As BMW barrels into the frontier of autonomous driving, it may need to change its tagline from the "Ultimate Driving Machine" to the "Ultimate Driven Machine."
Today's tester is a 330e iPerformance plug-in hybrid sedan. Of course, it has all the overthought attention of BMW engineering. It is an accomplished hybrid-electric experience and much more accommodating than some of the car's interior functions.
The 2017 330e has a starting price of $45,790, including the $995 freight charge from Munich, Germany. That MSRP is $1,095 more than the 2016 model, which went on sale last March. The price increase includes no substantial changes.
The tester cost $61,040. It included several technology packages, such as a navigation system, active blind-spot detection and keyless entry with push-button ignition. Even a rearview camera and Bluetooth smartphone integration are optional.
The 330e power package is a 180-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine integrated with an 87-horsepower electric motor and a lithium-ion battery. Together, the powertrain has 248 horsepower and 310 foot-pounds of torque from 1,350 to 4,250 rpm. BMW cites zero to 60 mph acceleration in 5.9 seconds, which is not a dynamic performance, but the curb weight is heavy at 3,900 pounds.
The eDrive system (first used in the electric BMW i3 and the BMW i8 plug-in hybrid sports car) allows a gasoline-electric hybrid mode with an electric top speed of 50 mph. There is electric driving for up to 14 miles with a top speed of 50 mph. The combustion engine can fire up when additional power is required.
BMW also has a hybrid-specific Proactive Driving Assistant that works through the navigation system. It is intended to find the most efficient route for saving fuel. Using the route-guidance function, the navigation system gathers information on the route ahead and uses it to manage the responses of the gasoline and electric powertrain. The system factors speed limits, terrain and the current traffic to identify when and where the electric drive system will be preferred over the combustion engine. And the system sets a route for maximum efficiency.
Even without using the proactive assistant, I was averaging almost 35 mpg in a week of commuting. The EPA cites 31 mpg combined city and highway or the obscure electricity plus gasoline rating of 72 mpg-e. The standard 330i with the same gasoline engine has a combined rating of 27 mpg.
Throttle tip-in is guarded to preserve the electric power, and there is stronger force in the midrange when engine and electric motor connect. But for around-town driving, the car just doesn't have the edge to guard the driver's line. When flattening the pedal, I had some guilt about wasting precious energy, so I generally stayed within the hybrid-electric sweet spot for fuel efficiency.
A Level II 240V charger can replenish an empty battery in 2 1/2 hours. Using the onboard charging cable plugged into a household outlet will take all night, or 16 to 18 hours. A Level II charger can run $1,000 for the unit, peripherals and installation by an electrician.
The high-voltage battery is packaged under the trunk, which still allows the function of a 40/20/20 folding back seat. (Often, the hybrid battery pack is placed against the back seat.) Trunk space is trimmed to a still usable 13 cubic feet, down from 17 cubic feet in the standard 3 Series. Runflat tires eliminate the need for a spare.
The fuel tank is positioned under the rear bench. At 10.8 gallons, fuel capacity is down from 15.8 in gasoline models. The arithmetic may work out to more than 350 miles of driving range, but that is not a selling point to long-distance commuters.
The interior is tightly assembled with clean lines and no frivolous ornamentation, but it is not an intuitive arrangement of controls. The electronic gear shift lever is notchy to use and requires very deliberate actions. It seems a little unnecessary when a row of shift buttons or a multifunction shifter dial would take less space on the narrow console. And while the manual parking brake lever is handy and efficient, it takes up valuable space. There is no e-bin for charging, and there is only one USB port, which is tucked away in the armrest console.
Front head and legroom are class-leading at 40.3 and 42 inches, but the cabin feels compact. The seating position is low with a low dashboard. Sightlines are OK, but there are blind spots at the outreached windshield pillars and the side mirrors, which are tight to the body. Watch for pedestrians when making turns.
The back seat is raised with good thigh support but very little room for the center occupant. And a prominent transmission tunnel compromises center footroom.
With a larger gas tank, the 330e could have been an ideal hyper-commuting car. But BMW iPerformance is still more of a European option, where its 14-mile electric range helps offset the price of petrol. At $60,000 well-equipped, the 330e is a big step in the U.S. — where a used, fully electric Tesla costs about the same.
2017 BMW 330e iPerformance plug-in hybrid
—Body style: midsize, five-passenger, rear-drive sedan
—Engine: 180-horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder; 310 foot-pounds torque from 1,350 to 4,250 rpm
—Electric drive: 87-horsepower electric motor and lithium-ion battery
—Combined power: 248 horsepower and 310 foot-pounds torque
—Zero to 60 mph: 5.9 seconds.
—Transmission: eight-speed automatic
—Fuel economy: 31 mpg combined city, highway; 72 mpg-e; premium fuel
—Fuel tank: 10.8 gallons
—Trunk space: 13 cu. feet
—Front head/leg/shoulder room: 40.3/42/55.1 inches
—Rear head/leg/shoulder room: 37.7/35.1/55.1 inches
—Length/wheelbase: 182.8/110.6 inches
—Curb weight: 3,900 pounds
—Turning circle: 37.1 feet
—Base price: $45,790, including $995 freight charge; price as tested $61,040,
—Assembled in Munich, Germany.
—Warranty: four years/50,000 miles basic coverage with roadside assistance and free scheduled maintenance for four years/50,000 miles
Mark Maynard is online at [email protected] Find photo galleries and more news at Facebook.com/MaynardsGarage. To find out more about Mark Maynard and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.