The basic idea of a plug-in hybrid is one where execution is paramount. Done right, it offers the best of both worlds: EV efficiency for the vast majority of driving, petrol flexibility for long journeys and unexpected adventures. Done poorly, this results in a heavier, less efficient combustion-engined car that can squeeze just a few miles of electric driving through town before the large battery pack becomes dead weight.
So, deciding whether a particular PHEV is right for you means figuring out whether the particular balance of features is better or worse for you than a purely internal combustion engine vehicle or an EV. In the case of BMW’s 3 Series plug-in, asking a few questions can help clear things up.
How do you drive?
Getting the most out of the 330e requires a gentle touch on the right pedal. Granted, driving slowly is the best way to maximize the efficiency of any car, but this PHEV is even more so; while the 330e can go up to 140 mph in electric mode, that engine only makes 107 horsepower, meaning you’ll have to drive a student’s delicacy during their final exams to keep the gas engine from coming to life.
How far do you drive?
Speaking of electric-only driving, even with a full battery, this hybrid chariot travels just 22 miles before turning back into a gas station (or 20 miles if you opt for the 330e xDrive with all-wheel drive).
Data on the length of the average U.S. commute varies widely, especially in this, let’s just call it the pandemic world, but according to a 2021 report from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and the U.S. Department of Defense of Transportation, people who still physically commute to work, who make more than $100,000 a year, travel about 27 miles going to work. That means, even if you drive slowly and charge at both ends of your commute, you’ll still be driving about 10 miles a day on gasoline. That’s not much – a third of a gallon at worst – but it’s still a lot more than, say, the old Chevy Volt or the current Toyota RAV4 prim
Where do you drive?
This matters for two reasons: first, rural and out-of-town drivers are likely to have greater distances to travel, reducing the proportional impact of the range of EVs alone; second, like all hybrids and EVs, the 330e is more efficient in cities and stop-and-go traffic, where it has more opportunities to absorb energy from the brakes and recharge the battery.
Where do you park?
More specifically perhaps: where do you park at night? Is it in a dedicated garage or driveway where you can plug the 330e into a power outlet? It also doesn’t have to be a 240-volt charger; even a 110-volt outlet can charge the battery in about 12 hours.
(Another little question to ask yourself: How much trunk space do you need? The 330e stores its 12-kWh battery right under the trunk, reducing the gas-powered 3 Series’ 17.2 cubic feet of space there to just 13. ,2.)