3 Series

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2021 BMW 3 Series Overview

Hot off the heels of its seventh-generation debut, BWM's iconic sports sedan returns with a new trick up its sleeve: plug-in power. After tooling around Europe the last few years, the 330e finally arrives on US shores as a plug-in hybrid variant of the classic 3 Series, boasting 22 miles of electric range and up to 87 mph of all-electric power.

While both conventional gasoline and plug-in hybrid versions of the 3 Series start with a 2.0-liter, turbocharged, 4-cylinder engine, the 330e integrates an electric motor into the 8-speed automatic transmission, powered by a 12-kWh lithium-ion battery beneath the rear seats. Together, the whole package manages to deliver an impressive 248 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque, and the powertrain is capable of bumping up to 288 hp for around 10 seconds if requested. So what’s the price of admission? Well, beyond the extra $2,000 you’ll pay for the plug-in privilege, there’s 600 pounds of added weight in the form of those batteries and electric motor, and that’s not something you can ignore.

If you’re used to driving a conventional 3 Series you are going to notice a difference with the 330e. That’s not to say it won’t scoot. It’ll still make it to 60 mph in around 5.6 seconds in rear-wheel-drive (RWD) form, after all. But that sprightly punch of torque you’ll get with the 330e’s electric engine will be sadly accompanied by a noticeable increase in heft while cornering and braking. Is it composed? Of course. But that doesn’t mean you won’t notice the extra weight, either. The good news is that while you’ll feel every one of those 600 pounds, the 330e will have an easier time shrugging them off. Skidpad testing shows only a slight drop in cornering performance, and with braking, you can expect to increase stopping distance by only a few feet. There’s a small amount of grabbiness right as you come to a stop, but otherwise, you shouldn’t notice much of a difference at all. A shame there, because the 1-pedal driving experience you get with electric BMWs like the i3 would be very welcome here.

Of course, money and performance aren’t the only drawbacks. The normally cavernous trunk on the 3 Series is also impacted by those batteries, and total cubic feet back there will drop from 17 to 13.2. That’s not a catastrophic drop, but I’d check if your luggage will still fit when shopping. There’s also the added wear and tear that an extra quarter-ton of weight will induce on parts like tires and brakes and suspension, so that should factor into your long-term budgeting as well.

Otherwise, there’s little you’ll find to distinguish the 330e from a conventional 3 Series. And if you’re not willing to sacrifice performance for efficiency, there are some really fun options here. Start with the 330i and you’ll be treated to a non-hybrid version of the 2.0-liter, turbocharged 4-cylinder. Without the help of the electric motor, you can expect 255 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque, meaning you’ll get to 60 mph in 5.3 seconds and see a return of 26 mpg city, 36 highway, 30 combined. If you’re willing to trade some more efficiency for power and speed, the M340i offers a turbocharged, 3.0-liter inline-6 that will get you 383 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque, rocketing you to 60 mph in just 4.2 seconds. Fuel economy will drop to 22/30/25, but that’s a small price to pay for more than a second’s worth of acceleration—if you care for such things.

I suppose that’s the point. Do you care about efficiency? The 330e will deliver. Speed? The M340i will do the same. And if you want a pleasing blend of the two, the 330i stands quietly in the middle, ready to make sure you don’t drive away disappointed.

Updated

A CarGurus contributor since 2008, Michael started his career writing about cars with the SCCA - winning awards during his time as editor of Top End magazine. Since then, his journalistic travels have taken him from NY to Boston to CA, completing a cross-country tour on a restored vintage Suzuki. While his preference is for fine German automobiles - and the extra leg room they so often afford - his first automobile memories center around impromptu Mustang vs. Corvette races down the local highway, in the backseat of his father's latest acquisition.

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