production to accommodate that increasing demand.”
BMW’s current fleet of vehicles has a number of green models available – but the company wants to push efficient cars further to the forefront of its model line-up and has developed a range of systems to help support it.
With the recent launches of the BMW 330e and 225xe plug-in hybrid (PHEV) models, the German giant now has a number of plug-in options spread across a variety of different market sectors. The X5 40e SUV has already been launched this year and the 740e PHEV is due too, giving BMW four PHEV models in its line-up in 2016 alone.
Add to that the i3 EV, i3 REX and i8 PHEV and BMW has a number of options available for those looking at plug-in models – compact citycars, a family MPV, a compact executive saloon, large SUV, luxury saloon and supercar.
BMW has also confirmed that it is continuing to work on hydrogen fuel cell (HFV) technology, to create a combination of set-ups – pure electric for short, regular journeys, and HFV for longer runs.
The new BMWs X5 xDrive 40e, 330e, 225xe, and 740e models are the first products to benefit from the research and development carried out by BMW’s iCars division. The i3 and i8 remain at the cutting edge of BMW’s efficiency programmes, but the lessons learnt from those models is already being filtered down to the next generation of ‘standard’ models.
BMW has announced that these PHEV variants will be grouped together under the banner of iPerformance – set to be launched at the Geneva Motor Show alongside the plug-in 7-Series. This brand is intended to indicate to customers the plug-in electric systems under the skin, and increased use of carbon fibre in some cases, despite the cars looking relatively normal, and not as futuristic as the i3 and i8.
Why are you reviewing a normal-looking BMW 3-series?
Because it’s got a plug-in hybrid drivetrain, that’s why. But it’s not like the 225xe people carrier, which is a natively front-driven car. That car’s hybrid system adds an electric motor at the back for the bonus of 4WD.
This 330e, on the other hand, is natively rear-drive. It uses a motor hooked directly to the flywheel driving through the regular automatic gearbox, so it’s still rear-drive only. So closer to BMW’s tradition.
OK, got it. Any numbers for me?
It uses a four-cylinder, 2.0-litre petrol engine with 184bhp. Add the e-motor to the equation, and you have 252bhp in all. Because the electric motor is geared one-to-one with the engine, its contribution is there for you all the time (the 225xe’s rear motor has a single-speed transmission and its effort falls away to nothing at motorway speed). So the 330e has the poke of a 330i petrol, and gets to 62mph in 6.1sec. Hot hatch quick.
Does it feel as lively as the numbers suggest?
Pretty much. There’s a smooth urge at mid revs thanks to the ever-alert electric torque. The petrol engine is quiet, but its tone is boring and grumbly. But nothing like as loud as the diesel engine you’d be buying instead.
In town, you’re often propelled by uncannily smooth and silent e-drive. Provided the battery has charge, the electric motor, at 88bhp, is plenty powerful enough for urban use without troubling the engine at all.
MW’s 3 Series gets more economical with plug-in hybrid powertrain
Verdict: 4 stars
As hybrids grow in popularity, the BMW 330e is likely to become a fleet favourite among company car drivers – and deservedly so. It joins the Mercedes C 350e in moving the game on from the comparatively thirsty (and non plug-in) Lexus IS 300h. It looks and drives like a 320d, but costs a fraction of the price to run and is utterly silent around town. Audi will feel a desperate rush to get its upcoming A4 e-tron to market, and double quick, too.
BMW wants a 10 per cent share of the electric car market worldwide by 2020. The success of models like this 330e will be key, and with plug-in versions of the 2 Series, 7 Series and X5 all on their way – it doesn’t look an impractical goal.
While the company is a long way from ditching its fast but frugal diesels, it is looking to the future with its expanding range of plug-in cars. The 330e gets an all-electric range of around 25 miles, which BMW says offers “the right solution” for its customers.
From the outside, it looks much like any other 3 Series. There is a pair of badges on the rear wings, as well as the tell-tale 330e moniker on the back – but save the additional charge port ahead of the front-left wheel, there’s no distinguishing this from the already fleet-friendly 320d.
Inside, it’s much the same story. So much so, in fact, you’d be hard pushed to tell this example is capable of as much as 148mpg. There is a small ‘eDrive’ button by the gear lever, but aside from that it’s business as usual.
BMW’s new 2-Series Active Tourer and 3-Series plug-in hybrid range priced from £35,005 and £33,935 respectively
After their debut at the 2015 Frankfurt Motor Show, BMW has revealed pricing for its two new plug-in hybrid models, the 330e and 225xe. The petrol-electric 3-Series is on sale now, while the 2-Series Active Tourer will be available from March.
The 330e starts from £33,935 in SE trim and is available in all other trims in the 3-Series range. It also remains a dedicated rear-wheel drive sports saloon. The £35,005 225xe, on the other hand, is a standalone model that previews one of the key powertrains planned for the X1 and for the upcoming X2.
The 225xe takes its powertrain inspiration from BMW’s bravest shape, the i8, effectively taking its combination of electric and petrol motors and turning them around.