It's impossible to not sing Glade's catchy air-freshener jingle, "Plug it in, plug it in," every time a SAE J1772 battery connector meets a charging port. And soon that earworm can crawl inside the heads of drivers of the revised 2021 BMW 330e plug-in hybrid, which will go on sale next summer with reformulated packaging and more electric juice.
The powertrain combination of BMW's latest electrified sport sedan is similar to the previous generation BMW 330e: Under the hood is a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four (181 horsepower, 221 lb-ft of torque) backed by a ZF eight-speed automatic transmission that has had its torque convertor replaced with a more powerful AC motor-generator producing 111 horses and 196 lb-ft, gains of 24 and 12, respectively. New to the second-generation 330e is an Xtraboost function, which, in Sport mode, delivers an additional 40 horsepower for up to 10 seconds, even with the battery depleted. Think of it as a shot of nitrous. The boost can also be triggered when you depress the accelerator past its kickdown detent in the car's lesser drive modes.
The 330e's internal combustion engine and electric unit operate in synchronous harmony. With delicate use of the accelerator or when in EV mode, operation is silent and the handoff between gas and electric propulsion is nearly unperceivable. Activating Sport mode or a jolt of the right pedal summons the gasoline unit for duty, but the powertrain's synthesized soundtrack played through the stereo speakers makes its call to action more pleasing than before. Top speed in electric mode is now a claimed 87 mph, a gain of 12 mph over the previous 330e. The more electrifying news is contained within the air-cooled, lithium-ion battery pack, which grows from 7.6 to 12.0 kWh. Its 10.4 kWh of useable energy will undoubtedly boost the electric range well beyond the prior 330e's EPA-estimated 14 miles, though official ratings are not yet available.
Better but Familiar
Aside from the electrification, the 330e drives much like the latest G20-generation 330i model. With its variable sport steering left in Comfort mode, the 330e's tiller is a bit light and imprecise off center. Some of that wonkiness is tempered in Sport mode—which feels as if it should be the base setting—as the electric assist lessens and there's more liveliness to be felt through the rim of the steering wheel.
The European-spec models we drove were equipped with adaptive dampers and upgraded M Sport brakes. Though the ride quality is notably taut in any of the dampers' settings, the M brakes have a linear pedal feel with zero sense of the hybrid sponginess that can manifest from the transition between regenerative and friction braking. There's certainly a sense of greater mass when pushing the 330e through corners, but that weight is now centered lower in the chassis. The battery pack is located under the rear seat, forcing the relocation of the 3's fuel tank to over the rear axle and trimming trunk space from 17 to 13 cubic feet.
There's no definitive indicator from a styling perspective that the 330e is a plug-in hybrid, save for some discreet badges and the charge-port door on the driver's side front fender. The 330e will be available with the same driver-assistance technology, such as adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist, that are available on conventional versions of the 3-series. One neat trick specific to the plug-in model is a predictive hybrid mode. When using the car's navigation system, the powertrain makes best use of its available energy where it's needed, either depleting or recovering electrons in ideal locations to be as efficient as possible—with no catchy jingle required.
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